This final batch of bottled milds are all from the North — a term which, of course, covers a great deal of territory.
Though the Midlands has a strong claim to mild it is The North with which it is most associated in the popular imagination — part of the stereotypical image of a northerner along with flat caps and whippets, as in this article on the crowd-sourced comedy website NewsBiscuit:
In a move which is sure to be welcomed by ‘hard working families’ and ‘lovable northerners’, the Government has announced that whippets, pipes, pints of mild and dolly tubs are all to be zero-rated for VAT.
As with CAMRA and beards there is some truth in the association: we found a relative abundance of mild on our last trip to Manchester, albeit mostly kegged; and yet as early as the 1970s CAMRA was declaring it all but extinct in London and the Home Counties.
Apart from the question of whether they’re any good — the main point of these posts — there’s a secondary line of enquiry: do they have anything in common with each other? And, if so, can we say northern mild is any way distinct from Midlands mild?
- Brass Castle Hazelnut Mild (Beers of Europe, £2.89 500ml)
- Ilkley Black (Beer Ritz, £2.96 500ml)
- Moorhouse Black Cat (Beers of Europe, £2.05 500ml)
- Rudgate Ruby Mild (Beer Ritz, £3.00 500ml)
- Thwaites Dark Mild (Morrisons, £3.96 4 × 440ml)
Thwaites Dark Mild is, at 3.2% ABV, the weakest of this set. It looks black in the glass, shining brown-red where the light gets through. The aroma is discreet — just a waft of hot sugar. In the first swig, there’s a very light charred note like the kind of sweet, milky, barely-roasted coffee you get in a greasy spoon caff. (Whereas an imperial stout might be a forbiddingly dark, oily espresso.)
‘Well, that’s mild, darling.’
The body is very light, as you might expect at this strength — barely a a degree above water — and yet no worse for that. After all, that’s sort of what 20th century mild is: a soft drink for grown-ups. We found just enough going on besides to keep our interest, especially a slightly drying, tannic note that stuck around the teeth, suggesting well-boiled hops.
We liked it and it’s certainly good value so it’s a contender. But will it stand its ground amidst slightly beefier beers in the final taste-off?
* * *
Moorhouse Black Cat (3.4%, Burnley) is very dark indeed with a fluffy sandy-coloured head with the odd big, poppable bubble. Again, there was barely any aroma — just a touch of smoke.
On tasting, we immediately pegged this as another ‘baby stout’. The smokiness we had smelled came through quite clearly in the flavour — it was even a tiny touch peaty. That was backed up by a fairly intense bakers’ coffee essence character. And yet the mouthfeel was right, and it had the appropriate ‘boshability‘. Light but also chewy. We can certainly imagine it as the accompaniment to a session. It’s a contender.
All in all, it struck us as remarkably similar to Thwaites’s effort, and then we looked at a map: Burnley is a 15-minute drive from Blackburn (Thwaites). These two beers were brewed for the same micro-market in that particular part of Lancashire, the former perhaps directly inspiring the latter.
(NB. it’s pretty unlikely that Thwaites is actually brewed in Blackburn these days — if anyone can tell us for certain, we’d be interested to know.)
* * *
Crossing the Pennines into Yorkshire, we next revisited Ilkley Black (3.7%, Ilkley). We say revisited because we’ve written about it before in the very short column we wrote for a very short time for the Guardian. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we still like it a lot.
It is more or less the same colour as the two Lancs milds: that is, so red it’s practically black. There’s a bigger aroma here, of roastiness primarily, but it’s still not a beer to waste too much time snorting and huffing.
The flavour is more roastiness layered with some plum and a hint of chocolate, but none of those characteristics runs rampant.
It might fairly be described as yet another scaled-down stout — and, to be fair, they don’t call it a mild on the label –and yet it does a great job of delivering its flavours and then clearing out of the way to usher in the next mouthful. There’s no lingering here, and that’s good news. (Possible conclusion #164: milds don’t linger.)
It might benefit from a little more sweetness but, really, that’s a niggle: we love this beer, and it’s a definite contender.
* * *
Brass Castle Hazelnut Mild (4.2%, Malton) signals its oddness from the off, not only with its name but in the aroma: a great plume of herbal-shampoo perfume puffed up the minute the crown cap was popped. We’re not sure where that came from — a by-product of the yeast, perhaps?
Dark amber in colour its flavour seemed, at first, one dimensionally sweet. The prominence of sugar flavours is one of the things we think defines mild, but it’s sugar flavour, not sweetness, and this was a bit much for us — a sort of sickly melange of vanilla and praline. It wasn’t fundamentally unpleasant but this is surely not a beer to session on, or perhaps even to drink by the pint. It’s interesting but it’s not a contender.
* * *
We’ve had Rudgate Ruby Mild (4.4%, York) a couple of times before, too, but the last bottles a year or so ago were too I Can’t Believe It’s Not Buttery to be drinkable. But we tried to approach it with an open mind.
It isn’t black — it’s barely darker than many of the maltier bitters, albeit more red than amber.
An odd flavour in this beer divided us. Bailey struggled with what he read as staleness (though no butter this time) while Boak perceived something like roasted chestnuts, which she liked. We both agreed that we thought there was evidence of the generous use of crystal malt which, again, brought this closer to best bitter than the other milds we’ve tried so far.
Otherwise, there was some suggestion of especially light milk chocolate and, in the finish, an enlivening, fortifying touch of sherry-like (good) oxidation.
Its slight quirkiness appealed to us in the end and, despite a few reservations — it didn’t have us coo-ing in delight like Ilkley Black — we decided to put it through as a contender, though it was a close thing.
* * *
So, phew, that’s the lot. Hopefully we’ll find time for the final taste-off before Christmas. In the meantime, here’s a reminder of the contenders in case you want to pick any up to try yourself:
- Banks’s (can better than bottle)
- Ilkley Black
- Moorhouse’s Black Cat
- Norfolk Brewhouse’s Moon Gazer
- St Peter’s