This time, we’re tasting two beers that weren’t on our original list, one from Glamorganshire, the other from Sussex.
There was a bit of angst on Twitter and elsewhere when we said we hadn’t been able to get Brain’s Dark for this tasting. We really did try, checking six or seven different supermarkets, and online. We’d given up and moved on when, suddenly, it appeared in our local Tesco. It wasn’t on display proper but hidden in a plastic-wrapped slab on top of the shelving from where a chap with a ladder had to retrieve two bottles. We paid £1.50 per 500ml in a four-for-six deal.
Despite the cryptic name the label trumpets a ‘best mild ale’ award from the World Beer Awards. The ABV is 4.1%, nudging above where most milds sit. It’s not bottle-conditioned or self-consciously artisanal so there were no gushes or quirks on pouring and it produced a glass of black topped with a thick wedge of beige without fuss. This is the blackest mild we’ve tasted so far — a real light-stopper.
It tasted like stout, too — mouth-coating and rich, all fire-embers and bitter chocolate. There was a whisper of something woody, herbal and medicinal in the finish that we couldn’t pin down — liquorice, perhaps? We found it satisfying and sessionable and so we rather liked it but…
We couldn’t make it fit a mild-shaped hole. There’s too much roasted malt character and certainly too much smoke. It’s heavy (in a good way) where we’re looking for mellow. We concluded that anyone can win if they bring a porter to a mild fight and for that reason it’s not a contender for the final in this series even if it will be on our shopping list in future.
Harvey’s Old Ale turned up in our selection box and, with delivery, each 275ml bottle worked out at about £2.
If ‘Dark’ is a sly name for a bottled mild, Old is downright confusing, but the small print, again, announces a ‘world’s best mild’ award. At some point, several family brewers decided to label mild ales as the exact opposite — Adnams is another example — but, at 3.6%, this is definitely not barley wine.
Like the other beers we’ve recently tried from the same brewery, this one needed a little coaxing to produce a head, which soon slipped away to scum on the surface. It looked almost black in the glass but always transparent and, against the light, showed conker-brown.
It tasted, unfortunately, mostly of sugar that had ‘caught’ in the bottom of a pan. We’re not averse to this flavour in moderation, balanced with others, but here it was a harsh, acrid presence that dominated the thin body of the beer in the same way burnt garlic can ruin a sauce. Not mellow at all. Positively jangly.
We disagreed about just how bad this beer was — it was either near-undrinkable or just a bit of a disappointment, depending which of us you ask — but, either way, it’s not a contender.
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With one more round to go, we find mild coming into focus. Drinking multiple examples of the same style really is educational — you should give it a go.