Friday, May 01, 2015

The audacity of Mild!

The Session #99 - Localising Mild The Session is a monthly event for the beer blogging community, begun in March of 2007 by Stan Hieronymus of Appellation Beer and Jay Brooks of the Brookston Beer Bulletin.

On the first Friday of every month, a pre-determined beer blogger hosts The Session: Beer Blogging Friday. He or she chooses a specific, beer-related topic, invites all bloggers to write on it, and posts a roundup of all the responses received. For more information, view the archive page.

For May 2015, Alistair Reece —at the blog Fuggled— is the host of the 99th iteration of The Session. He also is the organizer of the first ever American Mild Month, celebrated this month, across the U.S. His topic is "Localising Mild."

This May is the first, as far as I am aware, American Mild Month, which has 45 breweries, so far, committed to brewing mild ales. Of those 45 breweries some are brewing the traditional English dark and pale mild styles, while a couple have said they will brew an 'American Mild', which American Mild Month describes as:

a restrained, darkish ale, with gentle hopping and a clean finish,
so that the malt and what hops are present shine through.

An essential element of the American Mild is that it uses American malts, hops, and the clean yeast strain that is commonly used over here. Like the development of many a beers style around the world, American Mild is the localisation of a beer from elsewhere, giving a nod to the original, but going its own way.

That then is the crux of the theme for The Session in May, how would you localise mild? What would an Irish, Belgian, Czech, or Australian Mild look like?


American Mild Month 2015

First thing first. What exactly is a Mild Ale?

Historical Mild

Originally, the main, indeed the only standard for a beer called mild was that it should be fresh, not more than a couple of weeks old, and have the taste and aroma that come with freshness. Any older, past the point at which the beer starts exhibiting the flavours that come with maturity, and it isn't mild anymore, at least not what brewers would have recognized as mild back in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. [...]

All the other characteristics generally associated with mild today are secondary to the fact that it was meant to be delivered into the pub soon after it was brewed (just four to ten days after being casked [emphasis mine], against maturation periods of twenty-one days or more for the lighter draught pale ales).
— Martyn Cornell. Amber, Gold & Black. 2010

According to British beer historians Martyn Cornell and Ron Pattinson, milds of a hundred and more years ago tended to be sweet, but, then again, could also be highly hopped and/or very strong.

The trend toward darker milds, as we know them today, began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The decrease in alcohol began in the early 20th century, and accelerated rapidly, for reasons such as tax laws and wartime restrictions.

The ur-characteristic of Mild Ale, in almost all of its permutations, was fresh, young beer.

Modern Mild

Today, the standard for Mild Ale might be as defined by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), in the U.K.
Milds are black to dark brown to pale amber in colour and come in a variety of styles from warming roasty ales to light refreshing lunchtime thirst quenchers. Malty and possibly sweet tones dominate the flavour profile but there may be a light hop flavour or aroma. Slight diacetyl (toffee/butterscotch) flavours are not inappropriate. Alcohol levels are typically low.
  • Pale milds tend to have a lighter, more fruity aroma with gentle hoppiness.
  • Dark milds may have a light roast malt or caramel character in aroma and taste.
  • Scottish cask beers may have mild characteristics with a dominance of sweetness, smooth body and light bitterness.
Original gravity: less than 1043. Typical alcohol by volume: less than 4.3%. Bitterness 14 - 28 EBU.

Compare that to these specifications from American Mild Month:
American Mild Ale should have an alcohol-content-by-volume (abv) of 4.5% or less, a color greater than 17 SRM (i.e., darker than a golden ale), and an International Bittering Unit (IBU) level of 30 or less (thus stronger than an English Mild, but 'milder' than an American IPA). One major departure from the English mild style in a theoretical American mild is the yeast. The classic American yeast strain used by many an American craft brewery is known for being very clean, allowing the other ingredients to shine through without contributing the fruity flavors of the British yeasts.

Outlaw Ale

Tasting Mild

Let's skip the zymurgy, and go straight to gustation.

Mild Ales are not intemperate. They are not harsh, severe, sharp, spicy, or bitter.

Mild Ales are pleasant comrades. They are low enough in alcohol so that two can be enjoyed in sobriety; they are mild enough to disdain extreme flavors, again so that two can be enjoyed without satiation; they are flavorful enough so that the triad of ale flavor —hops, yeast and malt, and especially the last— can be easily discerned by a drinker with pleasure and without 'expert' pretense. Dark? Maybe. Fruity? A tad. Hoppy? In the background.

And I'll call out those beer drinkers who say Mild Ales have no more-ishness. Stand up! WakeUp! Be audacious! Use your taste buds like a man (or woman). * Hopped-up hop-juicers are not the only beers of good character. Mild Ales might be mild-mannered, but they do not lack sinew, even if hidden. They are quintessential 'session' beers.

Localizing Mild

Mr. Reece hosted this "The Session: Beer Blogging Friday" by asking us to discuss "localizing milds." (My apology. I've American-ized his spelling).

My response derives from the very description of Mild Ale itself. Historically and in present times, Mild Ales have been young, fresh ales. Just as a chef wouldn't (or couldn't) package the aromas of just-cooked food, a brewer wouldn't (or shouldn't) destroy the evanescence of her Mild Ale by shipping it far afield, over days or week. Youth ages and freshness stales. Mild Ale is, indeed, quintessentially local ale. Drink it close to the source.

Mild Afterthoughts

Like porter before it, Mild Ale has been a disappearing drink in the U.K. And, here in the U.S., it's a notch above nil.

The name itself might be an impediment. Mild? What's that? Weak beer? A local brewer told me of the time, a decade ago, his Mild Ale was not selling well at the brewpub. He put the beer on the 'stout gas' line and renamed it "Nitro Monkey." It became a hit.

Almost 60 breweries, out of 3,400, in the nation are participating in this inaugural celebration. You might find it difficult to find an American Mild Ale. But ...

A friend returned from the recent Craft Brewers Conference in Portland with three observations. More female participation; more beards on men; more lower-alcohol beers. I'll take categories one and three for $500, Alex!

... The time might be ripe for a Mild Ale bump. After all, this is only year one for Mild Ale Month, and the celebration's organizer — Alistair Reece of Fuggled— is already plotting for next year, with some big names on board. And what can you do? Politely challenge your local brewery and local brewpub to brew a Mild Ale. The craft brewery movement should be community up, not conglomerate down.

Partake in the audacity of mild this May. Make it a Mild Ale.
"You must have seen great changes since you were a young man," said Winston tentatively. The old man's pale blue eyes moved from the darts board to the bar, and from the bar to the door of the Gents ... "The beer was better," he said finally. "And cheaper! When I was a young man, MILD beer —wallop we used to call it — was four-pence a pint. That was before the war, of course." "Which war was that? said Winston. "It's all wars,' said the old man vaguely. He took up his glass, and his shoulders straightened again. "Ere's wishing you the very best of 'ealth!"
— George Orwell. Nineteen Eighty-Four.
  • Many thanks should go to Alistair Reece for organizing this inaugural event!
  • It's not too late to join in the fun. May does have 31 days after all. If you're a brewery and you'll be brewing a mild, register at the website. If you're a pub or restaurant serving mild this month, you can do the same.
  • Tips for production breweries to brew milds: here.
  • The (U.S.) Brewers Association has its own specifications for Mild Ales: here
  • * "'Stand up and use your ears like a man!' That was Charles Ives’s furious response to some hecklers at a performance of music by another great American radical, Henry Cowell." The Telegraph.
  • This post has been edited since it was first published.

  • For more from YFGF:

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