I WENT along with Heather to Steam to see what the  31st Swindon Real Ale and Cider festival was all about, writes JOSEPH THEOBALD.

As I’ve been to real ale festivals before, I was prepared for beer tokens, commemorative tankards, monochromatic demographics and the din of rustling beards.

Heather’s a noob so it was a wonderful world of discovery for her. With about 130 beers and 30 ciders to sample we were in no way short of choice and I was pleased to see a lot of breweries and beers that aren’t common even among the town’s most beer-friendly establishments.

Thanks to the large, very busy round tables we had no choice but to mingle with the unknown and quickly tagged on to a group of festival regulars, including an American fella called Reg who now resides in Shrivenham and is a member of the Highworth Cider Co-operative – an organisation that makes the most of the town’s fallen apples and puts all profit to charity.

I did try a third of the Flip INN Hell from Informal Brewery which is 10 per cent ABV and, frankly, it was nasty. Way too alcoholic for a traditional ale. Aside from that, everything I had was really good, with a nice variety to work through.

A couple of brews that stand out in my recollection were Green Jack’s Orange Wheat Beer: Nice and zesty but not over the top, with the flavour coming from fresh and dry orange peel. Titanic Brewery’s Plum Porter was my personal pick of the bunch: A rich fruity dark beer that’s not too heavy and extremely drinkable.

Shed Ales won beer of the festival with Minal Tap. The ale is brewed by The Shed Alehouse, in Pewsey, using locally grown Prima Donna hops – unfortunately I missed this one on the day so a trip down to Pewsey is now on the cards to make amends.

Thanks to Swindon & North Wiltshire CAMRA for really well run and expertly curated event.