Matt’s Myriad of Beer Styles #3 – Mild

Naylor’s – Velvet

Having covered some lesser known and more unusual beer styles in the first two editions of this column, I thought we would have a look at a more famous beer style this time around and one which is synonymous with working class Britain.

I am, of course, referring to Mild. Mild ale is a low-gravity beer with a largely malty flavour. It is typically dark in colour, but can be light, and is typically between 3.0% and 3.6% ABV, but can be a lot stronger. Confused? Let me explain!

The term mild refers to a young beer, as opposed to aged beer, and one which is mildly hopped. The name doesn’t actually have anything to do with its weakness and used to be a term to describe any beer with these characteristics, without being a beer style in itself. In the 19th century, most breweries produced three or four mild ales, usually designated by a number of X’s. The one with the lowest ABV was often designated “X”, and the strongest “XXXX”.

Wharfedale – Black Dog

The examples of the time were considerably stronger than the milds of today, with the gravity ranging from around 1.055 to 1.072 (about 5.5% to 7% ABV). Gravity dropped throughout the late 19th century and, by the time of the First World War, the weakest milds were down to about 1.045, but still considerably stronger than examples we see today.

The style was first brewed with brown malt, but was eventually replaced with pale malt when it became more widely available. In addition, most milds contain a quantity of crystal malt and dark milds often use chocolate malt, black malt or dark brewing sugars. The darker grains and sugars give the beer both the colour and sweetness demanded by the drinkers to restore energy spent during the working day.

The modern dark mild varies from dark amber to near-black in colour and is very light-bodied. Its flavour is dominated by malt, sometimes with roasty notes derived from the use of black malt, with a subdued hop character, though there are some quite bitter examples. Some dark milds are even created by the addition of caramel to a pale beer.

Light mild is generally similar, but paler in colour. Brown and Mild (aka “Boilermaker”) was a variation popular in the West Midlands whereby half a pint of draught mild was mixed with half a bottle of brown ale in a pint glass. Similarly, in the North West of England, half a pint of mild was mixed with half a pint of bitter and was known as “Mixed”.

Old Mill – Traditional Mild

Until around 50 years ago, mild was the most popular beer style in Britain, but these days only makes up a little over 1% of beer sold in our pubs. Why the decline? Unfortunately, it was mainly due to the image that was associated with the style, e.g. the cloth cap wearing old coal miner with his whippet by his side. Some people also say that because of the dark colour of the beer, unscrupulous publicans used to top up the casks with “slops” (spilt beer), which obviously did nothing for the quality of the beer and would no doubt would have led to people avoiding it altogether.

CAMRA was so concerned about the decline in the style that they dedicated May as “Mild Month” in order to try to promote it and this campaign continues to this day. Fortunately, mild is making a bit of a comeback, largely assisted by some wonderful examples of the style winning the acclaimed CAMRA Champion Beer of Britain title. Mighty Oak’s Oscar Wilde (3.7%) won the title in 2011 and, from much closer to home, Rudgate Ruby Mild (4.4%) was victorious in 2009.

Other examples of mild ales I have enjoyed recently are Brass Castle Hazelnut Mild (4.2%), Brown Cow Captain Oates Dark Mild (4.5%), Great Heck Voodoo Mild (4.3%), Ilkley Ruby Jane (4%), Naylors Velvet (4%), Old Mill Traditional Mild (3.4%), Rudgate Brew No. 1 (3.6%), Sunbeam Ales Chocolate Mild (4.5%), Wharfedale Black Dog (4.3%), York Whoops (3.6%), and Yorkshire Heart Hearty Mild (4%). Perhaps the most famous Strong mild is Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby (6%).

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