Categories
Beer styles

Mild is dead, long live the new mild

The Grey Horse, Manchester.

A couple of weeks ago, Roger Protz quoted a Black Country brewer foretelling the eventual death of mild along with the passing of those who regularly drink it. But what if it’s just mutated?

We once wrote about a resurgence in the popularity of mild not as a mainstream beer style but as a niche oddity, like milk stout or Berliner Weisse.

We still think that’s about right – that what is dead, or dying, is the standard three-point-something ABV dark mild that too often tastes like watered down stout or, worse, watered down mild.

What hadn’t quite occurred to us, though, until we listened to our own middle-aged grumbling, was that mild might have faked its own death before sneaking back into the room with a different hat on.

Forget beer styles, forget beer history, and think about utility: what do English drinkers seem to want?

A beer they can drink four pints of without too much damage.

A beer that doesn’t demand lots of attention while being drunk – that goes down easily and addresses thirst.

That isn’t bitter, or dry and, indeed, might even be called sweet.

For much of the 20th century, that was mild.

Then, for about 40 years, it was so-called cooking lager – the kind of stuff that apalled Rheinheitsgebotists but which British drinkers took to overwhelmingly from the 1970s onward.

But now… Could it be soft, hazy session IPA?

Circa 4%. Not bitter, perhaps even sugary. And undemanding, unless you’re hung up on haze, with fruit juice and soft drink citrus flavours rather than the brittle hop spikiness.

One data point does not prove the case but it’s certainly fascinating to see the degree to which Ray’s dad, previously a keen mild drinker, has taken to beers like Moor Nor’Hop.

Categories
Beer styles real ale

The BADRAG effect – a choice of milds

Do you know how nice it is to be able to go into your local two nights in a row and order a decent ordinary dark mild?

Bristol and District Rare Ales Group, or BADRAG, campaigns for wider availability of stout, porter, old ale and mild. This year, hacked off with the madness of May as CAMRA’s official month of mild, it decided to launch its own bonus mild event in November, when dark beer has much more appeal.

As that happened to coincide with a beer festival at The Drapers Arms, we were treated to something remarkable on Saturday: a choice of three milds.

Sarah Hughes Ruby Mild is a classic, of course, but at 6%, not one you can settle on. No, the beer that caught our eye (and Ray’s especially) was Future Proof, a 3.3% traditional dark mild from Bristol Beer Factory.

We’ve got a soft spot for this well-established Bristol brewery even though, as one of our fellow drinkers put it, “They’re having some sort of midlife crisis at the moment”, no longer being hip or new.

With that in mind, dark mild is an interesting choice. We’d like to think it suggests confidence – so we’re middle-aged, deal with it – but it might just be the BADRAG effect.

Tasting notes on mild, like tasting notes on ordinary lager, can be a struggle, like trying to write poetry about council grit bins. Good mild is enjoyable and functional but, by its nature, unassuming, muted and mellow.

Still, let’s have a go: dark sugars and prune juice, the body of bedtime cocoa, hints of Welsh-cake spice, and with just enough bite and dryness to make one pint follow naturally into the next.

It’s a really great example of this endangered style, in line with the best of the output from the old family breweries.

Is mild ‘back’? Is a great revival underway? Well, probably not – you win some, you lose some – but it feels like good news that we’ve been able to manage two sessions on mild in the past month without making a special effort.

Categories
News

News, nuggets and longreads 27 April 2019: numbers, mild, cult beer frenzy

Here’s everything that struck as as noteworthy in writing about beer and pubs in the past week, from brewery numbers to the possible decline of lager.

Like many other commentators, we’ve taken the total number of UK breweries, and the amount by which it increases each year, as an at least partially useful indicator of the vigour of the craft beer boom. According to a new report from accountancy firm UHY, that growth might finally have begun to slow:

The craft beer boom in the UK has slowed sharply in the last year with the total number of breweries increasing by just 8 versus the 390 added in prior twelve months, our research shows… The total number of UK breweries reached to 2,274 at the end of 2018, up from 1,352 five years ago… The craft beer market has become difficult for new entrants as multinational brewers continue to buy and invest the more successful “craft” breweries. The huge levels of investment that the multinationals then deploy through their “craft” subsidiaries throw up barriers of entry against other entrants. The multinationals have been attracted by the high growth rates in the craft beer market and the premium pricing they can achieve.

(This story got a bit mangled in the retelling by some news outlets which, tending to prefer stories of either total triumph or dreadful doom, reported that only eight new breweries had opened in the past year.)


Related news: the total number of pubs continues to decline at a rate equivalent to 76 closures per month, but the rate of closures is quite clearly slowing.


Another nugget of news, unfortunately from behind a paywall: financial news service MergerMarket reports that both Truman’s and Five Points are actively courting investors or partners. There’s nothing we can link to at this stage but, well, keep your eyes peeled for further news.


Weyerbacher logo.

For BrewBound Justin Kendall offers comment on the struggles of yet another early-wave American craft brewery, Weyerbacher:

Most of Weyerbacher’s financial issues stem from a 2014 expansion project that cost $2 million and included the addition of a 40-barrel brewhouse. Over the years, however, the company dealt with increased competition — particularly in the pumpkin beer category — as it struggled to grow sales and pay down debt.

“We were expecting to see double-digit growth for a number of years … and with the market saturation that happened in pumpkin and all of those other things, that just didn’t pan out,” [Josh Lampe] said.

The market saturation that happened in pumpkin! What a time to be alive.


Illustration: beer bottles.

For Drinks Retailing News Anthony Gladman has produced a fascinating piece on the struggle of independent bottle shops to attain supplies of the most sought after beers:

“Anything DIPA or hazy goes really fast,” says Dan Sandy, manager of east London craft beer store Kill The Cat. Beers from Cloudwater, Verdant and Deya are subject to fierce competition because they will draw in customers and drive sales of other beers once people are through the shop door.

“Everyone wants Deya cans but it’s not making very many,” says Jen Ferguson, co-owner of Hop Burns & Black, a craft beer retailer in south east London. “The number of Deya cans making it through to the distributors is very small.”

Another example is Nottingham brewery Neon Raptor. Alex Fitzpatrick, co-owner of Brixton bottle shop Ghost Whale, found its beers became hard to get hold of seemingly overnight. “What happened? Who pressed the button that gave it this magic rainbow aura around everything it does?”


Beer being poured, from an old advertisement.

With CAMRA’s declaration of May as the month of mild in mind, Ron Pattinson has taken a look at how beer style come in and out of favour:

When styles start to decline, it can happen surprisingly quickly. It always kicks off the same way: young drinkers don’t adopt it. Then a style begins to be associated with old men. And no-one wants to drink what granddad’s drinking… Lager sales really took off in the late 1970s. The young drinkers who adopted it back then are now around 60. How long before Lager becomes associated with old blokes?


Generic beer pumps in photocopy style.

One of the upsides to putting this round-up together slightly later than usual is that it meant we caught a post from this very morning by the Pub Curmudgeon in which the details of various regional quirks of dispense from the 1970s-90s are recalled:

But, in the 1960s and 70s, if you went in the average pub across much of the Midlands and North, you would be likely to be served your beer in an oversize glass with a thick head reaching almost to the top, whereas in the South you would get beer from a handpump with a head no more than a quarter of an inch deep, or often just a thin coating of foam on the top. It’s also worth adding that, in the South, you would often get keg beer with little or no head as well. Getting a pint a totally flat-looking beer with plenty of CO2 still dissolved in it was a touch disconcerting.


And finally, from Twitter, one of those too-neat explanations that nonetheless sort of, maybe, kind of, checks out:

For more links and commentary check out Stan Hieronymus on Monday and Alan McLeod on Thursday.

Categories
Generalisations about beer culture pubs real ale

A New Axis: Classic | Standard | New-Local

A pint of beer.

Where are we in the cycle? At the point where seeing Elland 1872 Porter, Timothy Taylor Landlord, Thornbridge Jaipur, Fyne Ales Jarl, Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted and Bank Top Mild on offer in our local is tremendously exciting — that’s where.

Andy Hamilton, who writes about booze and foraging, and foraging for booze, is promoting a book and convinced the Drapers Arms to hold a mini festival featuring some of the beers it mentions.

The Drapers has a pretty serious commitment to local beers, listing distance travelled for each beer, and average distance for the entire list, on the menu blackboard.

In fact, that’s a trend reflected across Bristol: it’s not unusual to walk into a pub and find the whole beer list made up of beers from within the city boundaries.

The beer list at the Drapers Arms.

That can be great — we’ve discovered some impressive West Country breweries this way, and it’s certainly fuelling the Bristol brewery boom — but is also mildly frustrating.

Let’s consider Jaipur. It’s a beer that’s well into its second decade and has gained the status of a classic. In bottles, it’s reasonably easy to find in supermarkets. But how often do we get to drink it on cask? Twice, maybe three times a year? And that’s mostly in Wetherspoon pubs.

Old Peculier is another beer we’ve encountered on cask only a handful of times in more than a decade of beer blogging, and which we’re hoping will still be on when we pop round to the Drapers after posting this. We felt a genuine thrill when we saw the A-board outside the pub announcing its arrival last night.

All this has made us think that as well as our longstanding wish for more pubs to make a point of having one of each colour (brown, yellow, black) perhaps there ought to be another axis: big classic + standard + local/new.

We can imagine going into a pub with that kind of mix and starting on the classic, trying the newcomer, and then deciding where to stick for a third round depending on how the first two tasted.

In the meantime (this kind of thing is always fun) what’s your suggestion for a line-up which covers brown/yellow/black and classic/standard/local-new?

Old Peculier, London Pride and Bristol Beer Factory Nova would do us nicely, for example.

Categories
Beer history

The Mother lode: Attitudes to Beer, 1963

In 1963 Guinness hired Public Attitude Surveys Ltd to compiled research into the attitudes of drinkers towards stout, and the state of the beer market more generally.

The resulting report feels to us like an important document, recording statistics on different types of beer, and different types of drinker, based on gender, social class and attitudes to alcohol.

It’s about Guinness but almost accidentally gives us great insight into the rise of lager, the death of mild, and so on.

Unless we’re mistaken, this is a source that hasn’t previously made its way into the public domain or otherwise been much exploited, though there were some contemporary newspaper reports picking up on its findings. We only have our hands on a copy because it came as part of the collection of Guinness papers we’re sorting through on behalf of the owner.

It begins with a summary of what was learned from previous ‘National Stout Surveys’ carried out in 1952-53 and 1958-59:

Guinness was markedly more dependent on the heavy drinker than Mackeson, the next most successful stout on the market… Recruitment to Guinness was not to any substantial amount from sweet stouts… [And] Guinness was much more dependent on the older drinker – those over 45 – than Mackeson and the other sweet stouts.

This helps us understand what Guinness was worried about: that younger drinkers were turning away from dark, bitter, heavy beers. That’s a problem when your flagship product — more or less your only product — is a dark, bitter, heavy beer.

Graph -- main drink by sex

This is the first big splash from the document. It shows that in the early 1960s women hardly touched draught bitter or mild, and weren’t especially keen on the then fashionable bottled ales either. But lager and stout – two opposite ends of the spectrum you might say – were about equally popular with men and women.