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Monday morning musing: A case for Mild

Lots of catching up to do after a wonderful time in balmy St. Paul, Minn. Great beers, not so good beers. More important, great conversations and stories, not all of them about beer.

So just one bit of musing, then off to all that e-mail. First stop Thursday was The Muddy Pig in St. Paul, which bills itself as a “neighborhood bistro.” And it is. Good looking food menu, beer menu that includes descriptions of 48 beers on tap and a an excellent bottle selection, all set in a comfortable pub/tavern. (Photo is from their website.)

Muddy PigPlaces like this barely existed when we started research on the first Beer Travelers Guide in the early 1990s, and the best did not have a beer selection so inviting.

I considered beers from Belgium. I looked at the Bell’s offerings — who could turn down Two Hearted Ale, Hopslam or Expedition Stout? I’ve got the latter in my cooler, but Expedition Stout on tap . . .

Aside from my interest in drinking local I also did a bit of math. This was going to an 18-to-20 hour day, and drinking would continue from this moment on. I ordered Surly Mild.

Not a a beer that would have scored well in the Upper Mississippi Mash Out. A session-friendly 4.2% abv with the rich chocolate, caramel and roast you expect in a mild, but brimming with juicy hop character. The description said 31 BU but against a modest malt bill it seemed like more.

Much of the discussion about session beers has focused on alcohol content, but that should be only part of the conversation. A session beer needs to understand its place at the table. It’s there to facilitate the session, not to star.

Saint Arnold Brewing founder Brock Wagner defined this perfectly in a conversation several years ago.

“We want you to think about what you are drinking. I’ll think about the beer when I first taste it. After that I’m sitting there with my wife and with friends shooting the breeze and it becomes background,” he said. “But periodically I will think about the beer again.”

Maybe you have to be a hophead, which I am, and you certainly need to set aside your idea of traditional mild, but to me Surly Mild qualifies as an outstanding session beer.

Had I stuck with it my head would have thanked me the next morning.

12 Responses to Monday morning musing: A case for Mild

  1. Lew Bryson January 28, 2008 at 9:10 am #

    I’ve defined session beer in two ways. On alcohol content, it’s a beer that’s safe to drink while you play cards for small stakes. On flavor, it’s a beer that may lead to “Hey, that’s pretty good” but never takes over the conversation: it’s there to facilitate the conversation, not dominate it.

    Does Surly live up to the hype?

  2. Stan Hieronymus January 28, 2008 at 9:46 am #

    Does Surly live up to the hype?

    Outstanding beers, but it’s hard for any beer to live up to what seems to be increasing hype these days.

    The Mild, apparently a one-off and just out, would likely disappoint those chasing the hyped beers.

    I’d love to have it as an option in my draft life. But maybe a good thing about session beers is that we don’t have to sit around and worry about if they live up to the hype. Is Surly Mild better than Deschutes Brown? Bet that’s a short thread at Beer Advocate.

  3. Stephen Beaumont January 28, 2008 at 9:55 am #

    Regarding what Brock said, I’ve long maintained that perception of beer flavour is an excellent indication of sobriety, or the lack thereof. I smell and taste and reflect on the aroma and flavour of all the beers I drink — out of sheer habit as much as anything — and when I don’t find myself thinking at least occasionally about what it is I’m drinking, then I know I’ve had enough.

    Of course, like everybody else, occasionally I also choose to ignore that warning signal if I’m having a good enough time.

  4. brendan January 28, 2008 at 10:45 am #

    The mild is the kind of beer you would expect from an envelope pushing brewery like surly. Their bitter which was out for a short time last year was excellent as well. A nice sessionable beer plus a frigid walk keeps me in the bar a little longer than the usual two drink limit. It’s nice to have this sort of resource in town.

  5. SteveH January 28, 2008 at 11:03 am #

    “The mild is the kind of beer you would expect from an envelope pushing brewery like surly.”

    Do you believe they’re starting a trend toward lower octane, less in-your-face styles? More flavor to savor? So to speak.

  6. Mark Tichenor January 28, 2008 at 1:12 pm #

    I wish mild weren’t so hard to find.

    We’re lucky here in Rochester. The Southern Tier Brewing Company makes a mild as one of the house beers for the MacGregor’s bar chain.

    Magic Hat currently has an Irish Stout that’s extremely session-friendly in both alcohol content (4%) and big flavor. It’s not as dry as an Irish stout is supposed to be, and the head’s way too dark, but the beer has a robust comfort-food character and tons of body considering its light punch.

  7. brendan January 28, 2008 at 3:33 pm #

    They are known outside of the region only for the hop bombs and the high octane stuff. Their one-offs are more reasonable.

  8. Lew Bryson January 28, 2008 at 3:44 pm #

    Mark,
    Good to know that Southern Tier’s Mild survived. Nice beer, for a nice local chain of bars.

  9. Stan Hieronymus January 28, 2008 at 4:13 pm #

    Mark – So the Southern Tier mild exists, but only for MacGregor’s?

    I notice that it is otherwise listed as “retired” at Rate Beer. I was looking to compare how it rates compared to other Southern Tier beers (not well, of course.)

  10. Jeff January 28, 2008 at 4:15 pm #

    I got a well-deserved lecture at Stonch’s when I used the word “mild” to describe a session. Milds are a style, session’s a category. I admire milds, but I have to confess that if they were regularly available, I’d snub them. Since alcohol isn’t taxed by percentage, there’s no real call for them–why not bump up the flavor a bit and make a nice session? With that latter category, you have room to add some flavor without getting out of hand. Sessions I’d happily order and drink all night–and have!

  11. Mark Tichenor January 28, 2008 at 7:18 pm #

    I haven’t ordered one in a long time. It’s possible that they could have retired it. But ST is/was making it only as a MacGregor’s house brand. I’ll check it out and comment.

  12. Nick January 28, 2008 at 7:26 pm #

    I just made my first mild and I’m quite pleased with it. I basically used it as a 5 gallon starter and reused the yeast for an Old Ale. The best thing about it – only 3 weeks from brew day to first taste, including bottle conditioning! I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a commercial mild, but when I come across one I definitely plan to try it out.

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