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.’

14 thoughts on “Month of Mild: Origins”

  1. The beer I’ve drunk more then any oth­er this year is Spire Ravenswood. That’s a mild!

    I will admit to being one of those untrendy folk who will drink a good mild, although there are too many bog stan­dard milds out there IMHO.

    I was at the East Anglia Beer Fes­ti­val in Bury St Edmuunds last week, where one brew­ery (Elmtree) was describ­ing mild on leaflets as an “up-and com­ing” beer style, which I found rather odd as it clear­ly isn’t round where I live!

  2. Mak­ing May mild month is absolute­ly mad in a beer world rev­o­lu­tionised over the past 25 years by straw-coloured ales that align with exact­ly the style of brew you’re after as spring real­ly gets into gear.

    For allit­er­a­tive pur­pos­es – and to bet­ter suit the sea­sons – March would be a far bet­ter choice.

  3. the mes­sage that only strong beer was good beer’

    Some things nev­er change it would seem. Many a mod­ern beer geek (CAMRA mem­ber minus beards and san­dals) still trot this idea out with monot­o­nous reg­u­lar­i­ty.

  4. I don’t real­ly like strong beer. Its like nor­mal beer, but your head hurts worse in the morn­ing. What’s to like exact­ly?

  5. 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”

    Depends where you live I guess. Although it’s not as com­mon­place as it once was there’s still plen­ty of mild around in the Man­ches­ter area. All four of our fam­i­ly brew­ers make it as part of their core range, and sev­er­al of the micros will also have one avail­able all year round (Phoenix Mon­key­town Mild for exam­ple). We are cur­rent­ly run­ning our “Mild Mag­ic” pro­mo­tion with 102 pubs tak­ing part.

    1. Yeah but no but… Hyde’s do Owd Oak, but it’s not very wide­ly avail­able & it’s not labelled ‘mild’. Hyde’s 18thingummy* is actu­al­ly labelled as a bit­ter; we still think of it as a light mild, but they appar­ent­ly don’t. Lees call their mild ‘Dark’, and Robin­sons’ 18whatsit* comes in light and dark vari­eties but with­out the word ‘mild’ being used at all. Holt’s** are the only local brew­er actu­al­ly sell­ing a mild with Mild in the name – the oth­er three sell enough of it, but they’ve obvi­ous­ly decid­ed the name is a turn-off. Per­haps what we need is a cam­paign to revive the word ‘mild’. (I’d been drink­ing Taylor’s Gold­en Best for years before I realised it was a light mild.)

      *I can nev­er remem­ber those names. I tend to think of them all as ‘1834’ – that date was drummed into me by my pre­vi­ous employer’s let­ter­head.
      **Hyde’s, Holt’s, Robin­sons’, Lees. Won­der how many of those I’ve got right, apos­tro­phe-wise?

  6. Its pret­ty pop­u­lar in Cam­bridge as well. I can think of 4 or 5 pubs in the city with a per­ma­nent mild on.

  7. Maybe it’s because i’m Northern…but we get our fair share of Milds these days. I don’t think many self-respect­ing drinkers would turn their noses up at it. But, see­ing how much effort Leeds CAMRA put into the ‘Mild Month’ in pubs around here, I can attest to its val­ue for those guys. I’m just not con­vinced it’s*that* endan­gered.…?

  8. Some branch­es definet­ly put a lot more effort into mild month then oth­ers. Chelms­ford branch always made a song & dance about it. Not so much with CAMRA branch­es where I live now if I’m hon­est.

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