Generalisations about beer culture opinion

Questions and Answers: Which Beers Excite ‘Traddies’?

‘Are there still any widely sought-after beers among traditional Real Ale afficionados? It’s pretty easy to spot what’s hot with craft beer geeks, but less so with traddies, probably because they aren’t all on Twitter. Are there still beers that would clear the floor at a CAMRA AGM if the rumour went around that a cask had just gone on at a nearby pub?’  — Dave S, Cambridge

(Dave is a regular commenter here and an occasional blogger; he is also on Twitter.)

This isn’t a question with a right-wrong answer — it’s an invitation to a thought experiment, which is fine by us. But we did begin by asking a few people we thought might have some insight into the tastes and desires of ‘traddies’ (a new word inspired, we assume, by the similar, faintly sneering ‘crafties’).

John Simpson's depiction of middle class student CAMRA members, 1975.
John Simpson’s depiction of middle class student CAMRA members, 1975.

First, Tom Stainer, head of communications at the Campaign for Real Ale (disclosure: we’re sometimes paid to write for CAMRA) took issue with the question:

I’ll gently accuse you of stereotyping. I’m not sure there is a broad, identifiable group of ‘traddies’ who all respond in the same way. I’d also suspect that… a fair number of AGM attendees would be as likely to sprint for the bar whether you announced a rare cask of Greene King 5X was being tapped, or a Camden collaborative keg.

That’s something to start with, though. Greene King 5X, the strong wood-aged beer that GK use for blending but otherwise don’t sell to the public, was a sensation at the last Great British Beer Festival we attended in 2012, strictly rationed and triggering the kind of agitated, faintly panicky queuing behaviour at which we Brits excel.

Tom also suggested that at the GBBF whatever is named Champion Beer of Britain ‘disappears pretty quickly’, and that anything in an unusual style is also popular, e.g. chilli porter. He asked around and got no other suggestions.

Tandleman couldn’t think of anything that quite fit the bill either, although he agreed with our suggestion that the humble Batham’s Bitter might get people a bit excited.


Phil, who has a beer blog at Oh Good Ale!, named a personal favourite of his, Blue Anchor Spingo Middle, but added that this was really all a question of geography:

Harvey’s might draw a crowd in Manchester, but not in the south-east…. [A] lot of the older breweries have got a beer that rarely travels, often a strong bitter – think Young’s Winter Warmer or Timothy Taylor’s Ram Tam…

On our long walk across country on Friday we gave this some thought ourselves, slightly refining Dave’s question as follows:

We are at a decent small regional CAMRA festival with a list on a par with, say, Bodmin. All the beers on offer are being served in perfect pub condition, the festival building is warm, comfortable and aesthetically pleasing, and we have a table. (Because, by default, we’d rather drink something ordinary served properly in a nice pub than something exotic dribbled into a dirty glass, with no head, at a festival.) Word goes round the festival that the pub down the road is serving X, which is not on the festival list, in equally good condition. What would X have to be to lure us away?

(Yes, we are casting ourselves as traddies, which we are, or at least more so these days than we are crafties.)

Phil’s response above highlights the extent to which the cult real ales of today aren’t so different to those of 40 years ago: Young’s Winter Warmer, which has a limited release, is regionally specific, and is in an obscure style, is a great example. Even though we’ve had it, and don’t love it, we feel obliged to drink it when we can because there’s always the fear that it might never be brewed again. See also: Fuller’s Hock (mild).

Cask Theakston’s Old Peculier might be another. It’s a national brand in bottles, and not widely admired in that format, but remains an obscurity as a draught beer, outside Yorkshire at least. We know that beer historian Ron Pattinson is a big fan and will go out of his way to drink it when he’s in London.

Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby mild is definitely one — a beer that is often talked about but rarely seen, that is an oddity at 6%, which also makes it a bit naughty. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also based on a historic recipe.

Elland 1872 porter, a multiple CAMRA award winner in a rarely-seen style, strikes us as another, although Tandleman tells us it’s easy to find in Wetherspoon pubs up north, which perhaps supports Phil’s point about geography.

We wouldn’t go out of our way for a pint of London Pride, even though we like it, because it’s not hard to find, or endangered; but we might for another bitter, Harvey’s Sussex Best, which is just that bit more obscure, quirkier (that occasional Brettanomyces character!) and, frankly, better. And Fuller’s own London Porter (cask) is beloved of traddies and crafties alike but rarely seen even when, in theory, it’s on release as a seasonal.

Then we got on to some beers that don’t exist, or not at the moment, or not yet, but that could easily be summoned into being. Cask-conditioned Guinness, for example, would just be irresistible:

We’d be out like a shot for a pint of Bass brewed to a 19th century recipe, dry-hopped to hell, and aged for a few months, like those brewed by Mark Dorber and enjoyed by influential beer geeks, brewers and writers at the White Horse in Fulham in the 1990s. The chance to drink any Fuller’s Past Masters beer on draught would probably do it, too, especially Double Stout. And, of course, any attempt at Boddington’s of yore.


So, a couple of conclusions, or maybe we should say generalisations:

  • Crafties lust after hoppy and/or sour beers; traddies are more likely to be seduced by the dark side.
  • Limited edition, or limited supply, is what makes the biggest difference, just as with your triple IPAs and Cantillon frenzies.
  • If traditional/regional/family brewers want people to coo over them and cask ale the same way they do over, say, Magic Rock and keg IPAs then they might be missing a trick by failing to simultaneously exploit and withhold their own back catalogues — if Zwanze Day can be a thing, why not the same for GK 5X?


Here’s the list we’ve ended up with, in no particular order:

  1. Greene King 5X (especially if there’s an option to blend it with other beers).
  2. Cask-conditioned Fuller’s Past Masters 1910 Double Stout.
  3. Bass brewed to any pre-1970 specifications.
  4. Harvey’s Sussex Best.
  5. Boddington’s to c.1968 spec.
  6. Cask Guinness.
  7. Young’s Winter Warmer.
  8. Theakston Old Peculier (cask).
  9. Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby mild.
  10. Elland 1872 Porter.
  11. Batham’s Bitter.
  12. Cask Fuller’s London Porter.

Not bad a line-up, eh?

But do feel free to ask yourself the question as set out above and let us know what would do it for you in the comments below.

41 replies on “Questions and Answers: Which Beers Excite ‘Traddies’?”

An excellent read. Personally, never mind pre-70s specifications, I would travel some way for a well kept Bass. In your part of the world, that would be the Sportman’s Arms at Heamoor, New Inn at Tywardreath and Black Swan at Gweek. Best examples in free houses in Newcastle-Under-Lyme, Leighton Buzzard and Holbrook still genuinely wonderful, but not often the case.

Agree on Old Peculiar, a rare sight now.

Martin — we’ve been to the Sportsman a couple of times in the last few weeks and there was no Bass! The Union and the Yacht in town both have it though, and both look after it well. We like a pint of Bass (me slightly more than the other half) but probably wouldn’t go out of our way for it if the pub or festival we were in had, say, St Austell Cornish Best. (Well, maybe if we hadn’t had a pint for a couple of years.)

When you say “rarely seen”, presumably you mean “rarely seen in Cornwall”, because both Sarah Hughes Ruby Mild and Old Peculier are pretty common on cask round here.

Re: Sarah Hughes, all I can tell you is that we never came across it except at festivals in a decade drinking in London; and we’ve never seen it in a pub anywhere until Falmouth a few weeks ago. But, yes, obviously, what is ‘rare’ depends on where you live and which pubs you go in.

For me and I’d consider myself reasonably “Trad”, it would probably be a geographical inversion of your above regional example with Harvey’s for a beer I’ve never had outside of its own area and nearly always at their brewery tap and that’s Cumbrian Legendary Ales’ Esthwaite Bitter. Ideally it would be served through a sparkler (though I’m generally neither pro or anti-sparkler). Also my opinion may have been influenced by the beautiful location where I’ve usually drunk this beer and by the fact that I’ve usually hiked for at least 3 hours before drinking it but I’d be interested to try this beer away from its natural habitat and even without a sparkler.

In a similar-ish vein while drinking and very much enjoying a pint of Brass Castle’s Loco Stock Bitter, halfway through a hike in the Chilterns, I was thinking which new wave micros make what could be considered a quality brown bitter, possibly with just a slight modern twist, that could compare favourably to Harvey’s Sussex Best or Adnam’s Southwold Bitter, I felt that Brass Castle’s certainly fitted the bill and another example, which I’ve had on numerous occasions, would be Haresfoot’s Lock Keeper’s.

By definition, the “traddie” is someone who isn’t in search of constant innovation, so it’s less likely that something will crop up that is an instant “must-have”.

I would say some of the low 1040s seasonal “old ales” that used to be made by brewers in the South such as Gales, Brakspear and King & Barnes. A classic beer style that seems to have largely disappeared now.

In general, beers from other parts of the country that are rarely seem in my local area. For example, I would make an effort to seek out a pub stocking Caledonian Edinburgh Castle on cask.

“Clearing the floor” is a daunting test, and some beers would not meet it to due to the familiarity factor, but Old Hooky in perfect condition (well, a “sine que non” for all these) would do it for me.

So would Worthington White Shield, which is occasionally available on cask or was.

So would Directors Bitter as brewed when Courage was brewing, the last ones I had were made in Bristol I believe.

So would, this may sound surprising, Fuller ESB, but as made in the 80s and 90s. I had read years ago it was tweaked, I think by increasing the hop rate, and I feel it was better before.

Very glad to read about Guinness Cask, it’s an obvious thing for them to do and I’ve bruited it for years. I just hope they do it all-malt, else the difference from the keg one may not be striking.


@ Gary. Interesting comment which highlights the importance over quality. I remember some wonderful Directors (and Courage Best) in Bristol’s Cornubia when it was brewed feet away (NBSS 4.5 stuff), but I doubt I’d find that quality again, even in it’s new hometown.

Same with Old Hooky (and basic Hooky); time-warp Peyton Arms in Stoke Lyne selling gallons of it and brilliant, but dining pubs near Banbury much less so.

Yes thanks and agree 100%. Courage’s Best Bitter had a fruity intensity and fine flavour that was brilliant.

One more: Ind Coope Burton Ale with its lush, plummy character.


Would the oak barrel aged variant on 1872 keep both sides happy? would certainly get me on a bus

Maybe not quite the question that was being asked, but here are 12 currently brewed beers that would produce a warm inner feeling if I walked into a pub and saw them on the bar. None are regularly available in any pub I go in.

Batemans Bitter
Bathams Best Bitter
Brains SA
Butcombe Bitter
Caledonian Edinburgh Castle
Draught Bass
Greene King XX Mild
Harveys Sussex Best
Hawkshead Bitter
Palmers Best Bitter
Three Tuns XXX
Wadworth 6X

If I had to pick a few “beers I miss”, then how about?

Border Exhibition Mild
Brakspear Bitter (the original, not the current one)
King & Barnes Old Ale
Yates & Jackson Bitter

Border Exhibition Mild – nice to hear a positive mention of the brewery which was just 100 yards down the hill from my primary school. I never got to try any of their beers as I was born too late but I can still remember the smell wafting up the hill. A hometown friend still speaks highly of their mild.

Brilliant response, thanks! And more great stuff in the comments, too.

I’ll own up to the fact that “traddies” and “crafties” are both lazy generalizations – that’s probably a fair point about CAMRA AGM attendees. It seems to have got the basic idea across without loads of hedging and qualifying, though, which was the goal. And it’s not meant to be sneering – I’ve got at least a foot in that camp myself, so I’d think of it as at worst gently self-mocking. (I thought “traddies” had more general currency, but I might be getting my beer and climbing vocabulary confused…)

Paul’s response is interesting, and fits in with a bit of a suspicion of mine (which kind of led to the question) – that unlike in the 70s, when there were so few surviving real ale breweries that the best of them ended up with fairly universal acclaim among enthusiasts, these days a lot of the big names have gone off the boil a bit (or tastes have left them behind), and while there are some excellent trad micros around, there are enough small breweries these days that without the social media feedback loop that you get around craft, one person’s “sought after” is another’s “who are they?” Whether this is a good or a bad thing is open to debate…

Oh, and a pint of Old Peculiar at the Dog and Gun in Keswick last November was definitely one of the best beers I had all year. It really is great stuff when it’s on form.

Much to agree with in all this.

Hushed tones. Rumour has it. But just one cask. They’d sell loads if they rolled this out. Why don’t they make this all year? Rebadge this and put it on at a craft bar and they’d be queuing for it. Keep it in the cellar six weeks, that’s the trick. A revelation on cask. Doesn’t travel, but oh my. Etc.

Mudgie already mentioned GK XX Mild. An excellent beer from a brewery I otherwise loathe.

The one I would run over hot coals for is Harveys Porter, which is up there with Fullers Porter in the “it’s insane this is not available, on cask, Nov-Feb in many outlets at a time and temperature the beers suit” category.

Bathams, too. Not had the Bathams, yet.

My final point is a square-the-circle jobby. Crafty kings Cloudwater have made my beer of the year – and I’m happy to call that early. It’s a best bitter – fancy malt bill and some equally fancy hops. But it truly is a balanced joy. Unrivalled quality, in my book, and one that would no doubt please traddies and crafties alike.

Had a quick pint of that at the Euston Tap back in December en route to somewhere, it was my first Cloudwater beer, not had a chance to try it again but have enjoyed others of theirs since, definitely one to look out for.

My five favourite beers to drink that are still brewed are.

Nottingham EPA
Oakham JHB
Blue Monkey BG Sips
Robinsons Old Tom especially when served from a small wood barrel on the bar,The Sycamore at Parwich usually as it on from November to April
Wye Valley Butty Bach

Long gone beers i would love to drink again are.

Shipstones Bitter
Boddingtons Bitter early 80s
Home Ales Mild,darker than Guinness maybe!
Shepherd Neame Mild
Watneys Red Barrel,just to see if it still tasted that bad.

Only ever had one pint of Nottingham EPA on a 2 day trip to Nottingham last year, absolutely cracking beer, sunk it in less than 10 minutes, would have had another if we hadn’t had to move on, definitely an ale to drag me out of any beer festival! Also had their Supreme Bitter at my local ‘spoons, the only time time I’ve seen one of their beers on in London, another excellent beer, couldn’t believe it had an ABV of 5%.

Nottingham EPA is a cracking pint – I used to get through plenty at the Plough back when I lived in around there.

On the other hand, your list kind of illustrates why I was asking the question – EPA and BG Sips, for instance, are both good beers, but a lot of people outside of the East Mids won’t have heard of them, so I don’t think that either of them would count as a cult beer on a national level in the way that, say, Ruddles County did in the 70s (apparently – I wasn’t there) or Magic Rock’s Bearded Lady would now.

Old Tom is a good call, though – I’d be pretty keen to try that on cask. On a similar note, Adnams’ Tally Ho might be another example. On the other hand, maybe that’s my crafty side coming to the fore?

Nicely done.

I would travel from my current home (Hong Kong) to my old one just outside of Horndean, the spiritual home of Gale’s Ales, for a single drop of Gale’s Prize Old Ale if Fuller’s saw fit to brew it again….

Larkin’s Porter – not a cult beer and impossible to find outside the bottom left-hand corner of Kent, and the adjoining part of Sussex. Some friends found it on sale at the Windmill at Sevenoaks Weald, yesterday; totally out of season, but still superb even on a hot summer’s day! The annoying thing is I had been invited to join them, but had to decline for family reasons.

BTW, why this fascination with pre-1970’s beer specs? The past is the past; this is the now, and now is the only thing which ever exists, as it is always “now”.

I also very much doubt that cask Guinness would be up to much, especially as there are some excellent proper cask stouts available.

Paul, you are right if they don’t pasteurize it and leave enough yeast to count for real ale under CAMRA.

But let’s say they used a mashbill from the late 1800s as reported in “A Bottle of Guinness Please”: The Colourful History of Guinness, by David Hughes.

Let’s say they used a historical hop spec.

Let’s say they used wort to condition the beer. And blended the pint from an active cask and a slower one longer on stillage.

Well now it’s different. Now it blows most of the others out of the water.


And blended the pint from an active cask and a slower one longer on stillage.
I got a “maybe” when I asked if they were going to do this. I wasn’t that impressed when Dungarvan served their stout this way at a festival a few years back. But then it doesn’t have the lactic twang that Guinness does and I’m guessing that’s an essential flavour component of the old beer.

Sorry I just saw this part of what you wrote: “BTW, why this fascination with pre-1970’s beer specs? The past is the past; this is the now, and now is the only thing which ever exists, as it is always ‘now'”.

The reason is to understand how beer tasted in the past. If that interest did not exist, craft beer would not exist, period.


Plus also there is reasonable evidence that Boddington’s and Bass specifically tasted *better* then.

Larkins beer is absolutely bloody superb. They deserve the “it’s a real bugger this is only hyper local” cachet of Bathams and the like.

What a great post. I was itching to post my suggestions but they’ve already been mentioned. It would have to be an Old Ale (Harvey’s, still with us, praise be, King & Barnes’, and of course the Gale’s much stronger version – Gale’s also produced a wonderful festival mild, nearly 5% in bottled form, though I never had that on draught). And, yes, I’m sure any traddie would walk over burning coals, as I would, for Fuller’s Past Masters, a Vintage Ale, or 1845 from a cask. The dark and the strong has it I reckon..

Parcel Yard in Kings Cross had a cask of vintage last Christmas, so it is a thing that happens!

Yes, Elland 1872 porter is quite widely available in Manchester Spoons; the Paramount in the town centre has it on permanently (they even badged it as ‘Paramount Porter’ for a while – a porter as the ‘house beer’!). I’ve seen (and had) Old Peculier on draught in Spoons a few times – and in one of those pubs with a solid but doggedly unadventurous cask range – & I’ve got to admit I’d rather discounted it: it’s still better than Hobgoblin, but it isn’t what it was.

A couple of months ago I heard that a local-ish pub had Batham’s Bitter on, so I left work a bit early & made the detour on the way home; it was an hour each way. That to me is the test – not “would you take the day off for this beer?”, because in practice most of us wouldn’t & couldn’t, but “would you sit in traffic for two hours?”. But, as I said when asked, this gets mixed up with whether you’d have to: I wouldn’t count Old Tom as a two-hour-detour beer, but that’s only because it’s never been that for me. On the other hand, I emphatically would count Spingo Middle, and one or two of the other Blue Anchor beers.

I think there aren’t that many really classic standard bitters, and most of those that are classics (e.g. Harvey’s HSB) are reasonably widely available; that’s why Batham’s and Spingo stand out. Several of the beers we’ve been talking about – including Old Tom – are seasonals, which are a bit harder than usual than most beers by definition. Then there’s a third group, the ‘minor’ beers that established breweries sometimes keep on without ever really pushing them – things like Adnams’ Old Ale, or Timothy Taylor’s Ram Tam or Dark Mild. (I’ve seen TT’s light mild Golden Best in many places, but I can only think of one pub where I’ve seen the Dark – and I’ve only ever seen Ram Tam at a festival.)

Serendipitously stumbling on odd beers like these is one of the minor pleasures of pubgoing; I wouldn’t be without it.

If Zwanze Day can be a thing, why not the same for GK 5X?

Possibly the worst idea you’ve ever had.

Ha! I like the suggestion that there’s a constant stream of shit ideas but that this one is even worse than usual. What’s so offensive about it?

Any such suggestion is entirely in your mind – it certainly wasn’t in mine. You could be averaging a solid 9 on the Good Idea-O-Meter with only the occasional 1 or 2 – a solid zero would still be the worst idea you’d ever had!

As for why it’s a bad idea, think serendipity; think rumour; think hidden treasure; think stumbling on the best beer ever when you take the wrong turn in a strange town, and only discovering years later that it actually was the best beer ever… Finding amazing beers unexpectedly is one of the best things about pubgoing, and by extension the British beer scene. Replacing it with one of the worst things about the American beer scene – a scrum at the brewery gate, awesome beers going for silly prices (then getting sold on for even sillier prices) and people complaining because they’d been there since 6.00 a.m. and the imperial stout still ran out before they got to it…? No ta.

I like this test, it’s rather like the origins of Michelin stars for restaurants: one star meant “stop here if you’re driving past”; two meant “worth a detour if you’re in the area” and three meant “worth a journey in its own right”. It’s how I tend to rate pubs myself.

I know many people don’t particularly rate their beers, but if I heard that Donnington BB or SBA were on sale at a local(ish) pub I would certainly make an effort to call in.

Cask Fuller’s Vintage Ale is usually available at the Manchester Beer festival. It’s a must drink beer for me. If a pub has Hawkshead Bitter I’ll drink it all afternoon/evening/night.

Here’s a short story about how a broken down car converted me to craft beer last Friday.
There hasn’t been a single craft beer I’ve ever tasted which has knocked my socks off.Gazillions of over-hopped IPAs all tasting exactly the bleedin’ same.Not for me squire.I likes me beer as brown as Bisto.
I was on my way back from the Lizard to Dartmouth after a couple of days walking the South Coast Path when the car conked out on the A38 just outside Truro and was towed to a nearby garage where the news was not good – £850 of repairs which wouldn’t take place till the next day.
So commenced an irritating journey by taxi,several trains and a bus to get back to my digs for the night.
Just before catching the bus from Totnes station I had 45 minutes to kill and feeling peckish I wandered off for a nosebag and chanced upon the New Lion Brewery,housed in an unprepossessing shop unit which just happened to have a pop-up bar that evening.
So I squeezed in to the unit with tanks and hosepipes and three or four other people and not very hopefully called a pint of Pandit IPA.
And bugger me it was gorgeous. Hoppy,yes,but also full of grapefruity resinous flavour and so drinkable I was desperate for a second but after my day of expensive bad luck there was no way I was going to miss that last bus home.
So a bizarre day ended in an even stranger way – I finally ” got ” craft beer.

A year ago, CAMRA geeks round here would talk in hushed tones about Titanic Plum Porter; it’s not quite the same since it won Specialist Beer of the Year last year and they massively ramped up production, but at the same time it’s probably given it the national profile that you were maybe thinking of.

More in keeping with the “cult”(ish) beers mentioned here, would be Beartown Wojtek, a WBA winner that only gets brewed when they need to fill some bottles – maybe once every 9 months or so. They used to set aside 20 firkins or so of each gyle for cask, firmly for selected pubs on a waiting list, but they’ve started doing it in keg so it’s a bit more accessible. I’ve seen the bottles in Booth’s supermarkets, although that won’t help those down south.

Black Sheep Special used to be a bit like that, only seen in favoured local pubs, but they’ve now made it into a core beer and it’s not the same.

My “historical” beer would be 1990s Shepherd Neame IPA – only ever seen in bottle in favoured Sheps’ pubs, they tried to bring it back but again as a pale shadow of itself.

For a “standard” bitter that for me is OK-but-nothing-special, Weetwood Eastgate seems to have a following that is perhaps based in a history of being a good beer when there wasn’t much else around.

Star (ie Heineken) are really pushing Theakston and Caley as the ales in their tied pubs, so you might want to do some research on what they own locally. Doesn’t guarantee that it will be well kept, but there’s a fair chance a tenant will at least rotate through Castle if they are a pub that is interested in ale. Untappd reviews can at least give you an idea when it’s on, although the traditionalists are perhaps less likely to use Untappd…

[1872 Porter]
Tandleman tells us it’s easy to find in Wetherspoon pubs up north

Indeed. Spoons’ are also the only place I ever see Old Peculier. Hard to think of it as ‘rare’. Then again, I don’t really think of cask Old Tom as rare, but that’s only because I happen to live a bus ride away from Stockport.

I would make – in fact have made – an hour-long detour for the chance to drink Batham’s Bitter. I’d do the same for Spingo Middle, which I think would definitely belong on your list if you two weren’t sick of the sight of it!

On historic brews, I used to love Marston’s dark mild – and Owd Roger come to that. Haven’t seen either of them on draught since before the W&D takeover (and bottled OR is a shadow of its former self, unsurprisingly).

There aren’t that many breweries whose standard bitter is (a) hard to find and (b) worth seeking out – Batham’s (and maybe Holden’s), Spingo, and, er. A lot of the beers we’re talking about are seasonal specials, so they’re never all that easy to find. A more interesting category, perhaps, are the year-round specialities (strong bitters, porters & dark milds) that have never found a wider audience – take Timothy Taylor Ram Tam & Dark Mild, Adnam’s Old Ale, or just about anything from Harvey’s that isn’t a bitter.

if Zwanze Day can be a thing, why not the same for GK 5X?

That’s literally the worst idea you’ve ever had.

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