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Don’t drink the Mild Kool-Aid

Brace yourself now that Hobsons Mild, at 3.2% a session beer if there ever was one, has won Champion Beer of Britain.

We’ll be reading about how great Milds are. Same with session beers. And so on.

Take it all with a grain of salt. This is not a Turning Point. It will not change what we drink in America one bit.

The American beer revolution has been powered by what Tomme Arthur of Lost Abbey Brewing fondly calls flavor-driven beers. They don’t have to be 12% abv, but generally they are stronger than 3.2%.

Consider these top sellers: Samuel Adams Boston Lager (4.9% abv), Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (5.6%), Blue Moon Belgian White (5.4%), and New Belgium Fat Tire (5.3%).

Not extreme, not low alcohol. Seems to be working pretty well.

Hard as it is, I’ll stop there.

28 Responses to Don’t drink the Mild Kool-Aid

  1. SteveH August 8, 2007 at 5:47 am #

    Where does Guinness Draught fall in the top sellers? At 3.8%, I’m just sayin’.

  2. Stan Hieronymus August 8, 2007 at 6:07 am #

    Agreed that Guinness is up there in sales, but not sure it is the spokesman for better beer that it once was.

  3. SteveH August 8, 2007 at 6:49 am #

    And Blue Moon is?

    I know what choice I’d make.

  4. Stan Hieronymus August 8, 2007 at 7:04 am #

    And Blue Moon is?

    I think most consumers would call it a craft beer, it may already be outselling SNPA and they have their eyes on Sam Adams Boston Lager.

    Introducing a lot of people to something different.

  5. SteveH August 8, 2007 at 7:18 am #

    But is it leading them to something better?

    I’d believe the common consumer would stop at Blue Moon and never venture beyond. I got a co-worker to try Mother Ship after I heard he liked Leinenkugel’s insipid version of a Wit, the New Belgium is his new favorite.

  6. Stan Hieronymus August 8, 2007 at 7:23 am #

    Blue Moon White is not a favorite of mine, but it is a quality beer that sells at a premium price, so “stopping there” is fair enough.

    But in your example somebody started with the Leinenkugel and moved on, right? Isn’t that a good thing?

  7. SteveH August 8, 2007 at 8:38 am #

    Yes, it is a good thing. But I’m not sure he would have moved on without some prompting.

    I know people, people who revel in their 5th or 6th years of annual Great Taste attendance, who tell me they’re avid “craft” beer lovers, and are astounded that Blue Moon is made by Coors. And it’s all they order when away from a true “craft” brew scene.

    Dunno, maybe I ought to revisit the Moon, but I think I’ll be as disapointed as I am with Michelob Märzen.

  8. Jeff August 8, 2007 at 11:25 am #

    Though I totally agree with you in principle, I had a Coniston Bluebird Bitter at the Portland International Beerfest, and it was mighty popular. It’s a beer that could win hearts on its own merits, sort of in spite of begin a mild. I haven’t tried Hobson’s, but it could be the same kind of thing.

    On the other side of things, I have a 22-ounce bottle of 8.7% Deschutes in the fridge which I keep avoiding because it’s just a huge amount of alcohol. I’m about to lead a backlash against big beers, and I’m damn sure tired of the 22-ounce bottles. What bonehead came up with that standard?

  9. SteveH August 8, 2007 at 12:53 pm #

    “What bonehead came up with that standard?”

    C’mon — bigger is better, didn’t you get the memo? :-/

  10. Lew Bryson August 8, 2007 at 1:58 pm #

    I’m about to lead a backlash against big beers…

    Back of the line, buddy!

  11. Lew Bryson August 8, 2007 at 2:00 pm #

    Oh, and Stan? If you think I’m gonna bite on this one…

    …hard as it is, I’m not!

  12. Stan Hieronymus August 9, 2007 at 12:35 am #

    Once again travelers have triumphed over Northwest Airlines and we made it home . . .

    First to Jeff. Bluebird is 4.2%, more in the range of what Americans will accept.

    When Lew started the Session Project I think he set the max abv at 5.5% abv and took some chiding (including from me) for not going lower. But I’ve come around to the idea that he was right. You have to be realistic about the market.

    And Lew, my Hard as it is, I’ll stop there was to keep me from rambling on about how I’d like to see more beer in the 3.5-5% range and wax romantic about one I had Monday.

    My point would be the market is not in alignment with my tastes (about more than beer). And when the Return of Mild stories start showing up we should be realistic, particularly on this side of the pond.

  13. Stonch August 9, 2007 at 4:14 am #

    English cask milds aren’t brewed for the American market so I don’t really think there’s an issue. I wouldn’t expect the Champion Beer of Britain award to have a significant influence on the US. I’d be slightly concerned if it did.

    Personally I didn’t really appreciate the Double IPAs and Imperial Stouts flown over from the States, so it’s horses for courses. Two different markets.

    The German market is massively different to the English one too, and both are different to Belgium. It’s nothing to worry about. No-one is right or wrong. Carve your own boat.

    Vive la difference, and all that.

    I’ve run out of cliches, time to stop.

  14. Stonch August 9, 2007 at 4:15 am #

    PS. Why are we talking about Coniston Bluebird Bitter as a mild? It isn’t.

  15. Stonch August 9, 2007 at 4:18 am #

    PPS. and why are we saying it’s 4.2%? That’s just the bottled version, the cask version is 3.6%.

  16. SteveH August 9, 2007 at 5:36 am #

    “Why are we talking about Coniston Bluebird Bitter as a mild?”

    I think we’re blurring lines between Milds and Session beers — but wait, are you categorizing and stylizing? 😉

  17. Stan Hieronymus August 9, 2007 at 7:18 am #

    Stonch, I note the Bluebird 4.2% abv because the bottle version is much more common here than draft (and cask w-a-a-a-y rarer).

    I totally agree about the differences in beer markets, even as we ship beers from one to the other.

    Something to keep in mind as beer blogging leads to more across-the-ocean discussions (as do certain topics at Rate Beer, Beer Advocate, etc.)

    And, yes, I know the difference between a Mild and a Bitter. I think that the lower abv UK styles have a better chance of getting some traction in the states when they are served on some cask-related dispense. That’s why it would be wonderful to see brewpubs – with beers often under the radar when it comes to getting attention online – continue to explore lower abv beers.

  18. Stonch August 9, 2007 at 7:36 am #

    Unfortunately, Stan, I think that in the beer blog and beer website world European voices are generally drowned out! The number of active non-North American participants on BeerAdvocate, for example, is tiny in comparison to the whole.

    The main reason, I think, is that beer lovers in the US are self-consciously “beer geeks”. Liking good beer is perceived as totally non-mainstream. As a result the tone of discussion is very different, there’s a clannish devotion to it.

    In many European countries (including usual suspects – UK/Germany/Belgium/Czechs etc) beer culture is woven into the fabric of society. Most people I know who love good beer haven’t even heard of the major US beer websites (Ratebeer, BA) – and we don’t really have any equivalents of our own.

    You are right that it has to be brewpubs that push lower ABV beers, and yes they need to be in cask form. A bigger beer can be pasteurised, filtered, bottled and sent thousands of miles by ship and road and still taste of something. A subtle bitter or mild simply cannot.

  19. Stonch August 9, 2007 at 7:38 am #

    ” “Why are we talking about Coniston Bluebird Bitter as a mild?”

    I think we’re blurring lines between Milds and Session beers — but wait, are you categorizing and stylizing? ”

    Not in the senseless pseudo-scientific way that I generally object to, no I am not.

    A mild and a bitter are clearly different things.

  20. SteveH August 9, 2007 at 8:34 am #

    “A mild and a bitter are clearly different things.”

    Very true, as are most styles commonly separated — it’s the diversity that makes it all interesting, if not categorized!

    “…beer culture is woven into the fabric of society.”

    Something that I truly loved about London and Munich, and is sadly nonexistent (for the most part) here in the ‘States due to our history and size.

    Lew has pointed out some views that still show beer perceieved as lowly over here, just look at the recent (skewed) study about binge drinking. It’s sad, but we’re doing our best to reverse it.

  21. Jeff Alworth August 9, 2007 at 10:34 am #

    “A mild and a bitter are clearly different things.”

    They are indeed, and I don’t mean to muddy the waters. Neither are brewed with any regularity in North America. I will be more precise with my language in the future. I am so blase about distinctions like these on my blog, which doesn’t feature the comments of erudite Englishmen. But I will be more careful.

    Incidentally, the Coniston we had at PIB that I referenced upthread was from a VERY fresh keg and was the 3.6% version. It was wonderful.

  22. Stonch August 10, 2007 at 2:38 am #

    Whether it was fresh or not, I suspect it was still pasteurised and filtered…

  23. SteveH August 10, 2007 at 5:09 am #

    Believe it or not Stonch, at festivals such as the Portland International Beer Fest (and even the much mourned, long gone Chicago Real Ale Festival), real ales — unfiltered, unpasteurized, make their way to the U.S. I remember drinking wonderful Hopback brews at the RAF a few years back.

    Some English breweries are even getting firkins over to the U.S. in the right amount of time to be enjoyed before they turn. There are a few taverns in Chicago, and even in my area, that receive Adnams’ beers for hand-pump service. Don’t discount our fortunes too much!

  24. SteveH August 10, 2007 at 5:10 am #

    Here’s an e-mail I received from the Adnams brewmaster a few years ago:

    “The beers are standard UK products with no tinkering ! It is one of the
    strengths of proper cask conditioned beer that it is unfiltered and
    unpasteurised and so retains its fresh taste. The trick is to get the beer
    over to the States quickly and then ensure that the container, once
    broached (on sale) is consumed within three days maximum.
    There you are: no tricks, no magic, just good honest beer !

    “The beer is shipped in a container and will get well mixed during its 11 day ride
    from us to the port in US! We give the cask 8 weeks’ shelf life, BUT once “broached” ie opened ready for serving, it has only three days of excellence.”

  25. Chazwicke August 10, 2007 at 9:36 am #

    I’ve had Coniston many times from the cask and in America from the bottle. Both are superb but I do prefer the cask version. I did not like the Bluebird Bitter that was put out using the American hops. I was disappointed especially since I love the original. The Coniston Old Man that i have sampled was not on the same level as the Bluebird and I also found it to be uninspired. I’ve only had the Old Man from the bottle.

    There are more and more brewpubs that routinely have at least one brew on the hand pump but often the beers do not have the finesse of the British cask brews. They are getting better and better though.

    I’ve been to several Real Ale festivals in the States. Including the FABfest which for three years featured over 60 Real Ales from Britian. And as a Life Member of CAMRA and a member of SPBW Chesapeake Chapter I seek out Real Ale where ever I can find it. SPBW hold an annual Real Ale festival in Baltimore every Fall. Mostly well made American casks but some Imports as well. Jeff Browning and Bru Rm of New Haven, Con. Hold a Real Ale fest in January or Feb. that gets crowded but is nice. We are seeing more Real Ale all of the time and it is slowly getting to the taste and quality level of Brit Real Ale.

    Chuck Triplett

  26. John R August 11, 2007 at 7:21 pm #

    Just to let you know that the Great Canadian Beer Festival will feature at least 30 different cask conditioned beers this year. The list at is last years. We are still finalizing the list and as we have it will be on the website.

  27. Martyn Cornell August 17, 2007 at 1:17 pm #

    What no one has said is that the Hobsons Mild has a HUGE, HUGE flavour for a beer of such low gravity, in fact it’s hard to see how they were able to cram so much in, which is doubtless why it won the category, and the CBOB title as well – indeed, personally I think it’s got far too much flavour to be a “proper” mild, which should be comparatively unobtrusive to fulfil its role as a “session” beer. One might almost say this is the first example of an “extreme” mild …

  28. Stan Hieronymus August 19, 2007 at 7:53 am #

    Thanks for the tasting note and insight, Martyn.

    Avery Brewing in Colorado is best known for its “extreme beers,” several with abvs in the teens. But those of us in the Mountain states first got to know Avery for its more traditional beers.

    They are quite well made, though a little bigger and hoppier than the classics, and Ellie’s Brown Ale (5.5% abv) was the top-rated beer in a tasting the New York Times conducted last year.

    That didn’t lead to a spike in sales, though. Talking about that a few months later Adam Avery said one of his brewers suggested they advertise it as an “extreme mild.”

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