FROM 6pm today (Wednesday) a grassy field will be transformed into a hive of activity as the 18th Reading Beer and Cider Festival sets up camp.

The five-day celebration at Kings Meadow will pay homage to 550 British real ales and more than 200 ciders and perries, as well as several other English tipples.

Organiser Martin Harbour said: "This is one of the biggest and best beer festivals in the country and really puts Reading on the map. It's the local people that really make the event special, but we're also looking forward to welcoming our regular visitors from further afield."

A full-set of entertainment, including acoustic music sessions, morris dancers and live bands, will really help get the party started and, in recognition of the wide selection of ciders on offer, the festival will also be host to CAMRA's National Cider and Perry Awards.

A family fun day on Sunday with face painting, balloon modelling, shire horses and a bouncy castle will help keep children entertained and a variety of international dishes will be on offer to complement every flavour of ale.

A special feature of local breweries in the 'LocAle' bar will include the new Binghams Brewery, from Twyford, which has ale variants flavoured with thyme, coffee, ginger, vanilla and chilli, and Loddon Brewery, from Dunsden Green, specialists in serving the Forbury Lion IPA. A foreign beer bar will provide bottled beers from the USA and 100-year-old favourites from Belgium and Germany.

Mr Harbour added: "The guys who put it all together have done an amazing job and I really hope that the sun shines on them this week, but even if we get showery weather, it'll still be a great event.

"There are two enormous tents that can fit more than 3,000 people under cover, along with metal walkways in all the busy areas so it shouldn't be muddy. And of course, there's all that lovely beer to enjoy!"

The festival will be open 11am-11pm each day, except on Sunday, where it will be running from noon-7pm.