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.
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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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.
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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.