Generalisations about beer culture

Nowt wrong with mild

A pint of Timothy Taylor's dark mild in a pub.

As Al at Fuggled has noted, there was a kind of collective howl of annoyance on Twitter when the Champion Beer of Britain was announced at GBBF yesterday. A mild again!? Is this really the best beer in Britain!?

Although we understand where some of this irritation is coming from, we didn’t share the outrage.

First, this was a decision by committee, and that’s bound to knock anything really wacky out of the running and lead to a safe choice — a beer at low to mid-strength without gimmicks. Even if keg beers were in the running, a light helles or pale ale at c.4.2% might have won, but not an 8% Blackberry Wheat Stout.

Secondly, however, it is actually a great beer. Of all the milds we’ve tried, it is easily one of the most flavourful, full-bodied and consistent. Where others can taste like mud and feel like water in the mouth, Mighty Oak Oscar Wilde, at 3.7%, has the coffee, chocolate and burnt grain flavours of a beer twice as big. We’ve spent whole evenings drinking nothing else.

Finally, this award doesn’t really mean that much.  What it probably does mean, however, is a significant boost in profile for a small brewery working hard to craft good beer. (Craft. See what we did?) It can’t be easy to make a 3.7% beer this good so let’s not begrudge them their well-deserved moment of glory.

And let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. Even if you’re annoyed at CAMRA, that doesn’t mean some of the things CAMRA supports, such as mild and cask ale, aren’t good things.

Mild pictured is purely for illustrative purposes. Does not represent actual mild mentioned in text. Any similarity to any other mild, porter or stout, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

23 replies on “Nowt wrong with mild”

Even here in silly big beer North America, my favourite beer of the whole of 2011 so far is Cheshire Valley Mild. Brewed by a small Ontario brewery, I discovered this stuff at Gambrinus bistro in London Ontario and probably drank a whole keg of it myself over the course of a week. Nothing more comforting and zen than well-balanced mild and an empty afternoon laid out in front of you.

“Mild pictured is purely for illustrative purposes. Does not represent actual mild mentioned in text. Any similarity to any other mild, porter or stout, living or dead, is purely coincidental.”

Mild pictured is making me fancy a pint!

Well done to Mighty Oak. I loved Hobson’s Mild before it was famous and I look forward to seeing this one when I’m in the UK over the next twelve months.

But… going back to the issue of far-out (eg over 4.5% ABV) beers not standing much of a chance at CBoB, could one of the factors be the Hardknott Paradox?

Eligible beers are those at the festival.
Those at the festival are chosen by local branches.
Local branches choose the beers their members drink, locally.
Beers that don’t have a local following get left out of the festival and by extension the competition.

House beer at Leyton Orient Supporters Club and at The Nags Head, Walthamstow. Cracking pint. Found at The Wenlock Arms on a regular basis too. ” You’ll never sell Mild in London ” 😉

It may be that to do really, really interesting & different things with beer you have to venture above 5%; it may even be that there are some things that can only get done in the 7%+ region. (Nobody ever said the Trappist breweries were loopy-juice-peddling extremophiles.) But I also think there’s a bit of a macho, anything-you-can-brew-I-can-brew-bigger culture on the craft beer scene – and sometimes going ‘big’ is an easy option. Making a rich, flavourful beer at <4% is much more of an achievement, whether it's a stout (Waen, Grainstore), an IPA (St Austell, Holt's) or a mild (Hobson, B***D*g).

the Hardknott Paradox

Haven’t tried that one – picked up a bottle once but put it down again when I saw the price.

Is the final selection not done by a blind-tasting process, so people aren’t aware of the “political” implications of their decision? So not strictly “a decision by committee”

TBN — I’d guess it’s the same issue with decision by committee at local level. If each region just let one person put forward their favourite beers, with no area level voting or discussion, there’d be a more varied list at GBBF, I guess.

Phil — I tend to agree that good beers at 4% are more impressive in some ways. They’ll rarely knock your socks off but I don’t want every beer to do that.

TBN again — I wonder if they do the tasting blind? Now *that* might yield some genuinely interesting results.

Dan — the zen of the mild. Nice concept.

Curmudgeon — I’m not sure. Need to find out more, or wait for someone to pop along and tell us.

So, yes, there is blind tasting at the end. Maybe it’s the decision by committe at the earlier, local stages that knocks the extremes out of play, then?

In 2004, was GK IPA really the best beer in a blind-tasting? Amazing.

A helpful response from GBBF via twitter — a video:

Still looks to me like a process which would knock out anything intense or extreme by splitting the vote, even if they’ve made it that far through the various other ‘heats’.

Am I reading this right?

Well, Marble Chocolate that came second is a pretty serious beer.

BN is of course quite wrong when he says “Local branches choose the beers their members drink, locally.”, well at least as far as our festival in Stockport is concerned. We do get local beers but we also aim to get lots of interesting stuff from around the country, too.

Yes – all the tasting is blind so you have no idea at all what you are drinking. I chaired the panel at the National Winter Ales Festival that started Marble Chocolate on its journey. It was an easy winner but although it’s a beer I am very familiar with I didn’t guess what it was at the time.

For what it’s worth the previous year we had Elland 1872 Porter on our panel, and made it the winner. No-one can say that is an easy going beer!

Hello, John. Thanks for the input.

Marble Chocolate certainly is serious, but it’s not a real outlier — it’s at the strong end of the range you might find in a normal pub (don’t ask me to define ‘normal’…) and doesn’t have an extreme level of hopping.

Out of interest, why do you think Marble’s effort came second to Oscar Wilde? I suspect a lot of those who expressed outrage yesterday would say that MC is definitely the better beer.

I like them both and don’t know which I’d choose in a blind tasting.

Thanks for the correction John. I had the preliminary stages all wrong. So beers bought for individual festivals is one route to the finals. According to Wikipedia a public vote is another. Then there’s the regional tasting panels — how are beers chosen for those?

> this was a decision by committee, and that’s bound to knock anything really
> wacky out of the running and lead to a safe choice

The Norwegian homebrewing championships of the last three years have been won by a barley wine, an imperial IPA, and a smoke beer. Before that they used to always be won by fairly safe beers in terms of style. What’s changed is the judges, and not the method of judging, which is still by committee. So I suspect the reason the committee chooses a low-alcohol beer of moderate flavour is because this is what they like.

I won’t comment on the rest, as I know nothing about the Champion Beer of Britain or this year’s winner.

Bailey – don’t know why MC only came second. The winning beer is very good indeed, as you have said – perhaps its lighter body gave it more instantly appealing drinkability. I have to sat that while I like my hops, an extreme level of hopping doesn’t necessarily make for a great beer (I and others – including some well respected brewers – thought the B*** D** “IPA is Dead” series were mostly pretty much undrinkable).

BN – I will be the first one to admit that the current process for choosing the CBOB finalists is a bit of a shambles. There are huge regional lisst that all CAMRA members in the area can vote on – and the lead time is ridiculous, too. There have been attempts to change this via an AGM motion (can’t remember if it was succesful) and I think we haven’t heard the last of that.

Boak – we’ll have to agree to differ! I started taking beer seriously when I discovered Chimay White in a hotel bar in 1992. I remember they had a video jukebox, featuring Nirvana’s “Lithium”; the line “in a daze ’cause I’ve found God” sticks in my mind!

Oh, I love it, don’t get me wrong. But if Belgian beer wasn’t so “traditional”, if it had just arrived on the scene, would beer geeks be arguing about spicebombs instead?

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