It’s odd that we should end up with enough bottled milds from Norfolk to justify giving them their own post in this series.
As people keep telling us in comments, draught mild has a lingering popularity in the Cambridge area and there were lots of people happily drinking Adnams Old Ale (a mild, to all intents and purposes) when we visited Southwold last year. So perhaps the East Country is mild territory after all?
Or perhaps it’s just because Beers of Europe, the online retailer with the largest selection of bottled milds, from which we bought most of the beers for this project, is based in Norfolk?
The three beers we tasted, in ascending order of alcoholic strength, were:
- Panther Brewery Mild Panther (3.3%, £2.95, 500ml)
- Norfolk Brewhouse Moon Gazer Dark Mild (4.9%, £2.79, 500ml)
- Elmtree Nightlight Mild (5.7%, £3.19, 500ml)
Mild Panther made a bad first impression by emitting a never-ending string of foamy ectoplasm on opening. What we managed to rush into a glass was three-quarters head. After a few minutes, it had subsided enough that we were able to pour two small servings of muddy dark-tan beer topped with what looked like beaten egg-whites.
The aroma wasn’t immediately appealing either, evoking the hum of a run-down pub with stale beer dried into its well-worn carpets. That and the gushing led us to expect something funky in the flavour and, yes, it was a little sour and spiky, with some spicy Dunkelweizen-like notes. Though at first we struggled to detect much malt character, as the head and the fizz died away, some chocolate became apparent – Hershey’s, though, or bargain-bin easter eggs, rather than anything especially luxurious.
Being charitable, we might say this beer has a rustic quality which some will enjoy. More bluntly, it tasted to us like beginner home brew and so we wouldn’t buy it again. Nor did it quite tick all the boxes of what we’re looking for in a mild: yes, it has a low ABV, but it was also light in colour, relatively high in bitterness, and lacked lusciousness. It’s not a contender for the final taste-off.
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Norfolk Brewhouse’s effort, Moon Gazer Dark Mild, was immediately more appealing. It had a touch too much fizz, perhaps, but the bottle produced, without effort, two yeast-free glasses of gleaming, deep stained-glass-red with appealing off-white foam.
‘Ooh, yes, blimey, now then, that’s more like it!’
Regardless of the facts of how dark mild developed, this is a beer that occupies a place on the porter-stout spectrum. It is soft and rich, all rum and sherry and raisins, but by no means heavy going. There’s no roastiness and only just enough bitterness to keep it from seeming downright sweet. It made us think of dark, mysterious brewing additives and Victorian tins of syrup and treacle – sugar with character.
We liked it a lot, in short, but does it satisfy as a mild? We think so, despite an ABV which is higher than most draught examples. It’s our first contender.
* * *
Moon Gazer pushed the limit for the ABV of a dark mild under the contract between drinker and brewery; Elmtree Nightlight smashes right through it, settling somewhere near Fuller’s ESB and other cult ‘strong ales’ at 5.7%. That’s more than twice as strong as many keg draught milds whose ABVs have been squashed down to 2.8% to make them eligible for reduced beer duty. Though in historic terms, this might be quite acceptable, if we’re looking for something sessionable to enjoy in 2015, it might be a deal breaker.
This was another gusher, though only gently so, and produced an over-the-top head with just a touch of beige to it. The beer beneath was black with red highlights.
Its texture was that of a big, velvety stout, though it lacked any bitterness or charring, being fruity throughout: cherries and port at first, with a slightly off-putting rotten, vegetal note in the finish, like blackberries that have ‘gone over’ having been left on the bush too late in the season.
It doesn’t satisfy our requirements of a mild, and has its flaws, but it’s a fundamentally decent beer which might appeal to fans of Adnams Tally Ho, or Old Peculier fans who find the current bottled incarnation bland and fizzy. It’s not a contender but we’ll be quite happy to drink the spare bottle some time.
Next up: Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk.