HEREFORDSHIRE’S bargain beer has been rated the cheapest pint in England by The Good Pub Guide.

The pub-goers bible surveyed pubs up and down the country, averaging out the price of their cheapest pint of ale, with Herefordshire coming out at £3.03.

Its nearest rival was nextdoor neighbour Worcestershire (£3.09), with both trailing the so-called ‘Rip Off Beer’ of the south east, where Londoners are being charged an average of £3.79 for their cheapest pint.

The reason may be Herefordshire’s blossoming real ale scene.

Ant Stevens set up his microbrewery Ledbury Real Ales four years ago, since then the number of smaller breweries and microbreweries in the county has more than doubled.

Like most smaller enterprises Ledbury Real Ales does the majority of its business locally, with 95 per cent of its trade done within 10 miles of the brewery.

This cuts down on transport costs, a saving that can then be passed on at the pump.

The benefits of keeping it local work both ways; Mr Stevens’ uses hops from Ashperton, Suckley and Bosbury, and gets his casks from Hereford’s Chris Strange – one of the country’s last remaining cask-makers.

He said: “Having been brewing for only a few years we have come into the market during a period of growth for real ale consumption.

“I am not 100 per cent sure if the price of a pint is that much cheaper in Herefordshire than the rest of the country, but it certainly is when compared to the South East and London.

“We see a downward pressure on our trade prices and yet we are having to cope with rising prices of raw materials and utilities.

“We cope with this by managing our expenses, using local produce and trying to only sell our beer into the local pub trade so keeping out transport costs as low as possible.”

With the rate at which pubs are closing slowing down on a national level – it is down to around 28 per week, from around 50 two years ago – those Herefordshire landlords that remain have become more creative in keeping punters in pubs.

Mr Stevens singled out Hereford’s The Beer in Hand on Eign Street as an example of how quality beers can draw a crowd.

He said: “A good real ale can be a pull to a pub for many people.

“You can see this is very true when you look at brand new pubs that have recently opened in like the Beer in Hand which just about only sells real ales and local ciders.

“Setting up a pub in a former laundrette, at a time when so many are closing – that’s pretty brave.

“Some of those pubs that have closed – The Bell in Bosbury, The Farmers Arms in Wellington Heath and The Hopton Arms in Ashperton for example – have since reopened.

“And we are also seeing pubs that did not stock real ale also putting it back onto the bar, which has to be down to the customers demanding it and I would say the trend in the county is to sell local beer where possible.”