opinion real ale

Why Brew Gose Instead of Mild?

There’s a simple answer to this question: because no-one in Britain actually likes mild.

Of course that’s not quite true — a few people are obsessive about it, and quite a few others like the occasional pint for a change. In the Midlands through to the North West, it seems there are even some regular mild drinkers left.

In general, though, it’s a style that the Campaign for Real Ale has been trying to get people excited about for 40 years with little success. First wave CAMRA members prefered cult bitters; in more recent years, they’ve turned their attention to hoppy golden ales.

And many (most?) post-2005 craft beer enthusiasts think like Tony Naylor — what’s the point of it?

[Mild] as it developed in the 20th century, was a low-strength (around 3%), very-lightly hopped beer, that became a staple thirst-quencher for miners, factory workers and anyone keen to sink eight pints and still get up for their shift the next morning… Flavours… were deliberately dialled-down to an innocuous level. Even its most misty-eyed fans admit that this was a beer designed to be undemanding, easy drinking.

They’ve got a point, too: if ‘connoisseurs’ rejected Foster’s lager and Watney’s Red because they were weak, sweet, bland and fizzy, then mild’s only point of superiority is that it isn’t usually highly-carbonated. Not much of a sales pitch.

“But no-one likes Gose either!” That might well be true but, if they dislike Gose, it’s because it tastes weird, which is preferable in marketing terms to tasting bland. And, as it’s usually bottled or kegged, not that many people have to like it for it to be worth brewing or stocking. Cask mild, on the other hand, needs a few people to drink several pints a night if it’s to be any good at all.

Nor does it help that lots of milds are, regrettably, bloody awful. We do like mild (mostly, it must be said, for sentimental reasons) but even we struggle with pints of sweet bland bitter dyed black with caramel or, worse, mislabelled, watery stouts that taste like the rinsings from a dirty coffee percolator.

We’d love to see more mild around — we can go months without a taste of the stuff — but let’s not kid ourselves that, if only, say, Magic Rock would make one, it could be cool again.

28 replies on “Why Brew Gose Instead of Mild?”

Weird Beard made Dark Hopfler which was as much a mild as it was anything else. Rather good too.

The Pretty Things mild at 10.5% ABV looks rather different from the milds you’re talking about!

We brewed a mild for May in my last job. It sold fine in the pubs that took it but most pubs wouldn’t touch it. Mind you, if we’d brewed a gose I suspect we’d have sold even less.

Well, it’s a false choice for one thing. This is the variety-first age. It’s not about making THIS instead of THAT. It’s about always giving people something new to try (and if the quality is shit, well, maybe they’ll like the next one better).

Country to country, the only commonality in what “craft” means is that it’s something different than what’s been long available. Telling my German friends that their country has plenty of great “craft” pils is just sport. To them, pils isn’t craft unless it’s says “dry-hopped” or there are pictures of hops on the label or it costs twice as much as pils at the drinks market.

Double the cost of mild and put hops on the label. Might work.

I did actually see a bottled mild from a Dutch “craft” brewer on sale for about £3/33cl. If our sleepy family breweries had realised they could get away with charging £3 for a bottle of mild they might be keener to brew some.

let’s not kid ourselves that, if only, say, Magic Rock would make one, it could be cool again

BrewDog Edge was a superb dark mild.

But this conclusion is a bit strawman-y – is anyone actually saying that, or anything close to it?

Still don’t think I’ve ever seen a gose on a bar, incidentally, apart from one sighting of Chorlton Brewing’s madey-uppy “imperial black gose”.

What are the defining characteristics of mild? Perhaps it’s me, but other than the low ABV, the other key characteristic appears to be that it’s bland and watery.

Don’t get me wrong, I want to love mild. Whenever I go to a festival my first few drinks are usually spent trying any milds I haven’t had before, but every good beer that could fit the description of ‘mild’ either breaks the style or isn’t classed as mild.

Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby Mild and Dark Star Victorian Mild are both 6% ABV, which to me only makes them mild by name.
Kissingate Black Cherry Mild at 4.2% ABV is arguably also too strong to be a mild.
Redemption Trinity is only 3% ABV, and it’s a great beer, as a homebrewer I find the flavour and body they’ve packed into such as low ABV a marvel, but the brewery markets it as a ‘Light Ale’, not a mild.

Perhaps it’s because in a society that is increasingly against drinking in such volume, people would rather pick the stronger beer for one or two flavourful pints rather than 5 pints of mild. Or maybe it’s just because ‘Mild’ has become a watchword for bad.

Historically, of course, the only defining characteristic of something called “mild” in the 19th century was that it was freshly brewed, so it didn’t have the tart and/or bretty character of more aged brews. That being the case, mild could therefore be hoppy, dry and strong or lightly hopped, sweet and weak, and you could get mild porter, mild stout, even mild bitter. Mild ALE was lightly hopped, strong (7%-plus) and pale, and once it had aged it was known as old ale. The mild ale we’re talking about here was a 20th century development, it was low in alcohol to be as cheap as possible and low in hops because it was a fast-turnover beer and didn’t need them., and perhaps because it’s easier to deliver flavour in a low gravity beer when it’s dark, about two thirds to three quarters of mid-20th century milds were dark. It appears they were generally delivered if not actually technically “bright” then requiring very little settling in the pub cellar, and their darkness and lack of sediment meant, as others have indicated, that they were indeed terribly abused by unscrupulous landlords who put the slops into the mild casks: you couldn’t do that to the bitter as it would alter the colour and kick up the sediment.

I’m sure modern milds don’t suffer an image problem from the abuse of the past, but it is a difficult name to promote when it doesn’t have the associations it once had for beer drinkers, of “not sour” rather than “bland and boring”. But a great, dry, dark, refreshing mild does make a tremendous session drink …

Mild’s not uncommon around Cambridge. Often seen in “CAMRA pubs” (of which there are a lot), produced by a lot of local-ish breweries – Elgoods, Milton, Crafty, B&T, Brentwood, Son of Sid, even Greene King.

I’d guess that that’s because a) there’s a lot of CAMRA-ish folks who like a bit of variety over an evening and b) a lot of them are young enough and southern enough that they don’t see mild as an old man drink, just as something sessionable but a bit chewy.

I was going to say the same thing. This idea that no-one likes or drinks mild is news to me. Its very common in both Cambridge and Nottingham. Almost every “beery pub” has at least one mild on.

Maybe its just places where B&B spend time – the south west and London – where it has died out?

As to the question of “what is a mild” in todays money (rather than etymologically speaking), I would say its simply any low strength dark beer. Dark Star “Art of Darkness” is described as a mild and fits the definition but its certainly not weak-tasting.

I think the only way to get people interested is to follow the Sarah Hughes example and recreate pre-WW1 recipes.

I bet there is a hell of a lot more mild* being brewed than things like gose and berlinerweisse… it’s just that the latter get more beer nerd exposure so they seem more of a “thing”. Will either ever be brewed in greater volume in the UK than mild? (I’d say unless mild declines further then probably not, albeit berlinerweisse type beers may be in with a chance given a decade or two.)

But mild is a difficult one. I’d not buy one without knowing it had a customer to go to first. Breweries I know have stopped brewing the style because it doesn’t sell anyway, it’s not really part of my market… folk who drink mild often seem to drink a brand, like the “bland” lagers they’re compared to here. So go to the sorts of pubs who’s lineup is stable, or rotates through a more limited selection of beers.

Then again I can list several pubs who always have a “dark” pump and often a mild on it… perhaps the last haunts of a dying breed of mild drinkers. A favourite around here being good old Oscar Wild. And in this part of England one must not overlook Greene King XX Mild – often cited as the only good beer GK brew. A good number of their pubs stock it permanently. (I suspect it might just be GKIPA with colouring and sweetener added;)

* even restricting to just the dark, low ABV, low bitterness kind that typifies the style to most folk.

Timothy Taylor’s Golden Best is on permanently at one relatively conservative real ale pub* that I know; it’s a really nice beer, too. It’s not labelled ‘mild’, though. I think the name has got a bad name more than the beer itself!

*Quite an interesting category in itself – the kind of place that generally has six beers on, consisting of one pale’n’oppy (guest), one stout or porter (guest) and four brown bitters that the regulars actually buy. Or in this case three brown bitters and one light mild.

My local has a mild dedicated pump amongst it’s 8 cask lines and it sells about on par with the rest (that often features your likes of Magic Rock, Summer Wine, Tiny Rebel etc…) so there’s a clear market for it.

It’s just not popular with the trend drinkers, who don’t generally seem to be big fans of darker beers anyway. I’m sure some brewery could get away with brewing a mild and calling it a “Black Session Pale” or something ridiculous and BINGO – mild is back for them.

The point of dialled down flavours historically doesn’t fit anymore, as there are plenty of flavoursome milds being brewed. Allgate’s Tag immediately springs to mind as a fully flavoured mild I had just recently

Well we have black IPA and session IPA so why not a black session IPA?

A mind is basically just a session porter anyway.

Its a matter of balance, isn’t it?

I like a dark beer with a nice balance between sweetness and roastiness, somewhere between a mild and a porter.

So many of these modern fangled hipster beers are just over–roasted nonsense. I can’t be doing with it.

I’m sure I told you about the joys of hawse buckler about 2 years ago as well. Best dark beer on the market.

Mild has been very badly treated in the past. Many pubs used to pour beer from all the drip trays into a big steel bucket under the bar, where it would sit all evening, and after closing time be poured into the mild. There wasn’t much incentive for a brewer to take much care over a product that is going to have all the slops poured into it. The exposure of the slops to the atmosphere, sometimes for many hours, could lead to infection. If sales were quick enough, this might be avoided, otherwise you’d get off flavours. The consequence of all of this mishandling was that many drinkers switched to another type of beer, and mild correspondingly declined. Bearing all this in mind, it’s surprising it is still with us.

I was once castigated by a fellow CAMRA member for peddling harmful myths about mild, which simply showed how little he knew.

Most of the remaining cask milds are actually more characterful than people give them credit for – Hydes Owd Oak being a good local example.

Your general point holds true, though – most drinkers who want a quaffable, undemanding beer have long since gravitated to cooking lager.

But if you want to see mild being shifted in large quantities, try any urban Sam Smith’s pub in the North. Keg Light and Dark Milds, both 2.8% ABV and typically £1.34 a pint. The codgers love it!

Kelburn Dark Moor is a dark mild which won Champion Beer of Scotland 2014 (although the brewery don’t seem to describe it as a mild and sometimes it’s classed as an old ale). At 4.5% is it maybe too strong to be a proper mild? When I tried it I thought it was a good example of a style I wasn’t keen on but it would match py’s description of what he’s looking for.

I reckon that’s the problem: if mild isn’t anything in particular — if it can be anything you want it to be — then why bother?

But if it does have a particular something to bring to the party, how do you make it something other than the weak, bland, often grotty beer people find in pubs when they go looking for it?

Barm’s unwittingly hit on the solution of how to make mild the style du jour.

Call it “Mild IPA”.

I think just about every other style has been described as ” IPA” of some kind.

The real answer to this question is, people want the novel, strange, exotic. The ceaseless quest for new has permanently infected the beer world, which is both good and bad. Good because a lot of good ideas get snapped up in places distant from their origin. Bad because, not just do bad ideas get snapped up too (I’ll plump for gose here, your mileage may vary), but brewing nations with fine indigenous traditions throw them on the rubbish heap to make way for the new and trendy. Hence the lowly fortunes of mild.

Now, it’s true mild was abused by publicans (some), and it was by brewers too. Unless there was a ferocious, local turnover, beer so weak and under-hopped just couldn’t survive indifferent handling. I drank mild in London every time I saw it available when travelling in Britain from the late 80’s to about 4 years ago – I think it was bad every time. Every time, soured usually. So this didn’t help of course, but still the main factor is the latest rage is something else. I hope the same fate doesn’t await English-tasting bitter.

Gary Gillman

Comments are closed.