Golden ale: the new "quintessential" British beer style?

If I walk into a pub that serves cask ale (ignoring the specialist cask ale bars) I’d wager I’m more likely to find golden ales on sale than I am to find bitter on sale.

Has golden ale supplanted bitter as the most popular British cask ale style? Will bitter go the way of mild, and transition from a mass market staple to a relatively niche product?


Given that I find most golden ales to be more gutless and boring than your average bitter, mostly as the ones in cask are made by people who are evolving their recipes from boring bitters rather than attempting to have a revolution in what they produce, I think the answer’s “yes, just to spite me”. A good golden ale can be a wonderful thing, but alas only 10% of them even past muster.

It certainly seems to be a staple for micros of a more traditional bent. Quite a few of them started out as lager-a-likes made by brewers without the facility to make proper lagers so I guess you’s expect them to be a bit on the bland side. At the other end of the spectrum, the more “modern” brewers tend to regard them as a bit fuddy duddy and go for more full on hoppy styles.

But the trad bitter tends to remain at the core of the permanent range for the old school regionals - who have a lot of tied pubs so the style won’t be going away any time soon. It’s interesting that the brewers who have sold off a lot of their brands & brewing interests - e.g. Wells, Thwaites, Young’s - need to find another way of keeping their pubs supplied with the considerable quantities required of their regular bitters which, presumably, weren’t of much interest to the purchaser of their brands.

Yet you do see an awful lot of unremarkable golden ales in cask-led pubs. I guess it’s a timely reminder of how much middle ground there still is.

Short and non-thought out answer: Yes, and goldens will be next

Actual answer:
I suspect this will take a generation or so to really change though. I’m 29 so relatively young here on RB, I’ve grown up finding the majority of bitters and goldens to be really boring. Yes, most are perfectly drinkable, but I’ve never had one that I’d really want again. Every one I’ve rated has more or less just been for the sake of it as it was easy to get hold of, a few I’ve enjoyed, but even in those cases they just don’t really do it for me like an IPA or a Stout or something else might.

For my age group I am certainly not alone in feeling this way. Whenever you go into a pub you’ll almost never see young people drinking any of the trad stuff on offer, it’s seen as an “old man’s drink”. The younger generation will either be on lagers, fruit ciders, or craft beer (usually pale ales) if any are on offer. I don’t know if we’ll see many of these people will switch to drinking bitters/goldens when they’re older, so as I said in a couple of generations time, who will be left to drink them? I can see it becoming a dying style, relegated to niche status, despite the history the style has in this country. Goldens seem to be slightly more approachable for lager drinkers which might explain why we’re starting to see more of them instead of bitters.

That’s my £0.02 on it anyway, from my perspective as a younger beer drinker.

I just checked my average scores and I have rated slightly more golden than Bitter. But both are struggling to reach 3.0.
As anything but a young drinker, I see this as ominous for bitter as a style. Incidentally Timothy Taylor was a standout Bitter for me and it would be encouraging to see newer brewers competing on the bitter range.

I’m also young by the standards of this site, and drinking traditional cask styles was all I did until about age 20. Now I live abroad I really miss good cask beer (there’s one brewery in NZ which is up to standard in that department) and so whenever I come back to the UK there is at least one young person drinking lots of cask bitter!

If I was to move back permanently, I imagine that would shift though, as whilst I like those styles, I probably do prefer ‘modern’ stuff.

I was thinking this. Goldens are now my most-rated style, having overtaken bitters about a month or two ago. I often go into a pub with three or four cask ales on, all golds. Even in winter.

I guess most people would be heading that way, if they haven’t already got there. Most brewers - except the “modern” ones of course - seem to stick with one or two bitters in their core range and tend more towards the paler beers with different hops etc for the specials. It’s not often (if at all) you see anything along the lines of a single hop series of bitters. So those of us who are constantly on the lookout for new beers - that is, most of us here - are naturally going to pick up a lot of golds. I’d imagine, though, for most of the more traditional brewers their standard bitter is still their best seller.

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Yip, Golds will overtake my Bitter totals early next year as very few new Bitters are being brewed compared to the citrusy golden ones.


Goldens have always been ahead of Bitters in my ratings. Though I seek out neither of them if I’m being honest as I heavily favour “modern” breweries now, few of which ever bother with either style.

Though speaking of modern breweries, I noticed today after looking at the Top 50 Bitters that Cloudwater once made a few of them which really surprises me as it seems like a style that that just really doesn’t “fit” for them. Any of you guys had any of them? I see a standard Bitter, a Vermont ESB, and a couple of “Session Bitter” from 2016, all released before I really became aware of them. It’s been 1 and a half years since they last released one so I assume they stopped them in favour of pales. Makes sense for them I suppose but I do hope they brew another one in 2018 as I’m curious how they taste with the use of new world hops, compared to traditionals.

Of the 76 beers tasted in the last month only 2 were golden ale. So there’s hope for civilization if you are provincial but discriminating.

Golden Ale/Blond Ale is my third most rated style in the past month behind IPA and a surprise to me Porter. Bitter is only 5th.

My top rated style but definitely not my favourite.

If this gets people drinking beer and keeps the current beer scene in the UK as vibrant and interesting as it ever has been then great. We had a proliferation of brewers making bitters in the 80s and 90s and the beer scene was average at best.
Things move on. There’s plenty of great beer in the UK. Just don’t drink the ones you don’t like. Simple!

From a historical perspective, golden bitters and pale ales are nothing new. The English were brewing golden beers back in the early 1800s and maybe 1700s - it was English pale malting technology that Groll acquired to make Pilsner, remember.

A proper Golden Ale in the modern CAMRA definition (which is more useful here than say BJCP), is rather more specific of course. Still recognisably a golden bitter, but one that’s hop-forward and typically citrus hops, over juicy malt (which starts to read a lot like APA…) and it certainly shouldn’t be bland by bitter standards.

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Bitter is my top rated beer numbers wise. Golden Ales are second but catching up. A little pet peeve for me though is when people enter a beer onto Ratebeer as a Golden ale simply because it is pale in colour when if they take the time to taste it, it is obviously a Bitter.

For me however if I go into a pub and there are no new ticks available I will nearly always go for the Bitter, Mild or cider (in that order) any day of the week over a Gold or lager.

If I could only drink one beer for the rest of my life it would be a good old dependable, all seasons, all occasions Bitter. You can keep your NEIPA or Imperial stouts.

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There’re a lot of bland golds out there, but done well, I love a cask gold. Something in the vain of a 4% Oakham is bloody lovely. The only thing that annoys me is that a lot of my local pubs with three or four hand pumps seem to always be golds, even in winter.