LARGE crowds are gathering as York's largest ever beer festival gets under way in glorious sunshine on Knavesmire.

The York Beer and Cider Festival, organised by York's branch of the Campaign for Real Ale, opens to the public on Wednesday afternoon and runs until Saturday.

The beer of the festival, selected after judging of all beers within 25 miles of York, was declared as Tonkoko, a coconut-infused dark ale by one of the region's youngest breweries, Brew York, which opened in Walmgate in the spring.

Co-owner Wayne Smith said: "We're delighted. It's our first time at the festival and our first official competition entry and we are over the moon."

Steve Cobb, chair of the LocAle judging panel, said: "It was a very strong field. It shows how strong brewing is in the York area. Brewers are creating some wonderful beers now in the York area."

Nick Love, festival communications officer, said the new venue, opposite the racecourse winning post, was excellent and said beers were coping well despite the heat of the past two days. He said ice-packs and been applied to some casks and a refrigerated trailer had proven valuable."

11,000 people attended last year's festival, and organisers hope to increase that figure this year by between five and ten per cent.

The event includes a large marquee and also an outdoor uncovered area. There are around 470 beers, including a selection of foreign beers, as well as wines, ciders, soft drinks, and various food stalls.

Other brewers praised Camra for its organisation.

Craig Lee, of Tockwith-based Rudgate, said: "Once again, they have done a fantastic job. It's amazing. We are proud and privileged to have a bar here."

In second place in the local ale competition was Northern Star by Northern Monk Brewery. In third place was Vanilla Porter by Harrogate Brewery.