Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mild Jones

Mild brown ales, the knock-back drink of thirsty coal miners and dock workers, are not so appealing to post-industrial office workers, who are less thirsty and more aspirational.

Eric Asimov
New York Times
as quoted in an article at

Steve Jones agrees about Mild Ale's pedigree, but he emphatically disagrees with any potential lack of appeal.

For the past eight years, Steve has been the brewer for the Wharf Rat Brewpub in Baltimore, Md. He will remain the brewer under its new ownership and new name. His Mad Monk a mild ale— is a Wharf RatPratt Street Ale House mainstay.

I met up with Steve at the Chesapeake Real Ale Festival in October, and we talked, again, over the phone. He told me, "I'm an advocate for Mild Ale."

Steve comes from the English Midlands. Even there, he lamented, Mild Ale has become "a niche beer," only occasionally brewed. At least his local pub in Coventry would often offer a Mild Ale on cask.

Steve earned his brewing bona fides as a brewer and manager for the Firkin Brewery chain in the U.K. Now defunct, it comprised some 200 pubs, of which 25% had brewing facilities.

Steve 'Mad Mild' Jones

But what exactly is a Mild Ale? The definition may depend not on what but on when.

UK beer historian Martyn Cornell says that pre-20th century (although, for a smaller set of breweries, into the mid-20th century) mild was fresh beer, often strong, and not necessarily dark.
"Mild ale", a book called The Brewer's Art, published by the London brewer Whitbread, said in 1948, "is a draught beer brewed for quick consumption." [p.20]

" the 19th century it was common for milds to be much stronger than they were in the later parts of the 20th century. Professor Charles Graham, speaking to the Society of Chemical Industry in 1881 about beer strengths, listed five types of mild which ranged in original gravity from "Scotch mild" at 1053 up to Burton mild at 1080..." [p.21]

Amber, Gold & Black
Martyn Cornell, 2008.

Confusing the issue, a mild of high alcoholic strength could be known as a "stock ale" since "because of its strength, [it] needed to be laid down for some months." In his ebook, Cornell finds even earlier historical references to Mild Ale.

Changes in taste preference —and the shortage of malt and the higher taxes on malt during World Wars I and II— brought about a reduction in the strength of Mild Ales. The darkening of color seemed to have occurred (although not universally) around the turn of the 20th century.

As to what many consider a Mild Ale today, here's I wrote in an earlier post:
The critical point is that a mild today is a relatively dark session ale, that is, not a highly alcoholic hop bomb, but a beer suitable for several pints without bringing on inebriation or tannic saturation. Modern US interpretations tend toward a subtle complexity of roast and dark malt. As film director Billy Wilder said, "Make the subtleties obvious."

No-Va homebrewer goes Mild (ly) Pro-Am

So why isn't Mild Ale popular here or in the UK?

At a low end of 3% alcohol by volume (abv) to a high end of 4.5% abv, Mild Ale might be considered, shall we say, too mild for some good beer fans.
It is important to realize that alcohol is a great carrier of flavor, and also adds body and richness to the overall flavor profile of a beer.

Mitch Steele
head brewer
Stone Brewing Company

Mild Ale's emphasis of dark (not roasted) malt character rather than pungent hop character and bitterness may also work against its acceptance.

Crabby McDougall, the Beer Party (unsuccessful) presidential candidate, found the prejudices of many good beer fans to be at fault.
Recently I analyzed the list of the top 50 beers in the world, according to the learned raters on that site. <...>

Amazingly, 18 of the top 50 beers—over one-third—were imperial stouts and related styles. There were also six imperial IPAs, four quads, an eisbock—I think you can sense where this is going. The average alcohol of those 50 beers exceeded nine percent. A mere half-dozen contained less than six percent. <...>

In mid-July, when I looked at the lists, the top scoring English bitter contained 4.5% alcohol and scored 4.1. The top dark mild had 3.4% alcohol and scored 3.93 [emphasis mine]. The top dubbel had 8% alcohol and scored 4.5. <...>

Does the typical member of appreciate subtlety, balance and elegance? If this were the case, they might find a way to squeeze a classic British bitter onto their top 50, or maybe a helles, a dunkel or a mild
[emphasis mine].

Mid-Atlantic Brewing News
Rating the Raters
October/November 2008 (Vol. 10 No.5)
[It is rumored that Crabby MacDougall was never a presidential candidate, but rather a northern Virginia beer writer using that nom de biere.]

Steve's Mad Monk is 4% alcohol by volume. Even so, I'll attest that it does have a lot of malt character. As the late beer writer Michael Jackson would say, "it's more-ish."

Steve brews the beer with Crisp pale malt and chocolate malt, both imported from the UK. (The "chocolate" is not a confection, but a barley malt kilned to that color.) The hops, although present, are there for "balance", to dry out the malt sweetness for a refreshing character.

Steve maintains that the lower alcohol level is a positive for Mild Ale. "Mild Ale had long been brewed to be a refreshing and flavorful tonic for miners and steelworker in some regions of the UK," Steve said.

And these days, there is a revivalist movement in the UK to promote Mild Ale for the month of May.

A darker beer for a warmer month? Weather conditions in the UK may not be identical to those in the US, where a cooler April might be the latter's preferred month for Mild (even though the campaign's alliteration would be lost).

But, Steve continued, it's an incorrect assumption of many that a dark beer will always be 'heavy'.

Steve finds Mild Ale to be refreshing even during hot humid Maryland summers. It can be flavorful without being 'heavy'. "Just taste it," he suggests.

"For me," he adds, "Mild Ale is the beer for all seasons. Sometimes the simplest things are the best."

Related YFGF posts:

1 comment:

  1. Milds are also suitable for quaffing in large quantities while pub-hopping before a soccer match. Or so I am told :^)
    Steve does do a fantastic mild.


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