It’s not just middle-aged men sporting beards and sandals that enjoy a pint of real ale these days, according to the Colchester and North East Essex branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).

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The group, which organises the Colchester Winter Ale Festival – running this week from Wednesday to Saturday – is expecting a mixed crowd through the doors of the Colchester Arts Centre, where more than 100 beers will be available across the four days of the event.

“Over the past decade we’ve seen a resurgence in the popularity of real ale in our area,” said branch chairman Alan Wareham.

“It’s been driven by the growth in independent and micro-breweries, and a lot of pubs now offering at least one or two real ales. Young people have got the taste for it and are demanding more choice – we get people of all ages, men and women, coming along to try out beers they might not have come across before.”

The growing interest in Essex beers with intriguing names like Cat’s Whiskers, Wallasea Wench and Pig’s Ear is evidenced by the fact this is the seventh successive Winter Ale Festival to be held.

Despite reservations the event was being held too close to the New Year, it is now established on Colchester’s social calendar and a few thousand revellers are expected to enjoy its warm atmosphere this week.

While the whole gamut of beers, including golden ales, lagers and Belgians beers, will be ready for sampling, the festival’s focus is on darker seasonal ales, stouts and porters that are popular at this time of year. Some are fruity in essence, others have a chocolaty aftertaste, hints of liquorice can be also be found – all will help drinkers stave off the chilly seasonal weather.

The festival’s logo is an elephant, a nod to the nearby water tower - known affectionately as ‘Jumbo’ - and also a reference to the branch’s bizarre habit of measuring the amount of beer dispensed at its events in terms of its equivalent weight in elephants.

“We’re hoping to get through three elephants this year,” said Mr Wareham.

The festival runs from until Saturday and is open 12noon to 11pm every day. Entry is free to card-carrying CAMRA Members, and free to others until 3pm or £3 after. The Festival’s chosen charity this year is the Colchester Branch of the Royal British Legion.

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