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.

Comments are closed.