Bottled Milds 2: The Midlands

Banks, Holden and Blue Monkey milds.

This time, we tasted three bottled milds from Dudley, Nottingham and Wolverhampton, the latter from both can and bottle.

The Mid­lands is a part of the UK where (in our admit­ted­ly lim­it­ed expe­ri­ence) mild still feels alive – where ‘pub­by’ pubs seem to have one on draught and might even offer a choice of dif­fer­ent brands, or dif­fer­ent types of mild. (See Bar­m’s 2014 account of explor­ing ‘Eng­land’s Fran­co­nia’ for more on this.)

Unfor­tu­nate­ly – or, actu­al­ly, maybe we mean for­tu­nate­ly? – lots of Mid­lands milds are cask beers by def­i­n­i­tion and either don’t seem to make it into bot­tles, or the bot­tles are hard to come by. The selec­tion we man­aged to scrape togeth­er includes some­thing from the super­mar­ket main­stream, a mild with some­thing of a cult rep­u­ta­tion, and an out­ly­ing ‘crafty’-looking beer that isn’t sure exact­ly what it is.

We pur­chased all of these from Beers of Europe online:

  • Banks’s Mild (can, 3.5%, £1.49, 500ml)
  • Bank’s Mild (bot­tle, 3.5%, £1.69, 500ml)
  • Hold­en’s Black Coun­try Mild (£2.09, 3.7%, £2.09, 500ml)
  • Blue Mon­key 99 Red Baboons (£2.99, 4.2%, 500ml)

Tak­ing them in order of ABV, we start­ed with Banks’s (part of the Marston’s empire but still brewed in Wolver­hamp­ton, as far as we can tell) and decid­ed to drink the can and bot­tle side by side in pint glass­es.

Banks's Mild in the glass.Though they looked iden­ti­cal – rich red-brown (not black) with a tight foam – we were sur­prised to note how dif­fer­ent they tast­ed. Straight off the bat, tast­ing blind, Boak much pre­ferred the canned ver­sion; though not tast­ing blind, Bai­ley agreed.

What both beers had in com­mon was the core flavour: some­thing like gold­en syrup and choco­late truf­fles, though the phrase ‘notes of’ has nev­er been more appo­site – this is not an intense­ly flavoured beer.

The can seemed fresh­er, fuller in the mouth and yet also lighter over the tongue, with just a dab of tea-like bit­ter hops.

The bot­tle, on the oth­er hand, was marred by a stale, almost cooked qual­i­ty, and seemed to have lost the gen­tle hop char­ac­ter which kept the canned ver­sion’s sweet­ness in check.

This might all be down to ‘best before’ dates: the can was good until July 2016, the bot­tle only until May. But we sus­pect del­i­cate beers like mild ben­e­fit from the extra pro­tec­tion against light that a can might offer.

Even though there’s not real­ly much to it, we rather liked it, and so it’s a con­tender for the final taste-off. We’ll test both bot­tle and can again at that stage just in case the dif­fer­ence this time was a fluke.

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Holden's Black Country Mild in the glass.We had high hopes for Hold­en’s Black Coun­try Mild hav­ing had it on both cask and from bot­tles before. It is, again, dark red-brown in colour but, as it fills the glass, seemed to turn almost black. The car­bon­a­tion was restrained, cre­at­ing a long-last­ing but thin lay­er of foam.

It offered an imme­di­ate­ly obvi­ous­ly step up in terms of flavour from Banks’s with sug­ges­tions of rum and bit­ter cocoa pow­der, and a back­ground of bread-pud­ding-like malti­ness. (But of course inten­si­ty of flavour is rel­a­tive: it’s a much less pow­er­ful-tast­ing beer than, say, Sam Smith’s Tad­dy Porter.) Unfor­tu­nate­ly, a but­ter­scotch note seemed to clash with those oth­er flavours and only got more jar­ring the more we drank, sug­gest­ing Werther’s Orig­i­nal tof­fees, or per­haps Cad­bury Eclairs.

Over­all, we still enjoyed it despite that one bum note, so it’s anoth­er con­tender for the final.

* * *

Blue Monkey 99 Red Baboons in the glass.99 Red Baboons is a fun­ny one because it’s adver­tised as a ‘Dark Ruby Ale’ while the back blurb asks, ‘Is it a porter or maybe a mild?’ We’ve had it as a cask-con­di­tioned beer before and did­n’t remem­ber it being par­tic­u­lar­ly mild-like apart from in terms of its colour. Sure enough, it looked like Hold­en’s in the glass but gave of great wafts of leafy, herbal hop­pi­ness.

It tast­ed raw – grassy, sharp, faint­ly savoury – in that way we also find, say, Beaver­town’s beers do. It’s not a flaw, we don’t think, so much as what a cer­tain type of ‘craft’ drinker actu­al­ly prefers – dry-hop­ping and yeast­i­ness right up in the face. For us, though, it’s a bit hard going, and cer­tain­ly not, there­fore, what we look for in mild –the ulti­mate ambi­ent beer style.

To answer the label’s ques­tion, we reck­on if you want to pigeon-hole this beer, it’s some­thing like a ‘ses­sion black IPA’.

It’s not a con­tender but we’ve no hard feel­ings towards it, and if you like the idea of mild with a bit more poke, give it a go.

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