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Go with the grain

Britain leaves the rest of the world standing when it comes to brewing beer. According to a leaflet produced by the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association (who will send it out free to schools on request), this country "offers probably the widest choice and variety of beers in the world". More than 1,200 beers are brewed here, from ales and lagers to stouts and porters (the latter is a dark brown beer brewed from charred malt).

The industry is well established and not slow to promote itself, with the result that many breweries are already accessible for school visits, from the tiny historic 18th century brew house still in production at Traquair in the Scottish Borders, down to St Austell Brewery, home of Smugglers' Ale, in Cornwall.

The mighty Fuller's Brewery in Chiswick, west London, offers a comprehensive tour. In the heritage area pupils can see how beer was made in the past, with copper utensils, then move on to the modern, stainless steel equivalent. Telephone:0181 996 2000.

In addition to working breweries, there are also linked places of interest such as Tetley's Brewery Wharf in Leeds which has seven sets to illustrate the history of pubs, from a 14th century monastery to Tudor and Victorian drinking dens. Workshops are available for school parties through the education department. Tel: 0113 2420666. At the Bass Museum at Burton-upon-Trent there is a cooperage, with barrels still in production and a small working brewery with steam engine and vintage vehicles. Telephone 01283 511000.

"Most schools want to learn about biological and chemical reactions," explains a Fuller's spokesman. As a consequence, the company's literature examines brewing from the main raw materials - barley, hops, sugar, yeast and water - as well as the brewing process, fermentation and storage.

Fuller's has a distinguished pedigree, dating back more than 325 years to the time of Charles II. Jennings, of Cockermouth in Cumbria, is a relative newcomer, having been established in the village of Lorton in 1828. Today, the water for its beers is drawn from a well that supplied the local castle at the time of the Norman conquest. Jennings is particularly proud that its second brewer is a woman, Mary Minty, who was responsible for developing its Cumberland Ale, which is already selling well.

A typical brewery tour takes around 90 minutes, with introductions to the technical processes involved - from mash tun, hop back and cask racking. There will usually be an explanation of some of the more mysterious aspects of the trade (hands up who knows what a firkin is). Age restrictions may apply: Fuller's, for example, won't take children under 14 years of age, and Jennings's minimum age is 12. So check before you go.

* Festive spirit: Brewers Harvey's in Lewes, have been producing a Christmas Ale for the past 25 years, which this year has won the best Christmas ale prize in Finland. It is a strong barley beer, made with local malts which contributes to "a heavily-hopped beer". Bill Inman, Harvey's marketing manager says: "Its strength is similar to Tudor brews and strong enough to ensure a very pleasant time when you've had a glass." It costs 99p a bottle and is available from the Brewery shop, Cliff High Street, Lewes, East Sussex PN7 2AH. Tel: 01273 480209 * Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association, 42 Portman Square, London W1H 0BB. Tel: 0171 486 4831 * Campaign for Real Ale, 230 Hatfield Road, St Albans, Herts AL1 4LW. Tel: 01727 86720l

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