Hop, hop, hooray!

DAVID WAKEFIELD It's the week when taxis traditionally do rather well, and when the step of those emerging from St Andrew's and Blackfriars Halls tends to be on the unsteady side.

DAVID WAKEFIELD

It's the week when taxis traditionally do rather well, and when the step of those emerging from St Andrew's and Blackfriars Halls tends to be on the unsteady side. Yes, it's time for the Norwich Beer Festival, the 27th, which takes place at those twin venues starting on Monday. This annual festival of hops and bonhomie, organised, as ever, by the Norwich branch of Camra (Campaign for Real Ale) is a big favourite in the city and county calendar, not only among the real-ale “buffs” but for those who like a good night out in a cheery atmosphere.

More than 200 cask ales from Britain's independent breweries, including a generous helping from the 14 outlets operating in Norfolk, will again be racked up and ready to go on Monday evening (there is no lunchtime session on the opening day). And while many of the names will be familiar - Adnams, Greene King, Woodfordes, etc - the majority will not ... and therein lies the fascination of events such as these, discovering the delights of beers from sources outside the big brewing battalions.

Festival organisers have decided on an animal theme this year, said organiser Martin Webb - and there is plenty to go at (and that's not even counting the Wolf brewery at Attleborough and the Fox brewery at Heacham!).

How about, for instance, a pint of Bazens' Flying Zebra, brewed in a unit in Salford, Greater Manchester, Or some Phoenix Struggling Monkey, from Heywood, also in Greater Manchester, Or (and allow time to say your order) some Pressed Rat and Warthog from the Triple FFF brewery, from Alton in Hampshire. Rock music fans will recognise the name, by the way; it's the title of a composition by Ginger Baker, and featured by the legendary 1960s' band Cream, which also included Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce.

And there are plenty more where they came from. There's Grain-store Rutland Panther, from Oakham; Oldershaw's Ermine, from Grantham, Lincolnshire; Exmoor Wildcat, from Exmoor Ales in the West Country; and Woods Holy Cow, from Shropshire; plus a beer called Ptarmigan, from the Harviestoun Brewery in Clackmannanshire, Scotland - home of a former Camra Beer of the Year, Bitter and Twisted, a firm favourite at city real-ale pubs like the Fat Cat.

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European beers - particularly the strong ales of Belgium - are always popular at the festival, and, says press officer Alan Edwards, a Norwich Camra party has recently returned from Belgium having tried some of the more obscure brews with a view to featuring them at the festival. And the organisers are also hoping for the first appearance in Norwich of a Spanish cask ale - something unlikely to have been experienced by British visitors to Spain, where the usual offering is either bottled or keg beers like San Miguel.

Mr Edwards' particular interest is cider, and the Cider and Perry Exhibition, the sixth to be held in Norwich, is an integral part of the beer festival.

He is particularly excited about the appearance this year of a single-variety cider - called a dabinett - from Whin Hill Cider, near Wells. A dabinett is viewed in much the same way as a single malt whisky.

The bottled beer section - in a marquee at the rear of the main hall - has become increasingly popular, and will have a considerable presence this year.

Interest in the festival is already considerable, said Mr Edwards, and, many of the visitors are expected to travel from some distance. There is always a lot of interest in the Norwich festival from the London area, and there are some “regulars” who take a week's holiday to be here.

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t FESTIVAL GUIDE

Opening times: Monday, 5.30-11pm; Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, 11.30am-2.30pm; 5.30-11pm; Saturday, 11.30am-3pm; 5.30-11pm.

Prices: Lunchtimes, £1; Monday and Tuesday evenings, £3; Wednesday and Thursday evenings, £4; Friday and Saturday evenings, £5; £1 reduction before 6pm on evening sessions. Over-18s only; no children or babies allowed. CAMRA members get in free at all sessions, but must join the queue.

Drinks are exchanged for vouchers, available inside the hall. No money changes hands at the beer racks. Souvenir pint and half-pint glasses are available, as are glasses from previous festivals.

Entertainment: Monday evening, Night Train.

Tuesday lunchtime, Mike Capocci Quartet with

Gina Brown; evening, Dynamite.

Wednesday lunchtime, Mike Capocci Trio;

evening, Cawston Band, Harvs.

Thursday lunchtime, Mike Capocci Trio;

evening, Von Krapp Family; Pavilion Band.

Friday, lunchtime, Gallery String Quartet;

evening, Mooncoin, Emma Hall Band.

Saturday, lunchtime, Cromer Smugglers; evening, Groove Train, Gary Freeman and the New Contours.

t More information: www.norwichcamra.freeserve.co.uk/festival

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