HUNDREDS of punters raised a glass as one of the biggest beer festivals on the South Coast returned last night for its 20th anniversary bash.

Crowds flocked to the opening night of the Southampton Beer Festival to drink and be merry at the annual celebration of hops, malts, ales, ciders, stouts and perries.

More than 3,000 people are expected to visit the three-day event at Southampton O2 Guildhall where over 13,000 pints are expected to be poured before it climaxes on Saturday.

Visitors got the party started tonight trying out 120 different drinks with beers from 56 UK breweries – 26 of them from Hampshire.

Tipples included a stout made with real coffee beans by Vibrant Forest Brewery from Lymington, a chocolate stout from Mash Brewery in Winchester and as well as fruit beers, a hibiscus flavoured ale and a commemorative Jutland from Irving brewery in Portsmouth.

Rob Whatley, who organises the event run by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), said: “It has started off really well and we are pleased with the quality of the beers this year.

"We’ve had everyone from seasoned beer drinkers to students enjoying their first festival.”

All entry tickets include a free programme and commemorative glass.

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