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In pictures: All ale Bridgnorth beer festival!

Bridgnorth | News | Published:

With a tent full of different beers and only five hours until closing time, preparation is everything.

Peter Thorpe is a man with a plan.

"It's quite difficult when you are presented with 63 beers," he says, weighing up the challenge ahead.

"You have to be quite disciplined about how you do it."

It is his first visit to the Bridgnorth Beer Festival, although he is something of a veteran of the real ale scene and he knows his way around.

"Without wanting to sound to train-spotterish, you have to have a plan," says the 56-year-old from Bishop's Castle, as he acquaints his taste buds with Dark Star Espresso.

"There's so much information on the internet now, you can see all the tasting notes beforehand, so you can decide what you want to try before you get here."

Peter, who is attending the three-day festival with Julia Bath, 58, reveals his Achilles heel.

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"My problem is that I will try anything," he says. "You get people who are quite narrow about it, who will only try certain types, but I will drink anything, I want to discover more.

"I tend to stick to the weaker beers, as it means you can try more of them. But I like the dark beers, and they tend to be heavier and stronger. So I go for the weaker versions of those."

While Britain's pubs close at the rate of 29 a week, beer festivals appear to be more popular than ever as demand for real ale reaches a record high.

According to accountancy group UHY Hacker Young, the number of micro breweries in Britain has grown from 291 in 2013/14, to 361 in 2014/15, while the number of applications to HM Revenue and Customs to launch new breweries has nearly trebled over the past five years.

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Eleanor Haddon, whose husband Dave founded the Bridgnorth festival 21 years ago, is the organiser of this year's event, her third year at the helm. She estimates that around 700 people will attend the event in a marquee at the Severn Valley Railway station, and by the time it closes tonight, more than 4,500 pints of beer will be consumed.

"Last year we sold out by 9pm on Saturday, so we've ordered a bit more," she says. "We have now got a range of ciders and perries as well."

Sampling a glass of Tiny Rebel Cwtch, which was voted the best beer in Britain at last month's Great British Beer Festival in London, is 36-year-old Jon Cooper, who came to the festival with wife Nicola and children Joseph, three, and Ben, six months.

"I like real ale and I like the variety," says Jon, who travelled from Sedgley, Dudley.

"We probably go to four or five a year, we go to the Black Country Beer Festival, we go to Ludlow, and Dudley, as well as all the smaller local festivals."

He says he likes the friendly environment, and says he always feels comfortable bringing the children with him.

Nicola, 36, gives a firm thumbs up to Monty's Mischief, which is brewed in Montgomery.

"I like a lot of the golden ales, I think they are quite easy to drink, and I also like the ciders," she says.

Emma Mills, 29, says she could not have imagined herself at a beer festival 10 years ago.

However, since getting the real ale bug a few years ago, she has noticed how her friends have also become more adventurous in their drinking habits.

"Ale is definitely becoming more of a young person's drink," says Emma, who lives in Bridgnorth High Street.

"I like the atmosphere, you can just talk to people because there is a common interest."

Emma, who works as a barmaid, has been going to the festival for around four years, but says her first visit did not go as she would have planned.

"I have one dry month each year, and that year I had chosen September. That year I was doing the driving."

Clare Edwards, who made the short journey from Whitburn Street in the town centre, has been going to the festival since the early days. The 36-year-old says there are definitely more young people coming to beer festivals than there used to be.

"It's more sociable than coming into a pub, everyone has a common interest," she says.

It is the second festival in a week for Frank and Judith Pickford, from Eardington, who were at the Bewdley Beer Festival last week.

"It's around my birthday every year, so the whole family meet up," says Frank, who is 66.

"You are drinking lots of half pints, so you can try several different beers, and it's a nice convivial atmosphere. I always like the first night of the festival, because it's not so busy, and you get the people who are really interested in the beer. You meet a lot of people here, and you have a chat."

Bill Sturte has been a member of the Campaign for Real Ale since its inception in the 1970s, and says there has been a noticeable change in the make-up of people attending beer festivals, with more women in particularly attending.

"In the mid-to-late 70s it was all beards and woolly jumpers, but the amount of females coming to events like this has grown hugely.

"You get everyone from dustmen to company directors."

Peter Thorpe says the growth in popularity of beer festivals is a sign that the British are finally recognising beer as a quality product for people with discerning tastes.

"In recent years there's been huge growth in interest surrounding food and drink," he says. "You get all those cookery programmes on television, these days people want real food and real ale.

"It's a sign that the English are finally treating their beer seriously, showing it the same respect that the French show their wine."

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