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Gaps and opportunities: how trends in beer styles work

It’s obvious, really: you can’t have a revival until the thing you’re reviving has actually died. And mild needed to die to have its apparent comeback this year.

Mild has been dying for decades – from about 40% of the UK beer market in the early 1960s to 4% by 1990 to 0.3% by 2017.

CAMRA has fought to preserve it but with little success because, ultimately, the market dictates the fortunes of beer styles.

One by one, larger breweries have reduced their output of mild, made mild seasonal or stopped making it altogether.

Think of Fuller’s and St Austell, for example, whose milds have expired since this blog began in 2007.

Even those that limp on have invariably been renamed ‘dark ale’ or similar.

There’s not much of a market for mild but, as big players step away, as it slips into the rearview mirror of history, a little space is created.

Smaller breweries have a chance to offer something the nationals and multinationals, with their large minimum production volumes, can’t or won’t.

In other words, mild has become an exotic boutique rarity like Schwarzbier, Rauchbier or Vienna lager.

Well, not exotic. Mild can’t be exotic. Not unless it’s missed the point of its own existence. But you catch our drift.

On the flipside, as bigger breweries move in on hoppy, fruity pale ales and IPAs, that space in the market gets crowded.

Smaller breweries might struggle to compete with Beavertown (Heineken) or Camden (AB-InBev) and so of course they’ll start looking for styles they can own.

For a year or so, that might be mild, until the big operators catch-up and spoil the fun.

This also answers the question about why craft breweries are less likely to brew straightforward bitter or lager: though the market for those is large, it’s also pretty well sewn up.

Whatever happens, if there are a few more milds around, in a few more pubs, for a few more years, we’ll be quite happy.

5 replies on “Gaps and opportunities: how trends in beer styles work”

For me, the big problem with mild is that it’s too weak. I was brought up on Greene King Abbot and very rarely drink any beer less than 4.5% ABV. In fact, the only time I ever drink mild is at beer festivals. And even then, I don’t drink much of it.

Brian,
It depends where you live.
My wife grew up close to the Beacon Hotel in Sedgley where the Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby Mild is 6%. Far better three pints of that than four of Abbot.

I was going to suggest the Sarah Hughes as perhaps the archetypal strong mild. Backyard, another Black Country brewery, also do a rather good 1898 dark mild, which is 5% or so.

Interesting points! We for one hope it makes a comeback. Even a niche one. We’re still proud brewers of Mild, although it’s true that it has fallen greatly out of favour, meaning it’s not in nearly as many of our pub as it used to be.

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