It was only a few weeks ago now I read a slightly offensive article by beer writer Alistar Gilmore painting the basic picture of mild as disappointing, minimalistic ‘past its date’ beer style. My personal opinion is that mild is a style that is far too under rated and has gained its current reputation through brewers and landlords disrespect and adulteration of mild ales in years gone past.
Besides its image problem, mild has its practical downsides, its low gravity and often subtle characteristics of the beer make for a product less stable. This means as the product must be served young its stability in a bottle form is questionable. In cask form mild is in its element, and freshly tapped is often a truly divine experience. But because if its instability brewers have to be confident that the beer will sell (without it lying around too long) and landlords need to know they can shift the volume without having to return half full casks. Tie this in with an image problem and you see where the main problem lies. Alongside myself mild has a cult following and the more memorable mild tasting experiences I have had to date are from examples such as Mighty Oak Oscar Wilde Mild, and Mordue Born to be mild. But if you are hunting out mild this month and have little knowledge of the style, here are some outline descriptions of milds most commonly found today;
Dark mild: Can be very roast malt influenced and dry with lots of burnt coffee like flavors. Many are not as dry with layers of indulgent malt complexity.
Ruby mild: The less roast malt influenced versions are typically red to deep red/amber in color with lots of sweet malt flavor dominating.
Stronger Milds: Before the second and first world war mild was typically stronger than it was today, some rare examples are surviving beers from that ere, other strong milds are often classified as strong or brown ales or (its one of those areas of beer style classification that gets a little unclear).
Light milds: Light in colour and very subtly hopped. Sometimes confused for ordinary bitter.
As I say much opinion these days mentions mild in decline, CAMRA seem enthusiastic enough to try and keep it going, and rightly so. Its almost like its been just hanging on in there for a long time now, struggling to stay on the cards for brewers and publican who usually doubt its potential (almost reflecting the recent history of Newcastle United). This month I myself will be hunting out any new milds I can, and the surprising this is when I do find one these days a great proportion of the other customers in the pub are usually giving it a try as well. As I say, maybe its underestimated?