It's nearly August, which means it's nearly beer festival time. That's the Great British Beer Festival, to be precise - the biggest real-beer festival in the world. Taking place at London's Olympia from Tuesday 3 to Saturday 7 August, this year's event promises to be the biggest yet, with more than 400 real ales from upwards of 200 British brewers, 200 foreign beers, an extensive line-up of lagers and ciders, tutored tastings galore - and I'll ignore the fact that Chas ‘n' Dave are scheduled to play over the festival (is that really the image they want to project?).
Organiser Camra (the Campaign for Real Ale) is expecting more than 45,000 people (drinking about 200,000 pints) through the doors over the five days. With luck, many of these visitors will make time for one of the many food and beer pairing sessions that will take place, or take in a lecture or three.
Of the former, messianic Manhattan brewer Garrett Oliver will be in town to find the best match with cheese (3.30-4.30pm on 3 August, free to those in the trade). With cheeses supplied by Neal's Yard Dairy of Covent Garden in London, Oliver will show how Caerphilly works with Hop Back Summer Lightning, and how Sarah Hughes's Dark Ruby Mild brings out the best in Berkshire producer Spenwood's sheep's milk cheese.
He has also singled out Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout as the perfect partner to Ardrahan, the pungent, creamy, washed-rind cows' milk cheese from Cork, finishing up with Colston Bassett Stilton and punchy JW Lees Harvest Ale.
One tasting I know I'll be going to is Chocolate and Beer (7.30pm on 5 August, tickets from £11.50). Why not? "Just look at Belgium - famous for both its chocolate and beer," says Camra's Georgie Howarth. "Malt is widely used in both chocolate recipes and in the brewing process. We've just gone one step further."
And what kind of beer goes with chocolate? Stouts and porters are the most obvious match, but Camra's Good Bottled Beer Guide suggests fruit beers, wheat beers and lighter, hoppier beers. "Tastings are a great way to introduce people to the different aromas and flavours of beer," says Howarth.
Another event I'll definitely sign up for is a talk by Pete Brown (4 August, 3.30-4.30pm), author of Man Walks into a Pub (Pan-Macmillan), one of my favourite reads this year. Titled "A history of the world in 10-and-a-half pints", his talk will cover everything from beer advertising campaigns to the beer that won the war.
Other tutored beer tastings include Belgian Strong Beers, hosted by Lorenzo Dabove (6 August, 3.30pm, £9), German Beer by Thomas Perera (5 August, 12.30pm, £9) and Light and Dark, by Paul Ainsworth (4 August, 12.30pm, £9). For tickets to all events call Camra on 01727 867201. n
CAPTION: "Tastings are a great way to introduce people to the different aromas and flavours of beer"
BOXTEXT: Beer dining campaign
The Beer Naturally Campaign, funded by Coors and Independent Family Brewers of Britain, has launched Summer Dining with a Difference - a new graphic guide aimed at helping the on-trade choose the best beer styles to match with foods. The book is split into five sections: aperitifs are paired with thirst-quenching lagers; starters and fish with ice-cold wheat beers; meat with bottle-conditioned ales; cheeses with strong ales; and desserts with honey, fruit or chocolate beers.
It also explains, in simple terms, how beer and food pairing can work with basic rules, such as matching the intensity and flavour style of the beer to a similar intensity and flavour profile of food.
Says Beer Naturally's Paul Hegarty: "There are a wide variety of beers out there with wildly differing flavours, and each of these suits a broad range of summer dishes. Any quality food outlet that stocks just one style of beer is failing to offer customers a full modern gastronomic experience."
Hegarty also highlights the importance of using different glassware for the different styles of beer. "It will bring a sense of theatre to the outlet and start to address the vast numbers of women who currently feel excluded from beer," he says.
Serving temperature, too, is singled out. "It's the same as serving wine too warm - it ruins the flavours," he continues.
"But above all," he concludes, "we hope that the guide will encourage restaurants, hotels and pubs to examine their portfolio of beers and encourage their customers to experiment. Beer lists for restaurants should be common sense, with a wide offering of beer styles to suit customers' desires."
If you're still in any doubt, check out the beer lists at the Michelin-starred Aubergine restaurant in London, Hotel du Vin in Brighton or Searcy's in London's Barbican.
Beer academy booklet
To keep up with this week's beer-themed Drinks news, the Beer Academy has launched its first educational brochure. With 20 pages, it's introduced by Oz Clarke (also a beer fan) and beer legend Michael Jackson, and covers the history of beer, its ingredients and the brewing processes used to create different styles of beer around the world.
"This is just the first step in the academy's objective of producing a wide range of educational materials on beer," says chief executive George Philliskirk.
Copies are available for 50p (including postage and packaging) by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by post from Belinda Norton, The Beer Academy, Wessex House, 80 Park Street, Camberley, Surrey GU15 3PT.