APACHE Rose Peacock, I Can’t Believe it’s not Bitter and Pots Black – those are just some of the strange-sounding varieties of Hampshire ale that will be supped by beer lovers this week at the 13th annual Southampton Beer Festival.

During the three-day sellout event, more than 3,000 people are expected to descend on the city’s Guildhall to neck almost 100 varieties of beer.

Walking around dozens of stands with the distinct aroma of real ale wafting through the air, there are barrels stacked upon barrels of beer, lager and cider on offer to tempt thirsty visitors.

It’s estimated that around 13,600 pints of beer will be consumed during the festival.

But despite the country being in the grip of one of the worst recessions in living memory, organisers say ticket sales have gone through the roof.

Rob Whatley, an organiser at Southampton Beer Festival, who has been a member of the Campaign For Real Ale (CAMRA) for more than 30 years, said: “Ticket sales have been better this year than ever before.

“It’s very encouraging and also locally we have had an 18 per cent increase in the number of people joining CAMRA. So we must be doing something right.”

The surprising turnout comes just six months after Hampshire brewers were forced to drown their sorrows after the closure of the Hampshire Brewery in Romsey.

It also follows a national trend that has seen record numbers of pubs shutting up and down the country, as publicans struggle to fight the economic downturn and the effect of the smoking ban.

But Rob claims the future for the county’s brewing industry looks bright – two new brewers have gone into business in Hampshire since last year’s festival.

He said: “Hampshire Brewery may have closed but two new ones have opened up in Basingstoke and Havant. So people are still starting new breweries all the time. Certainly draft brewers are having to expand to keep up with the demand.

“I would say Hampshire breweries are relatively healthy compared to breweries nationally who are suffering at the moment as a result of the recession.

“This is because they sell relatively bland beer which is not as good, distinct or flavoursome.

People are looking for something different, a good quality product.

Alton’s Pride by Triple fff for example was CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Britain last year.

“Most national brews are made to the lowest common denominator for mass production.

Nobody dislikes them but they could be better.”

Pub reviews

The festival, organised by the South Hants branch of CAMRA, features beers produced by 42 different breweries from as far afield as Cornwall and Scotland.

Rob added: “The object of the beer festival is to show people in Southampton the great selection of real ales that are brewed locally and further afield.

“There are almost 100 real ales here this year and about 30 of those are from Hampshire. I expect them all to be here next year.”

During the festival a wide range of beer styles will be on offer including wheat beers, IPAs, pale ales, milds, golden ales, brown ales, blonde beers, stouts and lager.

Other beers will have additional ingredients such as honey, elderflower, lavender and lemongrass.

There will also be a selection of bottled beers and draught cider.

In all there are nine Hampshire breweries represented this year: Andwell, Bowman, Flowerpots, Havant, Irbing, Itchen, Itchen Valley, Oakleaf, Ringwood and Triple fff.

The festival finishes at 11pm tonight.