Apples are ripening, hops are flowering and all over Britain preparations are being made for a celebration of some of the nation's best beer and cider.
Growing up in Cornwall, I discovered a passion for cider, and all its variations, early on - from crisp clean classics, to cloudy farmhouse scrumpy and fruity flavoured ciders, but it wasn't until I was persuaded to go to a beer festival that I started to appreciate the world's favourite alcoholic beverage.
Not only was I pleasantly surprised by many of the beers I sampled (though I'll never be able to get through a stout), what I really loved was the passion, friendly atmosphere and great entertainment that goes as standard with beer and cider festivals. Now events like these are no longer the preserve of men of a certain age, but are a great opportunity to get together with all your friends, and even find a new drink to fall in love with.
There are bound to be events taking place near you over the next few months, but with more and more festivals being held in quirky venues, heading to a beer or cider festival further afield could be a great opportunity to explore somewhere new. The CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) website is a great place to start for some inspiration and here are a few of my recommendations:
Eden Project Beer Festival
The Eden Project in Cornwall is holding a beer festival on October 5 as part of its Harvest Food Festival Season. Investigate this unique attraction, complete with its own Rainforest, and get involved with brewing demonstrations, tastings and workshops before sampling some of the speciality beers on offer. Tickets cost £10 for the evening event, which includes a commemorative glass and beer tokens to get you started. Find out more on the website.
Nottingham Robin Hood Beer and Cider Festival
The Nottingham Robin Hood Festival takes places from October 9 to 12 in the ground of Nottingham Castle and features more than 1,100 different real ales and more than 220 - breaking the world record set by the organisers at last year's festival. Tickets cost £15, which includes a commemorative glass and beer tokens to get you started. Find out more on the website.
Birmingham Beer and Cider Festival
The Birmingham Beer and Cider Festival takes place from October 30 to November 2 and features more than 250 real ales along with more than 80 ciders and perries. The entertainment includes comedy, beer tasting and Morris Men, as well as an array of the best local bands. Tickets cost between £2.50 and £3.50 depending on the day, or £9 for the whole festival. Find out more on the website
Pig's Ear Beer and Cider Festival
The Pig's Ear Festival in Hackney takes place from December 3 to 7 and features a mixture of innovative beers from the best new micro-breweries around along with traditional ales served from wooden casks. There will be more than 250 beers and 30 ciders with food stalls and pub games to enjoy. Tickets cost £4 or £2 for CAMRA members. Find out more on the website.
Tips for festival beginners:
1. Find out if you can buy tickets in advance. While an increasing amount of festivals allow people to buy tickets beforehand, many events sell tickets on the door. If this is the case, then try to get your tickets at the start of the day, even if you are only planning to attend in the evening, to save the hassle of queuing in the cold.
2. Remember to bring cash. Most venues take cash only and then work on a token system. Usually tokens will be a good price and entitle you to either a half or a third of a pint each, so buy a few to save having to queue again.
3. Don't ask for a full pint unless it's your absolute favourite tipple. Most of the time, you'll find that you receive a generous measurement anyway.
4. Be adventurous, but keep hold of the programme so that you can check out drink descriptions beforehand. The first ever time I went to a beer festival, I decided to choose the beer with the most unusual name, but after I ended up with a thick, black stout named Oxymoron, I decided to be a little more choosy!
5. Go for quality rather than quantity. Beer and cider festivals are all about celebrating the best ingredients, techniques, traditions and innovations, so make sure to savour the taste.
6. Timing is everything. Beer connoisseurs tend to arrive as soon as possible to check out unusual and limited beers, but others might want go a little later for more of a lively atmosphere. Check out the programme of events beforehand to see when the entertainment is on, and whether those limited edition beers will be released at a certain time.
7. Finally, remember to book your taxi well in advance-there is nothing worse than trying to negotiate your way home when you're a little bit merry!