Mild in Manchester

The Grey Horse, Manchester.

It turns out to be difficult to stumble upon cask mild in Manchester these days — you need a few clues as to where to look.

We have a theory that we’ve been testing for a few years now that there’s a sort of corridor running from the Midlands to Manchester where you can expect any halfway decent pub to have some kind of mild on offer, even if it’s only keg. (Keg mild can be quite decent, but it’s distinctly different.) When we’ve floated this thought before people have pointed out that it might extend down as far as Cambridge and up to Leeds, so something like this:

Mild map of England
Adapted from images at Wikipedia.

We’re not interested in pubs that sometimes have a guest mild, or left-field interpretations of mild. In fact, we’re sceptical of many micro-brewery milds which, through misunderstandings over how the style evolved, are too often really baby stouts. No, what we’re intrigued by is the idea that there are still pockets of the country where you could, if sufficiently perverse, be a Mild Drinker, day in day out, in roughly the same style as your parents or grandparents before you.

In fact, it was my parents who triggered our latest round of pondering on this. They were in Manchester on family business (my Mum is from Lancashire) and Dad wanted to know where he could get a pint of cask mild. We, hundreds of miles in Cornwall, didn’t know, and so asked Twitter. Various people chipped in, notably @pubs_of_mcr and @beer_justice, providing us with this do-able list:

  • The Abel Heywood
  • The Ape & Apple
  • The Circus Tavern
  • The Grey Horse
  • Gullivers
  • The Millstone
  • The Old Monkey
  • Rain Bar

After all that, the folks didn’t get chance to go pub crawling, but fortunately, a couple of weeks ago, I did, so the effort wasn’t wasted.

I didn’t make it to Gulliver’s or the Ape & Apple. There was no mild to be had at The Circus (gas fire, tiny rooms, Tetley), The Millstone (enthusiastic karaoke), The Old Monkey (weird cold light) or Rain Bar (jeans and sheux). What I did find was a lot of this kind of thing:

Manchester faux-craft.
SOURCE: Lees/Hyde’s.

The Abel Heywood, an upmarket glossy-wood and sharing-platters pub, had light mild (Hyde’s 1863) but no dark and, really, isn’t a pint-of-mild kind of place. Where I had real success, and perhaps my favourite pub of a long weekend filled with classics (Peveril of the Peak, Lass O’Gowrie, Briton’s Protection) was The Grey Horse.

It’s a small single-room pub with a tiny bar and a psychically implied divide between public bar (front) and saloon (back). It’s properly worn-in, scrubbed raw rather than polished, and feels as if it ought to be on a back street in the terraced suburbs rather than at the heart of the city. There were older men in football shirts (‘Alright, Red.’; ‘Oh, it’s you is it, Rickets?’), couples fresh from the office with loosened ties and discarded high heels, and a handful of rosy-cheeked twenty-somethings. On my first visit the big excitement was that someone had spilled a pint on a chair. Rather than remove the chair from service it had been left in play so that every time some new entrant went to sit on it the whole pub would break into panicked warnings.

Hyde’s dark mild is weirdly branded now as Old Indie ‘dark ale’ suggesting perhaps some sort of session black IPA. It cost £2.87 a pint and was presented with a good wedge of creamy tan foam. (If I wasn’t a stranger in town, I might have asked for a top up.) My first impression was that this is a classic muddy mild with just a snap of sugar and butter upfront before the ultimate wateriness washed them away. Entirely bland, which is not necessarily pejorative. And there was so much going on in the pub I didn’t need the beer to be entertaining and so I thought, yes, I could happily sit here and drink six of these if I didn’t have somewhere else to go.

I was drawn back a second time, this time in daylight, and found the pub no less appealing. The beer I enjoyed more even after (or perhaps because of?) a weekend filled with a palate-battering canned IPAs, Belgian beer and pale’n’hoppy cask ales. It felt like a convalescent treatment.

As ever, apologies if I’ve got Manchester wrong. I’m not claiming to be an authority, just an admirer.

* * *

If you want to drink proper old-fashioned mild in England here’s a handful of places you can rely on, based on our experience:

CAMBRIDGE: The Free Press, Prospect Row — Greene King XX
BRIERLEY HILL (Dudley): The Vine (Bull & Bladder) — Batham’s
LONDON: The Royal Oak, Tabard Street — Harvey’s
MANCHESTER: The Grey Horse, Portland Street — Hyde’s Old Indie
NETHERTON (Dudley): The Old Swan (Ma Pardoe’s) — Olde Swan Dark Swan
WOLVERHAMPTON: The Great Western, Sun Street — Holden’s

We’d very much welcome recommendations for other places to check out but remember we’re after reliable sources of old school mild, not a pub that occasionally has one as a guest.

42 thoughts on “Mild in Manchester”

  1. Seems like it’s actively curving to avoid Lincolnshire. As an ex semi regular in both Ma Pardoe’s and the Great Western I feel personally attacked!

      1. Bateman’s famously (or notoriously) discontinued their Dark Mild, presumably because it wasn’t selling well enough.

        1. Is that the “black and white”?

          If so a shame, because despite the naff pump clip, it was a nice beer.

  2. Outside the Mild Banana on your map, The Nags Head in Reading always has a Mild on, often Maggs Magnificent Mild from West Berkshire (also a staple at the nearby Alehouse) or Pressed Rat and Warthog from Triple FFF.

    1. That Pressed Rat & Warthog has blown me away a few times (Canterbury fest, GBBF), but it strikes me that it might lie more on the mini-stout end of the spectrum.

  3. My local, a large Holt’s pub in North Manchester, does usually have a mild on – haven’t been in in a while though. Interesting that most of the places recommended are owned by the traditional Manchester breweries – maybe some of the independently run and newer venues need to start thinking about diversifying their range to reach all drinkers.
    I’m also impressed you went into the Millstone! Never fancied it or known anyone who has actually ventured in. Just too much karaoke.

  4. Our local branch of CAMRA runs an annual “Mild Magic” trail in April and May, but it must be said that most of the entries are pubs that have a guest mild or (claim to) put one on specially for the event.

    When Robinson’s dropped 1892 (formerly Hatters Mild) a couple of years ago it must have halved the regular outlets for cask mild in the area. It’s now only Hydes and a few Holts that can be relied on.

    Every Sam Smith’s pub offers one or other of 2.8% ABV keg light and dark mild, though 😀

    1. It certainly did. I went looking for it last week but found the Dark on keg in the Brains houses I popped in. Swansea Brewery Deep Slade Dark in terrific but only seen in their few pubs.

      Best GK XXX Mild I’ve had was in Stevenage last year in the Chequers, a revelation.

  5. I think your C shaped curve should really just be a big red blob that covers the entire midlands, because there is plenty of mild in Nottingham both on keg and cask – try the Rock Mild in the Plough, Radford, or the Keg Mansfield Dark in any number of delightfully rough keg only pubs.

    The Green King XX is a dreadful beer, just go next door to the Elm Tree where the Shefford Mild is far superior.

    1. “The Green King XX is a dreadful beer”

      I liked it, but then I like this type of beer. If you don’t like this type of beer, of which it is typical, then I can see why you wouldn’t. The other half wasn’t so convinced, for starters.

      1. Within that particular style, the Shefford Mild is much better – did your host not take you to both establishments so you could compare them back to back?

        1. To be fair we don’t ‘always’ have a mild on in The Elm Tree although it is worth the 30 second walk to check out whats on if you are in the Free Press anyway…

  6. I realise it’s a thorny topic, but some people (inc. Michael Jackson and the brewery itself) used to consider McMullen’s AK a mild. It’s now branded as a bitter (without the recipe having been changed, afaik), but it’s available in cask in most of their estate in Herts/N. London.

  7. Mild is definitely a traditionally urban drink, associated with old industrial towns, whereas the countryside is more traditionally associated with cider. Bitter, which I understand became popular much later, is far more ubiquitous, albeit with local traditional variations in style.

    Cambridge appears to be the outlier here – I wonder if the prevalence of mild is more of a reflection of the mildly patronising affectation of the middle classes for retro working class culture in the same way that scotch eggs are popular, rather than a genuine local tradition.

    Its interesting how some traditionally working class interests are still overwhelmingly working class (like dog racing and darts), others have become ubiquitous (like football) and others have been abandoned but taken up by the middle classes instead (like cask ale).

  8. Stalybridge Buffet Bar (yes, there again) has a permanent mild line that is ever rotating. Or at least it did up until about 6 months ago when it was definitely mild. Recently the line can probably be described as “rotating low strength dark beer” line.

    A fewof the regional brewery pubs seem to have moved to the keg offering. A lot of my local pubs are Thwaites houses and most seem to have Thwaites Dark on keg.

    When I lived in Yorkshire there were a few tied Taylor houses that all seemed to offer the Dark Mild of theirs. You also saw Ram Tam a lot that I always considered to be a mild but you will probably tell me it isn’t.

    And, like has already been said, the loss of Robinson’s mild has really halved the offering, with Robinson’s having so many pubs around Lancs, Cheshire and Derbyshire

    1. Cheers, useful info.

      We’ve always thought of Ram Tam as mild — maybe ‘best mild’, in old money — but people have told us off for saying that. Taylor’s reckon it’s a winter warmer, i.e. old ale, i.e….. mild.

      1. It’s well known in Yorkshire that Ram Tam is Landlord with caramel added, Dark Mild is Golden Best with caramel added.
        Myth? well, a local landlord ordered Ram Tam and received Landlord, on complaining he was sent a bottle of liquid caramel and told to add it and roll the cask. At a meet the brewer night the Taylors man (not a brewer) almost confirmed the connection just saying it was no accident about the ABVs being the same.

        1. We might write a blog post about this. We know of other milds that are actually the brewery’s bog standard bitter dyed black. But the weird thing is, even when we know that, it *still* seems to taste different, so either the addition of caramel has some effect on flavour; something else changes too (maybe they use older casks whose hop character has diminished, for example); or it’s all to do with the power of suggestion. Blind-tasting experiments suggest the latter is very possibly the case.

          1. I’m surprised to find that Timothy Taylor’s own Web site describes Ram Tam as a mild – although only low down in the ‘brewer’s notes’, not in the headline description. Also, according to their respective Cyclopes [grammer], Landlord is actually sweeter than Ram Tam, as well as just generally tasting totally different (‘citrus, hoppy’ vs ‘toffee, roasted’). That caramel must be doing a lot of work.

  9. On the subject of Timothy Taylor’s don’t forget to mention their Golden Best, the last ‘Pennine’ light mild produced in anything like decent quantities. It might be losing ground, but it’s still widely available in Keighley and the Craven Dales area in both pubs and clubs. Try the Boltmakers Arms, and the Red Pig in Keighley for the right atmosphere. Check this list out.
    https://keighleyandcraven.camra.org.uk/campaigning/Scarce-Beer-Outlets.php

  10. Your curve reaches Leeds, thinking through Leeds pubs one guest dark line that might be mild seems fairly common. West Yorkshire around Leeds might be worth checking out but city itself you’d need local support to find pubs with guaranteed mild on.

  11. The Chequers, between the new town and the High Street here in sunny Stevenage always has Greene King XX dark mild on – and it’s beautiful!

  12. and of course, the Beacon Hotel in Sedgley – home of the Sarah Hughes Brewery and the Dark Ruby Mild. If you haven’t been there yet, give me a shout when you do venture up

    1. Hehehehe, not getting into the argument about Sarah Hughes and its “mildness” again 😉

      *so* little Mild in London these days (the Royal Oak excepted!)… The refurbed Fitzroy had the SS dark mild recently, but not every SS pub has it. The Harp doesn’t have a mild tap any more and don’t think the Wenlock does either…

      1. That really is the only place we know of. Fuller’s and Young’s letting the side down.

        1. The Owl & Pussycat, the new micro-brewpub in Ealing seem to have their mild on quite frequently, on my last couple of visits it has been.

        2. Doesn’t the Nags Head, in your old manor of Walthamstow, have Mighty Oak’s Oscar Wilde Mild on as a permanent beer? Certainly did when I lived there ten years ago and the few times I’ve been back since.

  13. When I first came to Manchester mild was my big discovery – I’d never seen it in the south-east; it seemed to be everywhere at the time, although my only specific memories are of Marston’s and John Smith’s (light and dark, but both on keg).

    You’ll see Timothy Taylor’s Golden Best in a few places in the Manchester area, although none I can think of in the centre. The Beech in Chorlton always has it on. Last time I was in the George in Stockport they had both GB and Timothy Taylor’s dark mild, which is harder to find and rather good; I don’t know if they’re always on, but they looked pretty permanent, and the George isn’t an amazing multiple rotating guest-ale kind of place. (And no, Ram Tam isn’t a mild.) Otherwise, as Mudge says, you’re best off trying your luck with a Hyde’s (1863/Old Indie), Holt’s (Mild) or Lees (Brewer’s Dark) pub. (What’s really hard these days is finding a mild that’s actually badged ‘mild’!)

  14. When in South Wales try
    Cardiff : Old Arcade,Cottage (Brains Dark) Andrew Buchan (Rhymney Dark)
    Pontypridd : Patriot (Rhymney Dark
    Merthyr : Winchester (Rhymney Dark)

  15. Two reliable outlets for Goacher’s Real Mild Ale in Kent:the Red Lion at Snargate and the Black Lion at Lynsted.

  16. Baffled why anyone would suggest you go to the Circus for mild – not sold it for years.

    1. Suspect it might be down to the tendency to think you saw something ‘a couple of years back’ only when you look into it it turns out to have been in 2004.

  17. In Cambridge The Kingston Arms (a very fine pub) invariably has a mild on. Often the Oscar Wilde Mild, but I’ve seen Ruby Mild amongst others.

  18. The Dispensary in Liverpool has George Wright on permanently.

    Liverpudlians used to big Mild drinkers – Higsons and Tetley had a large proportion of the pubs and mild was usually available from both breweries.

  19. You may need to redirect your corridor – in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire I wouldn’t be surprised to see mild in a pub, but I can’t think of anywhere where I could confidently expect to get any either. Those with better local pub knowledge may correct me!

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