Tag Archives: mild

Mild Can Still Surprise Us

We can go months without seeing a draught mild on sale in Penzance and so, at the sight of a pump clip for St Austell’s ‘The Queen’s Mild’, felt the same kind of excitement a city-based beer geek might at the sight of, say, a limited edition farmhouse porter.

St Austell Queen's Mild.We’ve been sorely disappointed by mild in the past: too often, they turn out to be watery and murky — like something from the U-bend under the kitchen sink. But from the moment this landed on the bar, we knew we were on to a winner.

It glowed in the glass, almost black but not opaque. The use of a sparkler (in the West Country, they are sometimes employed, sometimes not — there is no dogma) gave it a smooth, slightly-off-white head. A sparkling clean glass didn’t hurt, either. It looked, in short, like a photo opportunity for the Mild Marketing Board.

A relatively high strength for a mild (4.5%) seemed to nudge it into Old Ale territory (think Adnams). We’d like to have tried it side-by-side with Black Prince, St Austell’s regular but rarely-seen ‘dark ale’, but our impression was that Queen’s was milkier, stouter, and more bitter. A sort of ‘best mild’, perhaps.

It was extremely moreish and satisfying but didn’t demand our complete attention: it made us say ‘Aaah….’ rather than ‘Wow!’

We meant to have one but couldn’t resist a second. Then, seizing the moment, pushed on to a third. We might have made a fourth if the pub hadn’t been closing around us.

Queen’s Mild was £3.40 a pint at the Yacht Inn, Penzance, which is about the going rate for a pint round here. We think it was a leftover from the Celtic Beer Festival, for which Roger Ryman and his team brew small amounts of a dazzling range of experimental beers, and brewed in collaboration with the Queen’s Arms, Brixham.

Month of Mild: Origins

Make Mine Real Mild -- CAMRA, c.1980.For the last thirty-six years (with gaps) May has been the Campaign for Real Ale’s ‘Mild Month‘. This sub-campaign began life as an attempt to change CAMRA’s image, as much as to save and celebrate an endangered type of beer.

It began in December 1974 when a letter from Tim Beswick appeared in What’s Brewing making the point that mild wasn’t getting the attention it deserved. This prompted a thoughtful article by David Hall, of CAMRA’s South Manchester branch, in the January 1975 edition, in which he considered why this might be the case and what should be done about it. Members were blinkered, he said, and, in London especially, should stop demanding new and interesting beers while overlooking what was on their doorstep. ‘To those trying an unfamiliar brew,’ he went on, ‘and to those organising future beer exhibitions… the message must be don’t neglect the mild.’

It can’t have helped, he also pointed out, that CAMRA had tended to obsess over the decreasing original gravities (OG) of beer. Celebrating the relative potency of, say, Fuller’s ESB, and using the ever-dwindling alcohol content of keg bitter as a stick with which to beat the Big Six, sent the message that only strong beer was good beer.

Joe Goodwin, who became CAMRA Chairman, and sadly died in 1980 at the age of 31.
Joe Goodwin, who became CAMRA Chairman, and sadly died in 1980 at the age of 31.

Gears ground and the conversation continued until, in January 1977, this announcement appeared in What’s Brewing, echoing the point above.

CAMRA is to launch a determined effort to promote mild ale… Joe Goodwin, the NE [National Executive] member responsible for organising the venture, told What’s Brewing: ‘CAMRA exists to preserve choice. Since mild ales represent a significant portion of the range of real ales available in this country and since several milds are under threat of extinction, this has become a vital national campaign… As a campaign, we’re in danger of becoming too frequently associated with the promotion of over-priced, high-gravity beers. It’s about time we did something positive to change that image.’

That’s interesting for a couple of reasons. First, that ‘over-priced, high-gravity’ accusation is something now applied to ‘craft beer'; and, secondly, because it also represents a sign of CAMRA’s often-criticised drift into the ‘responsible drinking’ camp.

Has Mild Month been effective? Perhaps in preserving mild as a seasonal special, but there are relatively few that are brewed year-round, and those that are can be hard to find. As one veteran brewer said to us: ‘Breweries aren’t museums, but all good products ought to have a place.’

Old recipes, etiquette and wallop

1912 St Austell Stout

Being some notes and queries on subjects diverse.

Even more beers brewed to historic recipes

About this time last year, we tried to compile a reasonably complete list of beers being brewed to historic recipes. Now we note that one of the beers in the Sainsbury’s beer hunt is J.W. Lees Manchester Star, supposedly brewed to an 1884 porter recipe, and also hear news of a St Austell 1913 stout. (We’ve seen a recipe in their books from 1912, pictured.) The latest Fuller’s Past Masters beer, 1931 Burton Extra, has just been released. This summer also saw Camden brew a 1908 pale ale which was very tasty, but seemed (too us) rather too far from the original spec to really deserve the ‘historic’ tag.

Questions of pub etiquette

Maxwell asked this question on Twitter last night:

It’s a good question. Our feeling was that, if you need to ask, then you’re not eligible, but can anyone give a more helpful answer?

The meaning of ‘wallop’

Watching the BFI’s Roll out the Barrel DVD again the other night, we particularly enjoyed Down at the Local (1945), a propaganda short made for British troops serving overseas. It was designed to remind them of home, and of why they were fighting, and shows scenes of pubs in London, Lancashire and Somerset. In London, the narrators decide on mild and so ask the barmaid for ‘two pints of wallop‘. In Preston, incidentally, they decide on bitter and mild and so order ‘mixed’.

A second talk at Eden

The Boak and Bailey edutainment roadshow was at the Eden Project again last weekend. There was no Oakham Green Devil  IPA to demonstrate with this time, though, as it all got pilfered from a store cupboard. They left behind the St Austell HSD and Franziskaner.

 

What Gives a Beer Value?

A chart showing relative values we place on beers.

This is another attempt to ‘graph our relationship with beer‘. This time, it’s about capturing the various qualities that give a particular beer value in our eyes.

  • Sentiment: homesickness, happy memories, family connections.
  • Taste: how nice is it?
  • Complexity: and how deep?
  • Tradition: does it connect us with history and a particular culture? (Cask ale does this.)
  • Value: i.e. value for money.
  • Rarity: how likely are we to find this beer again any time soon?
  • Novelty: Schlenkerla’s smoked maerzen scores highly here.
  • Sessionability: we like beers we can drink a few of.
  • Refreshment: sometimes, we want beer to quench our thirst and cool us down.

For example, we know, objectively speaking, that Butcombe’s cask bitter isn’t the world’s best beer but, nonetheless, we value it more highly than almost as highly as Duvel. That sounds nuts, right? But we’re not saying it’s as great a a better beer, only that, for us, a pint of Butcombe Bitter is tied up with happy times in Somerset pubs with Bailey’s parents (sentiment); and, especially when we lived in London, it had a certain rarity value.

Even we were surprised to see that St Austell’s Black Prince Mild has the highest value of any beer on the chart, but then again, it is remarkably rare; gives us a powerful sense of engaging with brewing tradition; taps into all the sentimental associations we make with mild-loving grandparents; and is a wonderful session beer.

Schlenkerla Maerzen scores highly because, not only does smoked beer have novelty value, and a taste we happen to like, but even the merest whiff of it transports us back to Bamberg.

We could record marks for every beer we drink against this system. It might be interesting to see, after a year or two, which ends up having the most ‘value’, and whether we would also consider it our favourite beer.

What beer meant, what beer means

A glass of Pilsner beer in Wuerzburg, Germany.

A question from the Beerprole about what is and isn’t entitled to call itself ‘lager’ recently surfaced  on Twitter, before once again disappearing beneath the tide of the timeline. This reminded us of a similar discussion we’d had a few weeks before with about the term ‘mild’. UPDATE FOR CLARITY: In both cases, the question was a variation on “can beer X really be called a lager/mild”.

What confuses these and many other conversations is the co-existence of several meanings, each of which is equally correct, depending on context.

Historical (19th c.) Common understanding (what it’s come to mean)
US homebrew judging guidance
Mild Any young beer (not aged) — could be strong, could be hoppy; not necessarily dark. Weak, dark, not bitter. Weak, dark, restrained hopping, top-fermented (“ale”).
Lager From the German “to store” — cold conditioned beer. Yellow, highly carbonated, cold — “refreshing”. Made with bottom-fermenting yeast.

Anyone attempting to sell a beer which is perfectly correctly described as lager or mild in historical or technical terms, but which confounds people’s expectations based on common modern usage, is setting up their customers to be disappointed.

Unless, that is, they take care to explain all of that in the labelling or through educated bar staff, when the difference from the common understanding might become an intriguing selling point.