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?


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.