Wednesday, 9 January 2008

London Mild 1926 - 1941

Having obsessions is great. You always have something to talk about. Whether or not anyone wants to listen is another matter. Today it's the turn of of one of my favourites: Mild.

In 1914, standard London Mild (X Ale) was around 1051°, slightly higher than ordinary Bitter (1050°). During the war, the gravity of X Ale was slashed and during 1918 and 1919 was discontinued (in the case of Barclay Perkins) and replaced by 4d Ale, a price-controlled, low-gravity Mild of 1026-1029° After the War, the gravity bounced back to around 5-7° lower than in 1914, 1043-1045° and 4.3% ABV. That´s still substantially stronger than Mild today.

The crucial change came in the early 1930´s, when beer duty was increased from 80/- to 114/- per barrel. The effect was dramatic: brewers dropped their Mild gravities by 5-7° virtually overnight. It´s an even greater percentage change than that caused by WW I. The tax increase was repealed in 1933, partly because the drop in beer consumption it caused meant that the revenue collected was lower. But rather than increasing the gravity back to the old levels, the brewers kept the beer the same but dropped the price 1d to 5d a pint. The gravities in 1933 - 1032-1035° - match exactly those of modern Mild.

The full response from Barclay Perkins is interesting, because it illustrates a phenomenon that has occurred more than once in British brewing. They dropped the gravity of their X Ale to from 1043° to 1035°, but introduced a new beer, XX Ale, at 1043°. Looking at the specs, it seems to be the old X Ale renamed. This seems to be a common response to downward pressure on gravities: weaken a beer but at the same time introduce a "new" beer at the old strength. This is how Young´s Special was born - when the PA (Ordinary) was reduced in strength Special was introduced at the old PA gravity.

Towards the end of the 1930's Mild gravities did creep up a little - to 1036°-1038°. But a little event called World War Two soon knocked them back down to under 1035°. By 1945 Mild was hovering around 1030°.


Anonymous said...

So, when we drink mild these days, it's a c.1930 incarnation? And that really weak Whitbread one they sell in tins in Morrisons is about right for 1945..? Interesting. Not a very substantial comment, but I wanted you to know we were reading and interested!

Ron Pattinson said...

Yes, Mild in its current incarnation only dates back to the 1930's.

Really weak Milds first cropped up in WW I. But some breweries kept brewing them through the twenties and thirties. Whitbread's LA is a good example. It was basically a watered down version of the standard X Mild.

Thanks for posting the comment. I need the reassurance that someone out there is interested in this stuff.

Anonymous said...

Great post -- I think a lot of us are interested. It's especially fascinating for those of us who for whom mild is an unusual beer. At least it is here in Lagerland.

Today, does anyone brew the stronger, older version and still call it mild?

And where on earth do you find these great historical materials?

Keep up the good work.

Andy Holmes said...

There are some good stronger Milds

eg Elgood's Black Dog 3.8% abv

Ron Pattinson said...

Mild, Mild. Talking about it again. It's a dream, isn't it?

Stronger, older Mild? Is that a leading question?

In the Midlands and the South East of England you find Old Ales of 1042º-1048º. What are they? Strong Milds? Well, I've had a few and that's what they reminded me of.

You have Sarah Hughes Mild, which is brewed to a 19th century strength and is 6% ABV.

Most of my material comes from the London Metropolitan Archives. It's incredible what they have. Barclay Perkins, Truman, Whitbread: they have nearly a complete set of their brewing records from 1810 to 1970. I'll be rummaging around there for years.

I now visit the archive in Amsterdam, too. They have some stuff about Amstel and Heineken. Quite interesting, though it isn't my principal area of research.