BOLTON’S thriving small breweries go head-to-head today as 62 of the North West’s cask ale companies vie to prove they are the best in the region.

But the rivalry between Bank Top and Dunscar Bridge in Bolton, Blackedge in Horwich, and Brightside in Radcliffe is strictly friendly.

Bank Top boss Dave Sweeney is also a trustee of the North West Society of Independent Brewers and Associates (SIBA), whose three-day regional beer competition gets under way at the Hawkshead brewery in Staveley, Cumbria.

Mr Sweeney is predicting the competition will prove the North West can stand alone as the home of superb cask beer.

“It will be interesting to see if any of our local brewers will do well,” he said. “I hope the event is a roaring success for everyone.

“If a local brewer wins I will be as delighted as if it was Bank Top because it will be another stepping stone for cask ale.

“In cask brewing there is a lot of friendly rivalry. We all perceive ourselves as little battling armies gathering together to beat the multi-nationals.”

The winner will go forward to the national SIBA competition, with the title of best independent brewer in the UK at stake.

Dunscar Bridge will be entering six beers — three bottled and three cask — including the Rialto 47, which won bronze at the Manchester Beer Festival last year.

“It’s an opportunity to see another brewery (Hawkshead) that we would like to emulate,” said sales director Gary Targett. “We are looking forward to the competition.”

Meanwhile, Radcliffe’s fledgling brewery, Brightside, is so busy it is unable to attend the event, although three of its beers — Our Town, Underworld and Amarillo — will be on tap at Staveley.

“We started brewing in 2011 from the back room of the family bakery,” said Brightside’s Carley Friedric.

“We have specialised in beer only in the last few months. Although we would love to attend, we are too busy to spare anyone to go.”

Blackedge will be aiming to live up to its gold award for speciality beer with its Black Port ale last year. Partner Wayne Roper said the Horwich firm was entering eight beers in the competition — Black Stout, Black Port, Blonde, IPA, American, Platinum, Hop and Pike.

“We have something to live up to after last year, which was our first attempt in the competition,” he said. “There is a massive market for cask ale, but equally there is a lot of competition.”