TWO breweries from Gwent will be among those battling it out at the end of the month for the title of Champion Beer of Wales.

The best real ales from across Wales will be judged by a panel of experts, including Monmouthshire Assembly Member David Davies, chairman of the Welsh Assembly Beer Group during the Great Welsh Beer & Cider Festival.

The Champion Beer of Wales contest features the best beers from all of Wales' 17 breweries, who make around 130 different real ales every year.

The contest has never been won by a brewer from Gwent and competition is fierce between WARCOP and Cwmbran breweries, as well as between the giants such as Brains and Felinfoel.

WARCOP brewery was set up in 1998 by chemist Dr Bill Picton, who began his

interest in brewing when he worked at the Evan Evan Bevan brewery at Neath as a summer job when he was a student. It took over 30 years before Dr Picton could realise his dream to have his own company.

Dr Picton produces a wide-range of beers, both in cask-conditioned and bottle-conditioned forms with strengths varying from 3.8 per cent to more than six per cent The names of the beers reflect the Newport locality with titles such as Pit Prop, which came second in the Festival two years ago, Black & Amber, Steelers and Dockers.

Dr Picton was last week barrelling some of the beer has recently produced.

The 55-year-old self-employed manufacturing consultant and project manager said: "I do all the work myself and I can up or down production as needed. The demand though is such that I can cope with it. I could cope with up to four times as much as I produce now."

Dr Picton said his seven-barrel plant on a farm on the outskirts of St Brides, Newport, is capable of producing 252 gallons.

He said: "I can do about 28 firkins at a time - that's about 60 barrels a month, but I do about 15.

"The main markets are Newport, Cardiff and up the Valleys, Bristol, London, Birmingham and Devon and Cornwall."

Dr Picton said the festival is good for small beer-makers as people can sample their wares against others at around the same time.

He said: "I have always been a beer drinker and like to taste real ales. I will try about six different beers at the festival."

The other micro-brewery in Gwent attending the festival is situated on the slopes of Mynydd Maen, in Upper Cwmbran.

Owner and former mining engineer Martin Lewis built the brewery next door to his cottage and he uses natural spring water to brew his beers with the help of former brewery drayman Keith Gullick.

The Cwmbran Brewery beers can be found throughout pubs in the eastern valley of Gwent. Crow Valley Bitter is the main brew, though recent beers included a raspberry beer called Pink Panther.

The Great Welsh Beer and Cider Festival, takes place in Cardiff at City Hall on Friday, November 28.