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The Session #3: A Mild by any other name

The Session(This is my contribution to our monthly Session. Jay Brooks is recapping this month.)

Britain’s Campaign for Real Ale has designated May as Mild Month – and tomorrow as National Mild Day.

What does this mean? From the CAMRA web site: “We ask licensees to come on board by stocking this style of beer, encouraging pub-goers to try a few Milds throughout the month and hope that all of our members participate in Mild events up and down the country.”

Suppose, instead, it were Mild Month in the United States – that the Brewers Association promoted it like American Craft Beer Week. It wouldn’t be enough to suggest pub-goers drop by their local and try the regular Mild, because there’s something of a shortage. (If you look at comments from participants you’ll see finding Milds has been a challenge.)

It would mean brewing something new, and presenting it as special, which would draw attention to the style. Maybe brewers in a region would get together for mini-festivals. Since Mild truly shines when (properly) served on cask it would be another chance to break out the firkins.

We’d certainly expect American brewers to explore historical versions of this style. And that would be an opportunity for all sorts of fun.

In “Brew Your Own British Real Ale,” Graham Wheeler and Roger Protz write, “In the modern sense it means ‘mildly hopped,’ although in the old sense it meant not sour!” They explain:

The origins of the term Mild ale stem from the early days of commercial brewing. In those days many people did not feel that a beer had matured properly until it was beginning to turn sour, i.e. until an acetic acid taste was beginning to develop. However, the degree of acidity was a matter of individual taste and differences in personal preference were overcome by publicans supplying two grades of beer: Mild beer, which was a fresh immature ber; and Stale beer, which was the same stuff only it had been kept for up to a year and was beginning to turn sour. The customer mixed these in his tankard in appropriate quantities to give him the desired tang. Some moneyed people made a trade of buying mild and keeping it until it was sour and selling it to the publicans at a profit. Stale was therefore more expensive than Mild so many people drank mild on its own and this eventually came to dominate public taste.

They state that the Milds of 300 years ago were simply immature versions of the standard brown beers of the day. In 1805 a Mild would have had a gravity of 1.085, in 1871 it would have been 1.070 and in 1913 1.050. While we praise Mild as a lower alcohol session beer, they contend that Mild dropped to a gravity of 1.034 for a different reason: “Twentieth century greed.”

Think what American brewers might do with this information. Some would accept the challenge and stick to beers of 3.2% to 3.6% alcohol brimming with flavor. Others would create something more radical – and clearly not what CAMRA has in mind.

Guess you should be careful what you wish for.

Stray thoughts

– The solution to “saving” Mild probably doesn’t include giving it a new name, but it might help. As Tomme Arthur of Port/Lost Abbey points out in writing about his Dawn Patrol Dark Mild sounds so, well, mild.

– Last January a New York Times tasting panel picked Ellie’s Brown Ale from Avery Brewing in Colorado as their favorite when they evaluated brown ales. Avery is better known for its range of high alcohol and highly hopped beers, and those are still the ones selling the best despite the NYT publicity.

“One of our brewers suggested maybe we should change the name (from Ellie’s) to Extreme Mild,” brewery founder Adam Avery said.

A tasting note

So the point of The Session is we all taste around a central theme and write about what we taste, so I better give you a tasting note.

SpicesLike many I can’t stop by the corner store and pick up a proper Mild. So first I thought I’d go with Deschutes Buzzsaw Brown, because at 4.8% it is mild by American standards and because I like it. Then reading Wheeler and Protz convinced me to do something I think I promised not to when we started the Session – write about a homebrewed beer.

Garden Variety Gruit is brewed in the manor of a gruit ale from the Middle Ages, when the church controlled the ingredients and brewers didn’t use hops. The recipe takes inspiration from Randy Mosher’s Radical Brewing, although true to the author’s wishes I didn’t follow his recipe by rote.

I used a little more lightly smoked malt than he suggested – and, by golly, Wheeler and Protz talk about smoked malt in early Milds – and the mix of spices was different since I walked around my yard and collected stuff I knew wouldn’t kill you. Even though I cut back on the cardamom it still dominates right now, and might forever. It adds an unfortunate astringent note, not totally unlike a badly hopped beer.

I figure if I keep bottles stored long enough that might fade. Probably about the time the beer (remember, hops are a preservative) starts to turn sour. Then I’ll have a Stale. Is that on The Session calendar?

One Response to The Session #3: A Mild by any other name

  1. Rick May 4, 2007 at 5:53 pm #

    That gruit sounds pretty freaking fantastic, using ingredients from your own yard – how could that not be cool? Thanks for the write up, it did the job of putting me in the mood for some more buzzsaw – which just went on tap in my area of norcal.

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