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.
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.’