ALE November/December 1997 No. 289

Back to Basics - Mild

By Paul Ainsworth

This series has so far looked at how real ale is brewed and how it should be served. Now its time to consider the beer itself in all its myriad styles.

Mild is a good place to start, not least because CAMRA has declared November 8th National Mild Day. The aim being to raise the profile of a great traditional beer style which has become sadly endangered.

Mild is usually brewed from a darker malted barley than Bitter and has fewer hops added. Typically, but not always, it is a dark ale. The best Milds have a rich, succulent flavour which belie their relatively low strength. Mild is generally a fair bit cheaper than other real ales and you can also drink more without any adverse effects creeping up on you.

As recently as 1959, Mild accounted for 42% of the beer produced in Britain. Now its down to 3% and has virtually disappeared from large tracts of the country. The reasons for this sad state of affairs are various. For the big brewer, real Mild is an inconvenient product. Its lower gravity makes looking after it a more skilled task and it has a shorter shelf life than stronger beers. It also, of course, offers lower profit margins.

Mild has also become a fashion victim. The 70s and 80s saw a movement towards lighter-coloured beers, mainly as a result of the advertising-led growth of lager. Mild was unfairly dismissed as an "old man's drink".

In fact, it's a connoisseur's drink. The flavours are more subtle, more delicate than other styles but no less rewarding for those with the taste buds to appreciate them. The best Milds are as distinctive and interesting as the best of any other style - Batemans, Thwaites, Banks, Highgate, to name a few, are all classics by any definition. Batemans Dark was voted Champion Mild at this years Great British Beer Festival and was runner-up in the Overall Winners category.

The number of pubs in our area selling cask Mild is regretfully small though the decline seems to have steadied in recent years. The most commonly available is Greene King XX. A recipe change in 1994 resulted in a much fuller-bodied beer, smooth and with a lingering, nutty flavour. Tolly Mild, once a common sight in these parts, is now down to a handful of outlets. This really is sad as its probably the best beer they brew, beautifully balanced and really tasty. Adnams Mild is also delicious - a bitter-sweet base and a taste which blends roast malt, grain and fruit.

Pubs selling a good drop of Greene King Mild include The Bird In Hand, Newmarket Road, The Champion of the Thames, King St., The Free Press, Prospect Row, The Portland Arms, Mitcham's Corner, The Bakers Arms, Fulbourn, The Three Tuns, Willingham and The Prince Albert, Ely. The most reliable outlet for Tolly Mild is The Six Bells, Fulbourn, while the Adnams variety can be found at The Castle Inn, Castle Hill. Batemans has been a regular at The Green Man, Six Mile Bottom. and is now at The Live and Let Live, Mawson Road. Both The Cambridge Blue, Gwydir St. and The Waggon and Horses, Milton offer a regularly changing guest Mild.

Launch of Jet Black - a very Porterish Mild

Finally don't forget City of Cambridge Jet Black - does the Cambridge Mild revival start here? The official launch of this beer on November 6th provided a nice focus for CAMRA's National Mild Day two days later. The occasion attracted the attention of the Mayor, Daphne Roper, several notable publicans, CAMRA stalwarts and trade customers. Bruce Law used the opportunity to make a presentation to the Brewery for their Hobson's Choice, winner of the Champion Beer at the Cambridge Beer Festival in the summer. We all now look forward to the next beer to be brewed - the amber-coloured Atom Splitter (4.7%) which should reach pubs by the end of November.
Next in the Back to Basics series...

ALE November/December 1997 No. 289 : Next section
Cambridge & District CAMRA