Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Cinco de Mild!

It may be Cinco de Mayo —if one less beery and margarita-y than in years past— but it's also día cinco of American Mild Month —if less mildly than in years past.

American Mild Month

Today's tender sensibilities should favor a style called mild, and perhaps they will. the designation refers to mildness of hop character. A mild is gentle, sweetish, certainly not bitter. Some milds are pale in color, but more are tawny or dark.

Mild is an ale intended to be consumed in quantity, more as a restorative than a refresher. It was once a harvest-time drink, a reward for farmworkers.

The style was also popular in areas of thirst-making industry, and [has] retained its strongest loyalties in West Midlands towns.

Mild came to be seen as an old-fashioned style, with a 'cloth cap' image. The darker examples also suffered from the mistaken belief that brews with a full color are necessarily heavier in body or stronger in alcohol. Only when the style had become almost forgotten could a new generation of drinkers rediscover it.
— Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson's Beer Companion

Before the 20th century (and even into it), Mild Ale, in Britain, referred to a non-aged ale, often quite alcoholically strong. But, then, the privations (and the tax privations) of World War I —and the decades thereafter— stood Mild on its head. They transmogrified it into a low alcohol, not bitter, often darker ale...but still a fresh, non-aged one. The decades of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s did further injustice to the drink. Sales and production plummeted. To give it a kick in the pints, the UK's Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) began a "Mild May" campaign which continues to this day.

Hampden Mild Ale


American Mild Ale

Alistair Reece is an ex-pat Scotsman and past Prague resident, who lives in Virginia in the U.S., where he blogs at Fuggled. Why, Reece thought, do we not celebrate mild in the U.S.? And so, American Mild Month was born in May 2015.

But, what is an American Mild Ale?

Start with the concept of 'session' beer. Lew Bryson, a long-time fighter for 'session' beer, defines American Session Ale as:
  • 4.5% alcohol by volume or less
  • flavorful enough to be interesting
  • balanced enough for multiple pints
  • conducive to conversation
  • reasonably priced

Now mix in Mild. British beer historians Jessica Bloak and Ray Bailey describe modern British Mild as:
First, it has to put sweet malt and flavours from sugar at the forefront, but that doesn’t have to mean that it has to be sickly or lacking in character. Bitterness can work, but excessive perfume just seems wrong. Roastiness also jars, suggesting that some brewers remain in thrall to out-of-date history that declares mild to be a degeneration of porter, which it isn’t.

And finish it off with an American twist. Mr. Reece limns American Mild as:
A restrained, darkish ale, with gentle hopping and brewed with a clean American yeast strain so that the malt and what American hops are present shine through in the finish, without fruity flavors.
  • Alcohol-content-by-volume (abv) between 3.5% and 4.5%.
  • Color greater than 17 SRM (i.e., darker than a golden ale).
  • Bitterness level of 30 International Bittering Units (IBU) or fewer. Thus, more bitter than an English Mild, but less hoppy than an American pale ale.
  • Neutral American ale yeast strain.

A null definition might help. What American Mild Ale is NOT is a 'session' IPA: it is NOT a hoppy ale. What it is NOT is a beer of greater than 4.5% alcohol. Doing either of those things, and you're playing with 'session' semantics.

But do things right, and Mild Ale — 'more-ish' in flavor while eminently 'drinkable'— becomes a quintessential 'session' beer. Again, Mr. Jackson:
Milds are not bitter beers, but can nevertheless be full of flavor...They are generally low in alcohol...and make good lunchtime drinks. Perhaps this explains their new-found popularity?

Yes, please!

Covidentially, American Mild Month might be more wistfully aspirational this May, rather than actually sloshing in our pints. Nonetheless, it's still 'strongly' Mild Ale. Look for it; plan for it; drink it! And, brew it when you can.

Dark Mild for the win

  • American Mild Month webpage.
  • American Mild Ale defined.
  • Twitter: @MildMonthUS (Use hashtag: #MildMonthUS.)
  • Facebook: AmericanMildMonth.

  • An in-depth examination of modern British Mild Ale, from Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey, at All About Beer: here.
  • Irony notwithstanding, these are the specifications for English Mild Ale, as defined by the [U.S.] Brewers Association.
    A. Subcategory: English-Style Pale Mild Ale
    English Pale Milds are light amber to medium amber. Chill haze is allowable at cold temperatures. Fruity-ester aroma is very low to medium-low. Hop aroma is very low or low. Malt flavor dominates the flavor profile. Hop flavor is very low to low. Hop bitterness is very low to low. Very low diacetyl flavors may be appropriate in this low-alcohol beer. Fruity-ester flavor is very low to medium-low. Body is low to low-medium.
    • Original Gravity (°Plato) 1.030-1.036 (7.6-9.0 °Plato)
    • Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (°Plato) 1.004-1.008 (1.0-2.1 °Plato)
    • Alcohol by Weight (Volume) 2.7%-3.4% (3.4%-4.4%)
    • Bitterness (IBU) 10-20
    • Color SRM 6-9 (12-18 EBC)

    B. Subcategory: English-Style Dark Mild Ale
    English Dark Milds are reddish-brown to very dark. Fruity-ester aroma is very low to medium-low. Malt and caramel are part of the aroma while licorice and roast malt tones may sometimes contribute to aroma profile. Hop aroma is very low. Malt flavor and caramel are part of the flavor profile while licorice and roast malt tones may also contribute. Hop flavor is very low. Hop bitterness is very low to low. Very low diacetyl flavors may be appropriate in this low-alcohol beer. Fruity-ester flavor is very low to medium-low. Body is low-medium to medium.
    • Original Gravity (°Plato) 1.030-1.036 (7.6-9.0 °Plato)
    • Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (°Plato) 1.004-1.008 (1.0-2.1 °Plato)
    • Alcohol by Weight (Volume) 2.7%-3.4% (3.4%-4.4%)
    • Bitterness (IBU) 10-24
    • Color SRM 17-34 (34-68 EBC)

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