It turns out to be difficult to stumble upon cask mild in Manchester these days — you need a few clues as to where to look.
We have a theory that we’ve been testing for a few years now that there’s a sort of corridor running from the Midlands to Manchester where you can expect any halfway decent pub to have some kind of mild on offer, even if it’s only keg. (Keg mild can be quite decent, but it’s distinctly different.) When we’ve floated this thought before people have pointed out that it might extend down as far as Cambridge and up to Leeds, so something like this:
We’re not interested in pubs that sometimes have a guest mild, or left-field interpretations of mild. In fact, we’re sceptical of many micro-brewery milds which, through misunderstandings over how the style evolved, are too often really baby stouts. No, what we’re intrigued by is the idea that there are still pockets of the country where you could, if sufficiently perverse, be a Mild Drinker, day in day out, in roughly the same style as your parents or grandparents before you.
In fact, it was my parents who triggered our latest round of pondering on this. They were in Manchester on family business (my Mum is from Lancashire) and Dad wanted to know where he could get a pint of cask mild. We, hundreds of miles in Cornwall, didn’t know, and so asked Twitter. Various people chipped in, notably @pubs_of_mcr and @beer_justice, providing us with this do-able list:
- The Abel Heywood
- The Ape & Apple
- The Circus Tavern
- The Grey Horse
- The Millstone
- The Old Monkey
- Rain Bar
After all that, the folks didn’t get chance to go pub crawling, but fortunately, a couple of weeks ago, I did, so the effort wasn’t wasted.
I didn’t make it to Gulliver’s or the Ape & Apple. There was no mild to be had at The Circus (gas fire, tiny rooms, Tetley), The Millstone (enthusiastic karaoke), The Old Monkey (weird cold light) or Rain Bar (jeans and sheux). What I did find was a lot of this kind of thing:
The Abel Heywood, an upmarket glossy-wood and sharing-platters pub, had light mild (Hyde’s 1863) but no dark and, really, isn’t a pint-of-mild kind of place. Where I had real success, and perhaps my favourite pub of a long weekend filled with classics (Peveril of the Peak, Lass O’Gowrie, Briton’s Protection) was The Grey Horse.
It’s a small single-room pub with a tiny bar and a psychically implied divide between public bar (front) and saloon (back). It’s properly worn-in, scrubbed raw rather than polished, and feels as if it ought to be on a back street in the terraced suburbs rather than at the heart of the city. There were older men in football shirts (‘Alright, Red.’; ‘Oh, it’s you is it, Rickets?’), couples fresh from the office with loosened ties and discarded high heels, and a handful of rosy-cheeked twenty-somethings. On my first visit the big excitement was that someone had spilled a pint on a chair. Rather than remove the chair from service it had been left in play so that every time some new entrant went to sit on it the whole pub would break into panicked warnings.
Hyde’s dark mild is weirdly branded now as Old Indie ‘dark ale’ suggesting perhaps some sort of session black IPA. It cost £2.87 a pint and was presented with a good wedge of creamy tan foam. (If I wasn’t a stranger in town, I might have asked for a top up.) My first impression was that this is a classic muddy mild with just a snap of sugar and butter upfront before the ultimate wateriness washed them away. Entirely bland, which is not necessarily pejorative. And there was so much going on in the pub I didn’t need the beer to be entertaining and so I thought, yes, I could happily sit here and drink six of these if I didn’t have somewhere else to go.
I was drawn back a second time, this time in daylight, and found the pub no less appealing. The beer I enjoyed more even after (or perhaps because of?) a weekend filled with a palate-battering canned IPAs, Belgian beer and pale’n’hoppy cask ales. It felt like a convalescent treatment.
As ever, apologies if I’ve got Manchester wrong. I’m not claiming to be an authority, just an admirer.
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If you want to drink proper old-fashioned mild in England here’s a handful of places you can rely on, based on our experience:
CAMBRIDGE: The Free Press, Prospect Row — Greene King XX
BRIERLEY HILL (Dudley): The Vine (Bull & Bladder) — Batham’s
LONDON: The Royal Oak, Tabard Street — Harvey’s
MANCHESTER: The Grey Horse, Portland Street — Hyde’s Old Indie
NETHERTON (Dudley): The Old Swan (Ma Pardoe’s) — Olde Swan Dark Swan
WOLVERHAMPTON: The Great Western, Sun Street — Holden’s
We’d very much welcome recommendations for other places to check out but remember we’re after reliable sources of old school mild, not a pub that occasionally has one as a guest.