The Best Bottled Milds Are…

Mild taste-off: multiple milds in plastic beakers.

After five elimination rounds we ended up with eight bottled milds to compare against each other in the big final.

  1. Banks’s (can)
  2. Elgood’s
  3. Holden’s
  4. Ilkley
  5. Moorhouse’s
  6. Norfolk Brewhouse
  7. St Peter’s
  8. Thwaites’s (can)

We followed what has become our usual procedure: Bailey numbered eight plastic beakers and poured samples, as above; Boak then tasted them blind, promoting and demoting until we were left with a rough pecking order. Bailey (who sort of knew which beer was which) then reviewed her rankings.

In this case, we were in broad agreement, with only a little debate over third and fourth place: one beer was relatively bland but clean, the other more flavourful but with a nagging off-note. In the end, we went with clean, but there wasn’t much in it.

First place badge.First place: Holden’s Black Country. A noticeably ‘bigger’ flavour without resorting to stout-like roastiness or flowery hoppiness. It seemed somehow more dense and concentrated than its rivals, despite its restrained ABV of 3.7%. It isn’t quite like drinking cask mild but nor is it overly carbonated or crystalline as some bottled ales can be. Worth buying by the case with a session or two in mind. It is available for £2.09 a bottle at Beers of Europe.

Second: Moorhouse’s Black Cat. The smoky note we detected first time round was even more pronounced in this company — verging on cigarette ash at times. Nonetheless, it seemed quintessentially mild-like, and interesting to boot. Beers of Europe have it at £2.05 a bottle; if you live in the North West, you should be able to find it in shops fairly easily, and probably cheaper.

Best value badge.Third: Thwaites’s. This one slightly surprised us as, at a mere 3.2%, we thought it might get washed away alongside stronger, more characterful competitors. Though almost bland, it isn’t quite, and a tongue-coating body makes for a very convincing pub-style beer. It’s certainly top in terms of value selling for around a quid a can in supermarkets.

Fourth: Ilkley Black. We still like this beer a lot but it seemed marred by a faint slick of butter this time round. We bought ours from Beer Ritz at £2.96 but we are told it can be found in Asda stores in the North at less than £2 a bottle.

As for the others, we found St Peter’s much less enjoyable than on our first encounter, with an unbearable stale cardboardiness; Banks’s seemed all but flavourless in this company; Elgood’s was rather fizzy and Cola-like; and Norfolk Brewhouse’s effort was excellent but (perhaps this bottle was fresher) had grassy, flowery hop notes that seemed quite out place. (Links are to our original tasting notes.)

At the end of all that, we’ve got a much clearer idea of what we think mild is about. First, it has to put sweet malt and flavours from sugar at the forefront, but that doesn’t have to mean that it has to be sickly or lacking in character. Bitterness can work, but excessive perfume just seems wrong. Roastiness also jars, suggesting that some brewers remain in thrall to out-of-date history that declares mild to be a degeneration of porter, which it isn’t. (Though baby stout is quite a nice thing in their own right.)

Most importantly, though, we’re now convinced that bottled mild can work after all — great news for those of us who live in regions where it is rarely seen in the pub, and also for those of you abroad who want to get to understand the style without having to book a flight to Britain.

9 thoughts on “The Best Bottled Milds Are…”

  1. Interesting stuff. Course, then there’s light mild – although Lord knows where you’d find that in bottle (I can think of Dunham Light and, er…).

    1. Cheers. It’s just the new standard WordPress theme, Twenty Sixteen, with a custom header — not much thought involved!

    1. You might get some narky responses to this suggestion…

      Subtle Belgian-style spicing might work, I suppose.

  2. Love. It. Love the relative value considerations as well as the goal of defining what should be valued in the profile if it’s to earn the name.

  3. Moorhouse Black Cat is frequently available in B&M for £1 a bottle or not much more.

    Glad it came 2nd, its probably my favourite mild.

  4. I love a good mild, but the one that’s stayed with me for 10+ years was an oddly noticeably hoppy & slightly roasty pint (wrong on 2 counts by your estimations B&B😆)…of Cain’s cask Dark Mild. It was dark, almost black, pretty low abv, light in body, but with a creaminess & a slight roastiness.

    Their website (still up!?) confirms it had dry hops in cask. I think I also remember reading they’d used some unusual sugars to get the right combination of flavour, colour & body.

    The landlord’s name was Dave…© Viz Magazine…#RealAleTw@ts #CraftW@nkers

  5. Thank you so much for this. As an American on a tight travel budget, I’ve never had mild in the wild. I’ve tried my hand at it with homebrew and so far so good. Impossible for me to know if it’s what you might find there, but your descriptions have helped me to see that I’m on the right track. Huzzah!

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