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Younger, Milder image for the workers of beer

I become excited when I find a beer with a distinctive and intense taste. That is the trouble with me, according to my friends in the brewing business; I am always enthusing over beers so malty (or hoppy, or acidic, or alcoholic) that they can he appreciate by only a handful of connoisseurs (fanatics is another word that sometimes occurs).

When it comes to producing beer in quantities reasonable enough to keep a business going a brewer has to make something for the popular taste, or so they tell me. Apparently the mass market is for a lighter-tasting product ... something milder.

Funny, that, isn't it? Something milder....

On the foundation of such a wisdom, one might imagine every brewery in the land to treasure its Mild, every marketing man to be pushing the product as a wonder beer.

The trouble is the name, Mr Jackson. Mild is associated with old men in flat caps. We want to reach the young tomorrow's customers.

It is not altogether true that Mild has a flat cap image. In many parts of the country, including the populous and prosperious South-East, most young drinkers have never heard of Mild. They are familiar only with the terms Bitter and Lager.

Mild would be a completely new term to them if they were presented with it. They would regard it as a new product, potentially more exciting than even Malibu. hat sounds all very fine but even Pale Milds are relatively dark. Young people are not buying dark drinks these days. Also, they don't like Ale; they only drink Lager.

Funny, I could have sworn I saw an 18-25 drinking Newcastle Brown Ale in a cocktail bar in London the other day.

Come on, Mr Jackson, how often do you drink in cocktail bars.

Well, only occasionally, I must admit. Usually, when I have been taken there by a marketing man.

I don't know how much of a grip marketing men have on McMullen's, but I certainly wish their Original AK were more widely available. It is exactly the type of beer I would like to see as a guest brew in my post-MMC London local. As you may recall, it is some years since my local brewer Young's made a Mild, and even longer since they produced one of any great interest.

McMullen's Original AK is a delightful session beer: restful, sociable, and appetising, drinkable. Is it a pale Mild or a low-gravity Bitter? To my palate, it is clearly a Mild, with its gentle hopping. For a change now and then, it would make a perfect foil to Young's far drier Bitter.

Everyone who drinks in a McMullen's pub seems to be familiar with AK, and a remarkable number evince a soft spot for it. I do not know how consciously this has been achieved by McMullen's, but they appear to have created something of a speciality with it.

Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries might argue that their Milds prosper simply because the style is still favoured in the West Midlands. Even against that background, the company does very well indeed with its Milds. There, the style is the bedrock of a successful and admired business that is coveted by others.

All the pressures of national media and marketing conspire against regional tastes in our little island. They have done for years, and they have never been greater. Perhaps not Britain, but certainly England, is among the most centralised of European nations. Yet still Mild holds out in the West Midlands and, to some extent in the North-West. I have never quite fathomed this regionality and still find it fascinating.

Ales of low gravity and mild taste were originally brewed to slake the thirsts of farm-hands at harvest time, and later of industrial workers. Why have they survived in the West Midlands but faded in heavier industrial areas like South Yorkshire, for example?

While we mourn their lack of availability in some parts of the country, we should be gratified by their resilience elsewhere. Nor, for all of my mockery have the marketing men done such a bad job in the West Midlands. Both Bass and Allied do have interesting Milds in their ranges in these regions. If they can do it there, they could try again elsewhere. Mild was too easily abandoned in many other parts of the country.

I would define a Mild as an English ale of a notably lightly-hopped style.

I would like to see Mild produced to a bolder profile and I suspect I am not alone in that. I would define a Mild as an English ale of a notably lightly-hopped style. There is nothing to say it has to be especially low in gravity or self-effacing in palate. Although it is not marketed as such, I would regard Marstor's Merrie Monk (at 1043) as a Mild.

That splendidly revived brew-pub The Beacon, at Sedgley, near Dudley, has no hesitation in identifying its Sarah Hughes Ruby (1058) as a Mild.

Much as I instinctively hesitate about rules and regulations in such matters, I sometimes wonder whether our variety of beer-styles might not be better understood, respected and appreciated if we operated the German system, where there are agreed gravity-bands for different types of brew. These bands need not be narrow.

One of the finest examples of an English Bitter I have ever tasted is Fuller's Chiswick, at 1035.5. Another great favourite is ESB, at 1055.75. Why shouldn't a similar range of gravities be accepted among Milds? There could be room for both low and high gravities: McMullen's AK at 1033; Sarah Hughes at 1058. On that basis, the likes of Young's Winter Warmer and Theakston's Old Peculier would have to notch up a few points to clear a 1060 barrier for a separate category of winter beers and old ales.

Low-gravity Milds are the perfect brew for the moment when a drinker wants little alcohol and not too many calories, and that potential could be better exploited. On the other hand, there are times when a low gravity might limit appeal. A high-gravity Mild could offer a tasty beer for spring or autumn, like the German Dark Export, if not the Maytime Bock.

When I first began to visit Bavaria, wheat beer was thought of as a brew for old ladies, even old gentlemen, and yokels (sound familiar?). In recent years, it has been discovered by a whole new generation of drinkers, for whom it has no such connotations.

Perhaps some of those marketing men should pop out of the cocktail bar for a day or two, sample a Sarah Hughes then skip over to Munich for a wheat beer.

They could be on to something.

Published Online: MAY 8, 2001
Published in Print: MAY 1, 1989
In: What's Brewing

Brewery Review - Beer Review - Beer Styles - Historical

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