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7:00am Saturday 11th August 2012 in Lifestyle
Fancy a drink? Our drinks columnist Sam Wylie-Harris savours some prize pints ahead of the Great British Beer Festival.
The British art of crafting beer
With the Great British Beer Festival just a week away, beer banter will be in full flow once the country's biggest watering hole open its doors.
The festival, taking place between August 7-11, will be catering to an expected crowd of 55,000 during the five days, with hundreds of national, regional and local breweries pulling pints for hop heads, beer bloggers and budding connoisseurs.
Whether you prefer strong hops upfront, a mild sweetness or malt flavours, Britain is renowned worldwide for the quality of its beer.
And with a new breed of craft brewers producing high-quality, refreshing ales, there's more to your average six-pack for this year's summer socials.
For elbow-benders who appreciate a sensible strength, here are eight long-necks that weigh in at between 4% and 5% abv, and maintain their freshness sip after sip.
The Prince of Wales's Duchy Home Farm has been an organic odyssey for more than 20 years, and Highgrove's best barley goes into Duchy Originals Old Ruby Ale (£2.05, 500ml, 5% abv, Waitrose). Brewed in Oxfordshire, an English barley first used in 1905 called Plumage Archer also contributes to the delicious depth of flavour that's well balanced and not too heavy. Beer lovers are sure to savour the smooth, hoppy finish, too.
Created for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, Marston's Sovereign (£1.80, 500ml, 4% abv, Morrisons) is the latest addition to its Single Hop Ale range. Made from hedgerow hops, the delightful floral aromas and pleasingly light, bitter finish make this an easy drinker that's less complex than some.
An English take on German wheat beers but with with a smaller bunch of bananas on the fruity palate, Taste the Difference Suffolk Blonde Ale (£1.99, 500ml, 4.2% abv, Sainsbury's) has trademark yeasty flavours with clove aromas, spice and fruit, and good intensity on the flavourful body. Produced by St Peter's Brewery, its Organic Ale is worth checking out on the next round.
Another East Anglian local brew that's new for this summer, try Southwold Blonde Beer, Adnams Brewery, Suffolk (£2.19, 500ml, 5% abv, Marks & Spencer), which claims you can almost taste the refreshing Suffolk spray when you crack open this fruity concoction. Made from malted barley, wheat and First Gold hops, the citrus notes pair well with spice and lightly flavoured orange peel.
For a full-strength beer with plenty of punch, try the aptly named Extra Special Gentleman Jack (£1.80, 500ml, 5% abv, Asda), brewed by Shepherd Neame for the supermarket giant. A robust and weighty bottled ale, it's fragrant and hoppy with a signature tartness on the refreshing finish.
Pale and subtle or dark and strong, the UK is home to nearly 900 breweries, and their single-bottle offerings from artful brewers have found favour with those who have a big thirst for all types of beer.
CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale), the organiser of the Great British Beer Festival, voted St Austell Tribute (£1.99, 500ml, 4.2% abv, Tesco) a Supreme Champion Ale of Cornwall. Brewed using specially grown Cornish gold malt, it's sharp and fresh with tart, citrus fruit, mild hops and a bright, lingering finish - a winner that can be enjoyed all day.
Alternatively, if you fancy bagging a gold, St Austell Cornish Ale (£2.29, 500ml, 4.9% abv, Marks & Spencer) scooped a gold medal at last month's International Beer Challenge. A new release, it's a sophisticated slow sipper brewed from its signature Cornish gold malt. Rich, filling and refreshing, the nutty malt balances well with zingy citrus fruit and subtle spice.
Kent-based sparkling wine specialist Chapel Down has tapped into the beer market and has been awarded a gold medal for its Chapel Down Curious Brew (29.99, case of 24 bottles, 33cl, 4.7% abv, www.chapeldown.com). Its premium lager won best in class at the International Beer Challenge - quite a feat considering it only started brewing two years ago.
Made from East Anglian malt, saaz and cascade hops, the winery re-ferments the lager using the same champagne yeast that goes into its famous sparkling wines. Complex, bitter and yeasty, it certainly lives up to its name and the palate gets curiouser and curiouser with every sip. It's an interesting example of what English brewers are bringing to the table.
:: The Great British Beer Festival takes place between August 7-11 at Olympia, London
:: Best buy
A glass act... We all like to drink with our eyes, and different styles of beer benefit from the correct stemware. To bring out the best appearance, aroma, taste and finish, German glassware specialist Spiegelau has introduced its Beer Classics Connoisseur set, £30 (set of four glasses). The range of thinly blown glasses are perfect to pair with the world's most popular beers, stemmed pilsner, tall pilsner, lager and wheat beer. For stockists, visit www.riedel.com
:: Liquid news
To celebrate its 50th vintage, New Zealand wine producer Villa Maria has released Villa Maria Private Bin Lightly Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (£10.99, www.portlandwine.co.uk). Made from 100% sauvignon blanc, Marlborough's most famous export is bursting with trademark gooseberry, passion fruit and melon aromas. A good vintage for Kiwi winemakers, 2011 was warmer than average and these brilliant bubbles have a sparkling freshness that jumps from the glass.