May is Mild Month

The British advocacy group CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, promotes the month of May as “Mild Month” in an effort to educate people about a style that’s dying before their eyes throughout England. Since this Friday’s “Session” — a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday — that I’ll be hosting will be about Milds, I thought I’d collect and provide some basic information about this relatively unknown and misunderstood style. In fact, the theme for Friday’s “Session” is “The Mysterious Misunderstood Mild” in an effort to make these delicious beers less so. Yesterday, CAMRA had a press release in anticipation of Mild Month beginning today that summarizes their efforts.

Mild was once Britain’s most popular style of real ale, but had fallen out of fashion in favour of other beers. However there are still many brewers who are enthusiastic about the future of Mild and CAMRA is dedicated to making sure their beers get the credit they deserve.

May has been designated as Mild Month by CAMRA and the consumer organisation is urging beer lovers to seek out milds in their local pubs and rediscover this wonderfully flavoursome beer.

CAMRA also suggests a few recipes for cooking with mild.

Mild’s popularity has been waning since at least 1960. In 1959 the style accounted for 42% of beer sold in Great Britain, but by 1980 its popularity had dropped to a mere 10% and today it’s far less than that. For a good overview of the history of the style and what led to its decline, read the December 1998 article that All About Beer magazine ran on the subject by Roger Protz, entitled “Vanishing Mild.”

Here’s how CAMRA describes milds:

Mild is one of the most traditional beer styles which is enjoying a revival in today’s real ale market. Usually dark brown in colour, due to the use of well-roasted malts or barley it is less hopped than bitters and often has a chocolatety character with nutty and burnt flavours.

Cask conditioned Mild is a rarity in a lot of parts of the country, which is a crying shame, because Mild is a distinctive and tasty beer. Mild is one of, if not the, oldest beer styles in the country. Until the 15th century, ale and mead were the major British brews, both made without hops. Hops were introduced from Holland, France and Germany after this time. This also started the trend on reducing the gravity of ale, as the Hop is also a preservative, and beers had to be brewed very strongly to try to help preserve them. The hop also started the rapid decline of mead, which is only made in a very few places today.

So what is Mild? It is a beer which has tastes and textures all it’s own. Basically it is a beer that is less hopped than bitter, etc. The darkness of Dark Milds, such as Greene King XX Mild, comes from the use of darker malts and/or roasted barley which are used to compensate for the loss of Hop character. “Chocolate “, “fruity”, “nutty” and “burnt” are all tastes to be found in the complexity of Milds. However, not all milds are dark. Yorkshire brewed Timothy Taylors Golden Best is one of the best examples of a light coloured mild, as is Bank’s Original, the name changed from Mild to try to give it a more modern image. In Scotland, 60/- ale is similar to mild (Belhaven’s being a good example).

Milds today tend to have an ABV in the 3% to 3.5% range, with of course some notable exceptions. In fact, a lot of the Microbreweries who try their hand at mild are bringing the alcohol content back up somewhat! Mild wasn’t always weaker though. In the latter half of the 19th Century, milds were brewed to about the same strength as bitters as a response to the demand for a sweeter beer from the working classes and in those days most bitters were around 6 to 7% ABV.

During the First World War, malt rationing and pressure from the temperance movement led to brewers rapidly reduced the strength. Following the Second World War, as prosperity returned, mild`s popularity as a cheap ale began to fade, not being helped by being kept badly in run down pubs as the Big Brewers began to heavily promote their keg lager brands. Coupled to this was a gradual, but steady decline in heavy industry in the North and Midlands of Britain, mild`s great marketplace.

By the 1970s, the keg lager boom had seen mild’s share of the market fall to around 13% and it was a shame to see a bland gassy and overpriced product, which was generally weaker than the mild it was trying to oust, succeed in many cases.

On this side of the pond, there is a great deal of confusion about milds, though for me the most curious issue is that people don’t like the name. What on earth could be wrong with the word “mild,” which in terms of flavor is defined as “not sharp, pungent, or strong.” It’s the very opposite of extreme, but is still full-flavored and delicious. I can think of countless scenarios where a mild would be the ideal compliment to the situation, weather, food, etc.

Making things more confusing is the fact that oftentimes in England a mild when bottled is called a brown ale, but this is still not the same as a brown ale like Newcastle. And then there’s the fact that there are two recognized styles of milds, pale milds and dark milds, further clouding things.

The BJCP organizes milds under their Style #11, English Brown Ale, with 11A designated mild and two additional sub-styles, northern and southern English brown ale. They suggest IBUs of 10-25, SRM of 12-25, and ABV of 2.8-4.5%, with most falling between 3.1-3.8%. The only American example they list is Goose Island PMD Mild.

For the 2007 Great American Beer Festival, The Brewers Association will for the first time include milds as a separate category in the style guidelines. Two categories, actually, as they’re dividing them into two separate styles, English-Style Pale Mild Ale and English-Style Dark Mild Ale. These appear to be the same as Category 56 for the World Beer Cup. For the BA, Pale Mild has IBUs of 10-20, SRM of 8-17 and ABV of 3.2-4% and for Dark Mild, IBUs of 10-24, SRM of 17-34 and ABV of 3.2-4%.

The color distinctions between the two are described as “golden to amber” for pale mild and “deep copper to dark brown (often with a red tint)” for dark mild. Both are dominated by malt favors with very low bittering discernible and allow for some low levels of diacetyl (butterscotch). The dark mild may also include some licorice or “roast malt tones.”

On Friday, if you’re participating in “The Session,” be sure to post a comment to the mild hosting post that will appear here on the Bulletin shortly after midnight PDT. I’ll try to add links in near-realtime and write up the days’ entries as time permits.

So for Friday’s Mild Session Blogging Extravaganza, it might not be quite as simple to find a mild as going to your friendly neighborhood corner bar or liquor store. Hopefully, the information listed above may give you some help in finding a suitable beer to write about. The beer may not have the word “mild” written anywhere on the label, but if it’s close to the style parameters then go for it. The idea of Beer Blogging Friday is to be as inclusive as possible so we’re not going to get too hung up on strict style standards — whatever those might be. Find a “mild” beer and join us. To get you started, listed below are some American milds listed on the major beer forums:

The Top Rated American Milds From Beer Advocate*

English Pale Mild Ale:

Mild Ale, from Southern Tier Brewing, Lakewood, New York
Arcadia Special Reserve, from Arcadia Brewing, Battle Creek, Michigan
Cattail Ale, from Lakefront Brewery, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

English Dark Mild Ale:

Merrimack Mild, from The Tap (Haverhill Brewery), Haverhill, Massachusetts
Milltown Mild, from Victory Brewing, Downingtown, Pennsylvania
Harbor Lighthouse Ale, from Bar Harbor Brewing, Bar Harbor, Maine
Pride & Joy Mild Ale, from Three Floyds Brewing, Munster, Indiana
Motor City Brewing Ghettoblaster, from Motor City Brewing Works, Detroit, Michigan
 

The Top Rated American Milds From Rate Beer*

Merrimack Mild, from The Tap (Haverhill Brewery), Haverhill, Massachusetts
Dawn Patrol Dark Mild, from Pizza Port, Solana Beach, California
Titletown Brewing Whistling Chicken Mild Ale, from Titletown Brewing, Green Bay, Wisconsin
Flossmoor Station XXX Mild Ale, from Flossmoor Station, Flossmoor, Illinois
Brew It Up! Northern Mild Brown Ale, from Brew It Up!, Sacramento, California
 

And here are a few more American milds that I know about:*

Bells New World Ale, from Bells Brewery, Galesburg, Michigan
Iron Hill Mild Ale, Iron Hill Brewpubs, various locations in Delaware and Pennsylvania
Jeezum Jim, from Magic Hat Brewing, South Burlington, Vermont
John Harvards British Pale Mild, John Harvards Brewhouse, various locations
Lee’s Mild, Stone Brewing, Escondido, California
London Tavern Mild, from Valley Brewing, Stockton, California
Midlands Mild Ale, from Avery Brewing, Boulder, Colorado
Sara’s Ruby Mild, from Magnolia Pub & Brewery, San Francisco, California
Schlafly English Mild, from the Saint Louis Brewery, St. Louis, Missouri
Thunderhead Mild Ale, from Thunderhead Brewing, Kearney, Nebraska
Triumph Mild Ale, from Triumph Brewing, Princeton, New Jersey
Wynkoop Mayorale Mild, from Wynkoop Brewing, Denver, Colorado
 

* For both Beer Advocate and Rate Beer, most of the top-rated milds are, naturally, English beers. I removed those British beers from the list here because I figured it was we Americans (and Canadians) that will need the most help in finding a mild. And for all of the listed beers, I have no idea whether or not they are currently available.

Comments

  1. says

    All great background. I have found the impulse to connect late 1800s to early 1900s mild to medival unhopped ale a bit problematic as I have found no reference to a record of the two styles actually existing within 200 years of each other – Unger point to ale being dead by about 1650 – but that may well be the fault only of a lack of records or a fault of my choice of reading. I prefer the other explanation (in that better ties into the boom of mild between porter and pale ales) that it was a later VIctorian reaction against the tang of porter or other beers with a “stock” character.

  2. says

    Buzzsaw Brown from Deschutes seems to be another widely available option for those west of the Rocky’s. Although, it may be hopped with an American varity. Regardless, it’s a great beer when you can’t find the beers on the list above.

  3. says

    Jay,

    The cat is out of the bag. I have already put to bed my post on Dawn Patrol
    Dark. I look forward to the GABF this year. I didn’t realize that
    they had taken the category out one more step. That is great for
    recognition sake. Its own category.

  4. says

    It’s nothing short of comical that BeerAdvocate and Ratebeer’s top rated milds are all from the US…

    Anyway…

    My understanding is that the name “mild” refers not to the flavour of the beer, but rather the fact that mild ale was relatively immature beer, as opposed to old ale (“mild” is an archaic term for “young”, just as “stout” used to mean “strong”).

  5. Loren says

    Not sure Southern Tier makes theirs anymore. And like 3 Floyd’s version it was distinctly American. But still a great session beer.

    Merrimack Mild, from The Tap (Haverhill Brewery) is still my all time fave, although Dann P. is gone so who knows.

    Cheers!

  6. says

    Jay:
    I’ve been “hunting” milds for two weeks with no success here in North Carolina.

    At last weekend’s World Beer Festival Hapoon was supposed to have a beer they called “Brown Session Ale,” which I figured would be a mild. They did not bring it. Then I stumbled across Natty Green’s Brown, which had many of the taste characteristics of mild — but at 4.4% is out of the range.

    I’m heading to Chicago on Friday and plan to look for the Three Floyd’s mild and I also believe that Goose Island sometimes has a mild. Hopefully, I’ll come up with something.

    It’s a style worth writing about — if you can find it!

    Cheers!
    Rick

  7. says

    Stonch,

    Sorry to disappoint your laugh, but I removed the English examples that were among the top-rated to help out the Americans. I figured the Brits would have much less trouble finding a mild and wouldn’t need the assistance. Most of the top-rated on both are indeed UK beers, I just filtered them out, though I suppose I should have made that fact clearer.

    J

  8. says

    Maybe I’ve been hanging out with Belgian brewers (and their friends) too much, but let’s not get too hung up on the current “style” guidelines.

    As CAMRA points out, in the 19th century these beers were much stronger (1.085 at the beginning of the 19th century) and today small-batch brewers are bringing the alcohol level back up.

    Rick, I agree about Buzzsaw Brown. A really nice beer, though I wouldn’t call it “not bitter.” But worth praising, and maybe making the Friday beer, because it does drop the abv to session level (US, at least) and wouldn’t be called hop accented.

    I remember having the Three Floyds Mild in Sheffield’s in Chicago shortly after it came out. A rather pedantic homebrewer (is that redundant? smile, I’m a homebrewer) handed his glass back to the bartender and said, “This is a mild,” and began to recite the style guidelines.

    The bartender did not pause: “Nick Floyd said it was mild for them.”

  9. says

    J – ah! That explains it!

    Still, the American-centric nature of the ratings and style categories on BA in particular have made me chuckle from time to time… who knew that San Miguel is an “American Macro Lager” (whatever that is…)

  10. says

    Stan, I heartily agree, and said so, but it’s worth repeating. “The beer may not have the word “mild” written anywhere on the label, but if it’s close to the style parameters then go for it. The idea of Beer Blogging Friday is to be as inclusive as possible so we’re not going to get too hung up on strict style standards — whatever those might be. Find a “mild” beer and join us.”

    J

  11. says

    The UK-US difference, though, is accentuated to a degree by the deviation/evolution of bottled brown from a rich round mild beer to a hoppier one. Is anyone in the US making Extreme Brown? Is that a logical extension?

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