Mild is dead, long live mild?

westquay.jpg Having posted yesterday about the decline of mild, we went out to the Fountain Inn, Bridgwater, only to find… mild on tap.

The mild in question was called “Pint-sized brewery mild”, and was a mere 3.3%. The Pint-sized brewery in question turns out to be a microbrewery on Wadworth’s premises, at least according to this old press release from 2004. The idea being that they develop new products and test them on the market on a small-scale first.

Anyway, the mild itself was rather drinkable, but not particularly exciting in terms of flavour or aroma. No hops and a very subtle toasted malt flavour. Probably quite true to the original milds, or at least their incarnations by the late seventies..?

It’s strange — on the one hand, it’s nice to see the resurgence of a British style, especially one you can drink pint after pint of with no ill effects. It’s also positive to see the Camra campaign having an impact — they’ve really done a lot to promote mild and other endangered styles in the last few years, and I do think you see it around more frequently.

On the other hand, what if its sole selling point back in the day was that it was weak (therefore cheap) and inoffensive, taste-wise? Did it pave the way for keg?

There are some great milds out there — Oscar Wilde, from the Mighty Oak brewery, is a regular favourite of ours — but are these new generation milds particularly representative of the mass-produced stuff that was being downed in the post-war period? Is something like Wadworth’s pint-sized mild a more “authentic” version?

I think I’ll take flavour over authenticity.

Notes

The Fountain Inn is at 1 West Quay, Bridgwater TA6 3HL. It’s a Wadworth house, but was also serving an excellent pint of Butcombe bitter. It’s a very friendly place, but in no way “poncey”, and worth some of your time if you’re in the area.

The picture is the old logo of the Starkey, Knight and Ford brewery, which used to own the Fountain.

Boak

One reason for the decline of mild..?

dad_ipa.jpgHere’s my Dad enjoying a glass of our IPA. He and my Mum used to run a pub in Exeter. Last night, they told us about a popular belief in the 1970s and 80s that mild was “the slops”, which might have been part of the reason for its disappearance from many pubs. My Dad:

“Jack the Rat was one of our customers — he used to wear a flat cap and had a beard like Catweazel. We once suggested to him that he should try a pint of Whitbread mild and he turned it down because he thought it was a barrel made up of the slops from the drip trays at the bar.

“It actually was common for landlords to keep all that surplus and serve it up to customers as ‘mild’. We used to get our Whitbread Mild from the brewery at Tiverton [formerly Starkey, Knight and Ford]. By that time, demand for mild was so low we could only get one ten gallon imperial firkin at a time, so ours was always fresh. Jack the Rat tried it and never drank anything else again after that.

“I used to go Tiverton for a new firkin twice a week, and it was getting more popular with our customers, but by then it was a bit late — the brewery wasn’t pushing it and it was just out of fashion generally. I’ve seen more mild on tap recently, but for twenty years, I hardly saw any. Shame.”

So, a perception that mild was poor quality beer, partly based on fact, was one reason why people stopped drinking it, and why the supply began to dry up.

————-

Disclaimer: any resemblance between my Dad and the man from the Sam Smith’s Alpine Lager pump is purely coincidental and does not represent a trademark infringement.

Bailey 

Mild on the Rise?

mightyoak.gifOur local is an interesting place. For years it was a complete dump, very much like the Murderer’s Arms from Viz’s notorious “Real Ale T**ts” comic strip. But about five years ago, it was refurbished and reopened as a would-be trendy venue for hip young people.

I say “would-be” because it’s not as trendy as it thinks it is, and the clientele is neither uniformly trendy nor young — there are often groups of old ladies in there, and grumpy blokes reading the paper on their own. Nonetheless, it’s become a huge success because it’s the only pub in the area with a really warm, buzzing atmosphere, and because it has a garden.

I go there for another reason, though — the mild.

There are usually four or five ales on, but on the whole, they’re not well kept. Last year, though, someone convinced the landlord to take part in CAMRA’s campaign to promote mild, and Mighty Oak‘s Oscar Wilde appeared on the pumps. It’s been there ever since, fresh, local, well kept, and slowly gaining popularity.

Last night, I stood at the bar and listened to a stream of young men and young women order pint after pint of the stuff. So much, in fact, that the barrel had to be changed.

Ordinary people (as opposed to obvious beer nerds) were saying things like:

“Three point seven per cent? Wicked. I’ll have one of those.”

“Four pints of mild and a Kronenbourg, please. Oh — tell you what — make it five pints of mild.”

Someone ordered a whole round of mild! Becks Vier wasn’t getting a look in. Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of that or Carling C2 cornering the weak session beer market, mild did?

Half-and-half

In Charles Dickens’ 1850 piece “Three Detective Anecdotes”, the policeman Inspector Wield reports this attempt to get information from a witness:

When the play was over, we came out together, and I said, “We’ve been very companionable and agreeable, and perhaps you wouldn’t object to a drain?” “Well, you’re very good,” says he; “I SHOULDN’T object to a drain.” Accordingly, we went to a public-house, near the Theatre, sat ourselves down in a quiet room up-stairs on the first floor, and called for a pint of half-and-half, apiece, and a pipe.

What’s half-and-half? I asked myself.

Modern references (Beer Advocate, amongst others) say that half-and-half is a cousin or a variant of “black-and-tan”, and that it’s made by mixing pale ale and and stout. In fact, they specify a mix of Guinness and a “mild or bitter beer”. Dickens’ characters probably weren’t drinking Guinness, though.

An even earlier source – an 1820 treatise against the adulteration of food (Project Gutenberg e-text) – covers half-and-half in more detail. The author says that “every publican has two sorts of beer sent to him from the brewer… ‘mild’, which is beer sent out fresh as it is brewed; the other is called ‘old'”.

Half-and-half is a mixture of the two. So, instead of paying for a full pint of the “good stuff”, the consumer could shave a little off the cost by voluntary adulterating their beer. Presumably, they might also choose to do so because the aged beer was sour, and so a bit much to take on its own.

And it was in trying to come up with a quicker and easier way to serve mixed beer that London landlords invented “entire butt” (beer pre-mixed in the barrel, and coming from one tap) which in turn became the famous London Porter. Roger Protz and Graham Wheeler, in their excellent if eccentrically typeset Brew Your Own British Real Ale at Home argue that “the original London Porters were simply brown ales that were deliberately soured”.

So, how to simulate a pint of Victorian half-and-half? I’d guess that getting two similar beers (brown ales), souring one, and keeping the other fresh, is the best way to start. Failing that, a dash of something lambic in a brown ale might do the job.

I came across “Three Detective Anecdotes” in A Treasury of Victorian Detective Stories edited by Everett F Bleiler (Harvest Press, 1980), but it’s also available at Project Gutenberg for free.