Friday, 9 May 2008

Mild Memories

May is Mild month, at least according to CAMRA. As a loyal member, I feel it's time for me to write something about Mild.

The very first Mild I drank was Hole's, well Courage (Newark) as it was then romantically called. 1973, it must have been. It was in the Castle and Falcon, a pub virtually in the yard of the Castle Brewery where the beer was brewed. It wasn't cask. Hole's was all bright. The beer was filtered (but not pasteurised, I think) and served through electric pumps. The glass cylinder type with a diaphragm that moved from side to side. Most beer, including cask, was served this way in the East Midlands at the time.

For the life of me, I can't remember what Hole's Mild was called. Definitely not Hole's Mild. (If anyone can remember, please let me know.) Even though not real, it wasn't so bad. Bright beer was a reasonable second-best to cask. It wasn't fizzy like top-pressure keg, though it was never as good as well-handled cask. At least you always got a full pint through electric pumps, as the cylinder was a measured half pint.

My first pint of cask Mild was a little later. Home Mild. In the early 1970's, of the 35 to 40 pubs in Newark, all but 6 were owned by Courage. This was the result of both Newark's breweries - Hole's and Warwick & Richardson - ending up in Courage's hands. Only one of their Newark pubs sold cask beer when I started drinking: Barnsley Bitter in the Wing Tavern. The town's only other source of real ale was the four Home Ale's pubs.

Home only brewed two draught beers: the prosaically-named Home Bitter and Home Mild. Both were slightly stronger than usual. Home Mild had an OG of 1036º, which made it one of the strongest in the country.

I won't claim Home Mild was the greatest beer on earth. But it did have two things going for it: it was cheap and reliable. Nottingham still had three decent-sized independents - Home, Shipstone and Hardy & Hanson (all now sadly closed) - that owned the majority of pubs in the city. Any coincidence that it also had some of the lowest beer prices in the country? I thinkl not. The Nottingham brewers helped drag down prices in the whole of the East Midlands. Home beers were always in good condition. I never had a duff pint until they built the new brewhouse (the cause of their demise).

I'm pretty sure I first tried Home Mild in the Newcastle Arms, close to Newark North Gate train station. It was a typical Home Ales pub. It had a public bar and a lounge, was fairly modern in style, but pretty down-to-earth. God knows what it's like or what it sells now. I lost interest when S & N took them over.

One cask Mild. That was the choice I had. Until I started university at Leeds in 1975. My very first evening there I made two lasting friendships. The first was with Matt. The other with Tetley's Mild. Me and Matt were off down the pub shortly after meeting in our shared student flat. If I remember correctly, we hit the Pack Horse, Eldon and Fenton. All Tetley's pubs. Weren't all the pubs in Leeds? All three had pretty decent electric-pumped Tetley's Mild and Bitter. Already committed to Mild, my choice was easy.

Matt was along, too, the first time I tasted handpumped Teley's Mild. We went on a drinking expedition to Sheepscar. There wasn't a great deal in Sheepscar at the time. The back to backs had all been demolished and just the occasional lonely pub remained. The Sheepscar was one, surrounded by nothing but roads and waste ground. But it did have handpulled Tetley's. So did the magnificent Roscoe and Victoria. This was where Tetley's grand plan to replace beer engines with electric pumps ground to a halt. I can't remember the exact story, but I know they backed down in the face of opposition from one corner or another.

When I took my first sip, I understood why customers had wanted the handpulls retained. It tasted like a completely different beer - and a much better one - than the electric-pumped version. Not surprising really, as this was how Tetley's was made to be served - through a handpump with an economiser. The texture, head and flavour were all so much better. I was sold.

From that point on, I hunted down the remaining Tetley's pumps with beer engines. Most were in districts in the throes of demolition or that had just been rebuilt: Hunslet, Sheepscar, Cross Green. Early in 1977 I moved into a back to back in Cross Green. There were some great pubs and lots of great Tetley's Mild. The Cross Green Tavern, the Black Dog. It was like heaven.

But I was still doing a fair bit of my drinking on the other side of the city. With Simon, a friend from school in Newark also at Leeds University, I used to spend evenings in the Rising Sun and Cardigan Arms on Kirkstall Road. Both had electric pumps, but the beer was still pretty good. Then one day we entered the taproom of the Cardigan and saw a row of handpumps on the bar. The beer wasn't a disappointment. It's still the best Tetley's I've ever had. The Cardigan was one of the first pubs to go back to handpumps. A couple of years later, there were almost no electric pumps left.

After returning from Bordeaux in May 1979, me and Matt lived in London for a while. A whole bunch of us did. Simon, Tym, Piers. In the same house. It was incredibly cheap for London. Free, in fact, because we were squatting. An old terraced house on Swaton Road in Bromley-by-Bow. (That's the East End, if you're not acquainted with London.) In a row of houses overshadowed by tower blocks. A lovely area.

The only pub locally that sold Mild was a Whitbread pub in Chrisp street market. It was keg but I occasionally drank it, just because it was there. I never saw anyone else under 70 buy it. There wasn't a great deal of cask beer about. The Tenterden had the cask Bitter that Truman's had just introduced. It wasn't great, so I usually mixed it with bottled Guinness. Perhaps I was subconsciously trying to construct something like Mild.

Me and Matt had a job in a factory close to Old Street tube. It was a funny place. They made the boxes for anti-aircraft missiles and doors for warships. I spent most of my time sanding down missile boxes. Thirsty work. Not far away was a pretty decent real ale pub, The Bricklayers Arms. Me and Matt often used to spend our half hour dinner break there. I can remember my excitement the day we found that they had Fuller's Hock on. It was in beautiful condition. Absolutely perfect. I had 5 pints. I liked it that much. I soon wore the booze off once I got back to sanding.

Leeds Again
I didn't stay in London long. When the rains started at the end of summer, we realised why the house in Swaton Road had been boarded up. The roof was riddled with holes. I moved back up to Leeds, to 97 Brudenell Road. At one time, almost everyone I knew had lived in that house. I got a job at Systime Computers, a DEC OEM. (Apologies for the computer jargon.) Assistant scheduler, that was my title. The job was even less important than it sounds.

Friday was our big night out. I'd meet up with Harry and Dave Turton straight after work. The North Street crawl was our favourite, ending up at The Roscoe and Victoria. The Roscoe was a brilliant pub. A proper Irish pub. Not somewhere with a stupid faux Irish name and Shamrocks all over the place. A real Irish pub with an Irish landlord and mostly Irish customers. They sold a cracking pint of Tetley's Mild. It was one of the last Beerhouses in Leeds. That meant it only had a licence for beer and cider, not spirits. Beerhouse licenses were created by the 1830 Beer Act. Licensing authorities started a vendetta against them in the 1880's and had whittled away their numbers either by forced closure or allowing them to upgrade to a full licence.

The Roscoe had a brilliant atmosphere. Even though it was tiny, they still had live music, the musicians sitting amongst the drinkers. It was one of the best pubs in Leeds and much loved by the Irish community. I could see why. Which is why the road scheme which necessitated knocking down both it and the Sheepscar - two of only a handful of buildings left standing in a demolition wasteland - is so baffling. It seemed as if the council went out of its way to get rid of as many pubs as it could. Thankfully, that wasn't the final end for the Roscoe. The landlord took on a nearby club and turned it into the New Roscoe. It didn't have the charm of the original, but at least a very special institution wasn't allowed to die.

In a full Friday session we usually managed to knock back 10 to 12 pints of Tetley's Mild. We stopped not so much because we were drunk, but because we were full. Though I seem to remember we often stumbled on to the Corner Cafe, an excellent ethnic Indian restaurant (despite the name) just over the border in Chapeltown.

London again
When I realised being and assistant scheduler wasn't much of a career, I took a 3-month government course to retrain as a computer programmer in 1982. There wasn't much programming work in the North so I was more or less compelled to return to London.

This time I lived in Thornton Heath, 10 miles due south of Victoria station. It's part of a swathe of very similar suburbs stretching from Streatham to Croydon, that were built as London's local train network developed around 1900. I rented a room from Tony. He'd grown up in Wimbledon and was a big Young's fan. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of the location of their tied houses. He took me around dozens of different ones. Sadly, Young's had discontinued their Mild by that time, so I had to drink Bitter.

By the early 1980's Mild was pretty much extinct in London. You occasionally saw keg Mild is some dismal dump of a pub. Or cask as a special treat in a real ale pub. But I sometimes went months without drinking any. Then something really strange happened. Truman's, already in the same ownership as Watney's, suddenly became really enthusiastic about cask. They introduced a whole range of cask beers - Mild, Bitter and Best Bitter. Many of their pubs sold all three.

My favourite place for a pub crawl in central London was Fleet Street, then still home to most national daily newspapers. The Wig and Pen, The Old Bell, The Punch Tavern and, just a bit further on, the magnificent art-deco Black Friar. The Wig and Pen was a Truman's pub. When Truman's went cask-crazy, they stocked all three. I'd go there after work on a Friday, amazed but delighted to have found a regular source of Mild in the centre of town.

I should take a look art the recipe for Truman's Mild. The brewing records should be there in the London Metropolitan Archives. I hadn't thought of this before. The Truman's cask beers are the only ones where I could find the records for beer I personally drank. What a strange idea. By checking the dates, I'm pretty sure I could track down specific batches. How weird is that? Definitely top of my list next time I drop bt the archives.

Planning a trip to Prague, I started teaching myself Czech. Once there I realised how inadequate my efforts had been and enrolled in a night school class. It took place just north of where I worked on Gloucester Place. It ws close to Lord's cricket ground. Our teacher was Czech dissident Jan Kavan, who later became an MP in the Czech parliament. After the lesson me and my fellow students often went for a drink in a nearby pub. A Greene King house that surprisingly sold their XX Dark Mild. Another unremarkable beer, but you couldn't afford to be choosy as a Mild-drinker in London. You had to grab any scraps thrown in your direction.


After 1985, when I left London for New York, my life was Mild-free again for a long time. The USA wasn't the Mild-drinker's paradise it is today. What? It still isn't a Mild paradise? Believe me, it was much worse then. I was happy to get hold of anything that wasn't pale yellow and chemically-tasting.

Returning to Europe in 1987, I decided to give Holland a try rather than just return to Britain. I found a job then guess what my new employer did? Sent me to Britain for two years. Not just anywhere in Britain. Swindon. Once home the Great Western Railway's engine works (the last British steam locomotive was built there), now a sprawling town of Barrett-box estates. In a word, a shithole.

It did score well in one respect. It had two small breweries, the established Arkell's and the new Archer's. Only one snag: neither brewed a Mild. But all was not lost. Oxford isn't far away and Morrell's had one tied house in the older part of Swindon, the Beehive. Surprisingly, they stocked Morrell's Dark Mild, a pretty rare beer, only available in a couple of pubs. It became one of my regular haunts. As did the Bakers Arms and the Gluepot in the railway village. Neither sold Mild. The former was an Arkell's house, with a charming 1950's feel. I wonder what's happened to that? It's about as unfashionable a look as you could imagine.

The Gluepot was Archer's only tied house. Dolores worked close by at W.H. Smith's (their office, not a shop) and used to go there with her colleagues on a Friday dinnertime.

With very little Mild about, I came to appreciate Southwestern-style Bitter - quite malty, sweet even, with delicate hopping. Arkell's BBB is a great example. Really good stuff. But I digress, these are my Mild, not Bitter, memories.

Mild in Australia? Surely I'm joking? Not in the slightest. In October 1990 I was sent to work for Ansett Airlines in Melbourne. Their office was in the city centre and I lived a 15-minute walk away in Carlton.

I've never been very comfortable with heat. I'd be happy if it were never warmer than 20º C. Australia in the summer was quite a challenge. Luckily there was a pub selling draught Cooper's about half way home, the Canada. A quick schooner of Cooper's Stout cooled me down a treat and fortified me for the remaining journey. Happy days.

Yes, I've remembered this is supposed to be about Mild. Cooper's made my time in Australia bearable (beer-wise, Australia has plenty of good points in other areas). There were a few pubs with draught Cooper's Sparkling Ale around where I lived. And a few more selling Bottled Cooper's Stout. The Stout is a corking beer, a little rough around the edges, earthy and intense. It even tastes good at 0.5º C, the standard Australian serving temperature.

I liked Cooper's so much, that I arranged a weekend in Adelaide, its hometown. They have one tied house. Just the one. It sells their full range on draught, including Dark Ale. A Mild. Rather a nice one, too. It's how I imagine Mild was in the 1920's, being a good bit stronger than modern British Mild. I can't recall ever seeing it on sale in Melbourne, not even bottled. Maybe you can now. Bierkoning here it Amsterdam has it. I bought a couple of bottles last month.

In some ways the Australian beer market is very regional. The beer glasses are different in each state. What they call a midi in New South Wales is a pot in Victoria and a schooner in South Australia. Beer styles vary, too. Victoria is all pale lager. Really nasty pale lager. I hear the Abbotsford brewery in Melbourne has discontinued Stout. Brilliant. That was my last resort drinkable beer in all the shitty CUB pubs. What the hell would I do now? In Adelaide, there's plenty of Ale about.

New South Wales is different again, with Old and New. The latter is just the same pissy pale lager you find all over the world. Old is a form of Dark Mild. Pasteurised, filtered, gassed-up and kegged, but still Dark Mild. It's not the most inspiring beer, in its current artificial form, but it's still Mild, so I felt obliged to give it a go when visiting Sydney. There was a choice of Tooth's or Toohey's. I can't recall there being any great difference between the two. It's another type of beer I never saw in Melbourne. The only time I came across it in Victoria was in Ballarat. Or was it Bendigo? One of those country towns.

Cairns. I drank Old there, too. That was weird, drinking iced Mild in the tropics. It took me back to my Leeds days. The summer of 1976 was long, hot and dry. My brother had brought me a 5-gallon plastic barrel of Mild he'd brewed. It was so warm, I added ice cubes to each glass to cool it down. We sat on the balcony of our student flat in North Hill Court, Pete, Matt, Tym and me, listening to The Ramones first album, sipping iced Mild. Has Mild ever tasted better?. I should have been studying for my first-year Chinese exams. It's no wonder I failed them.

I had to return during the summer holidays to take resits. I was broke, living just off the dole. I studied all day and relaxed in the evening with War and Peace. And 45 minutes nursing a half of Teley's Mild in the Pack Horse. A half was all I could afford.

The last time
The last time I drank Mild was in February. I was with the family in London for the weekend. We met Stonch at his local, The Jerusalem Tavern, for a couple of beers. And to give him a bottle of my 1914 Porter.

The Jerusalem is a St. Peter's tied house and one of London's few regular Mild outlets. I'd had a few pints there on my previous visit to London in December. My day had gone pear-shaped when I discovered that the London Metropolitan Archive was closed. Suddenly I had an empty day in London in front of me. I couldn't drink too much, because that evening I was attending The British Guild of Beer Writers' annual dinner. How did I fill the hours? With a few pints of Mild at the Jerusalem and a copy of the Guardian. Sitting at the bar, I was pleasantly surprised to see how popular the Mild was.


Alan said...

You know, you should really try writing about beer sometime. You are pretty good at it.

Anonymous said...

You'll be pleased to know CUB does still make Abbotsford Stout. Apparently they brew a stout and then blend it 1:2 with regular beer to come up with Abbotsford. I'm desperately trying to figure out how to get my hands on the straight stuff!

And Coopers Dark is on tap at at least one pub in Melbourne. Bottles are easily found.

I found a mild on tap here yesterday (Redoak Mild) - shame it was crap.

Where'd you live in Carlton? I used to live in a massive share house in Drummond St.

Kristen England said...

Interesting stuff. I find that when I drink any of the lighter 'styles' of beer, be it mild, bitter, etc, from a forced keg/bottle, they always seem much sharper than the beer engine. Last time I was in the UK we stumbled across a place that had Moorhouse black cat mild on cask...I think I had about 15 pints (literally) in about 2 hours. After a quick jog to the local fish and chip joint we were back on the town. Im sure I was a touch sauced but the way the beer made me feel coming from the cask was much different. Have you guys found anything close? Meaning the smoothness and quaffability of low gravity cask pints making you just feel better?

Andy Holmes said...

Ron - Excellent stuff, you could do a series like this on different styles. How do you remember the details, pub names etc. Ask me about the pubs I drank in at college and I'd struggle (Except for the Fullers ESB in the Garibaldi in St Albans).

Lachlan - What's regular beer?

Kirsten - It fits with a post I wrote about acohol percentages (ignore the first 2%) with mild you can drink it continually without serious effect, I think it must have something to do with the total amount of liquid you are consuming relative to the total amount of alcohol. As Ron stated about drinking Tetleys Mild until he was full it's the volume that gets you first before the alcohol.

Ron Pattinson said...

Lachlan, when when I lived in Melbourne Carlton still brewed two Stouts. There was a slightly stronger (and better) on available in winter. I don't think I ever saw anyone but me drink the Stout srtaight. Everyone else mixed it with shitty draught Carlton.

We lived on Faraday Street, between Lygon Street and Rathdowne Street. I really liked the area - plenty of pubs and restaurants and some great cafés. And a good Greek fish and chip shop.

Kristen, Mild is great for getting a very, well, mild alcohol buzz. There's no better way of passing a relaxing few hours than a quality newspaper and several pints of Mild. Cask, because of its lower CO2 content, is definitely eeasier on the stomach.

Andy, I have a good memory for pub names. Much better than for the names of people. I was embarrassed to find when writing this piece that I couldn't remember the names of a couple of my favourite pubs in Cross Green. One was a former Hemingways (the last small brewery in Leeds) house. What the hell was it called?

Andy Holmes said...

The only pub I can rmember in that part of Leeds is the Ffordde Green, not sure about the spelling. It had four big rooms knocked into one emormous room downstairs and a real ale bar upstairs.

Ron Pattinson said...

No, not the Fforde Green. Crap pub. NBut I did once see the Flamin' Groovies play there.

Anonymous said...

Andy, by 'regular beer' I mean the cheap lager which forms 99% of CUB's business (Victoria Bitter, Carlton Draught etc). I didn't use a specific brand name because I'm not sure which brand they use to blend.

Anonymous said...

I too lived in a Squat in Swaton road, in 1978. The house was 'condemned' -but a look on Google Earth shows it to be still standing. who knows, iy could have been the same house you lived in! Ours was at the very end [cannot remember the number] and it had wooden shutters that were painted [I think] with cannabis plants, and there was a cat painted in white above the door, on the glass.We left in August 1978, and only stayed at the squat a few months. The house had a good vibe, and was a bit like a time warp. I still have a scrap of old timber, a victorian cadbury box lithographed with elves from that house. There were some really ''together'' people in the street, a sort of 'commune', and then us, who were then very untogether. The local council condemned 'our' house, and I do wonder if it was the one you moved into?? Catherine

Ron Pattinson said...

Catherine, our house was somewhere in the middle. I can't remember the number. It turned out that the roof was in a terrible state. Water streamed through when it rained. It was only bearable because it was the summer. I think I lived there from around June until the middle of August.

Pretty much the whole street was squatted, as I remember. The nice people next door jerry rigged our meter so that we had electricity.

I was amazed to find that the houses hadn't been demolished but had been done up.

Anonymous said...

Hahaha! you must have been helped by the same people as us...who rigged OUR meter too. The house we lived in was number 168, the one with the railings outside and a new patch of wall...our house was falling down, ''condemned'', and as we left it to go to Kent [we lived then in a 'bender' with some trad gypsies working on farms] we fully expected the houses in Swaton road to be pulled was amazed to see on Google Earth that they were still standing, still with the gross tower blocks-kids used to hurl stones at us occasionally, calling us ''hippies''.
Found out that the house we squatted was sold 2011 for over £300k!!!! ye Gods! ...I too became a ''capitalist'' eventually, buying a house in Bristol [25k] as was sick of squatting, the stress of being moved on, and landlords-well, they are just ripoff merchants, especially in London. Richmond had lots of squats, as did Notting Hill, and those large old houses from the 1860's now sell for millions. I do feel very nostalgic about the Swaton Rd house, and it was described in the estate agent's blurb as having original fireplaces, and stripped floors and sash windows. Was glad to see the road standing, and for all the free electric we used...well, we only had a couple of 100 watt bulbs in the house, and no heating. Like you, we left in July/August 1978

Best Wishes, Catherine

Ron Pattinson said...


I feel all nostalgic for Swaton Road, too, now the memories of dodging the rain coming through the ceiling have dimmed.

I never had kids throw stone at me, luckily enough. I couldn't have looked enough like a hippie.

I suppose 300,000 quid is actually cheap for London. Which is why I'm glad I don't live there. I'd either be living in a shoe box or miles out in some dull suburb.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ron, Just looked at your site, and saw you had replied-yes, perhaps £300,000 IS cheap for london- bet they go for more than that now..will check ... woah! 444,000 for freehold. Leaseholds for less than that. Maybe the stone throwing kids had grown up a bit when you lived there- they were little s*ds, luckily not too good with their aim. But yes, it was a good vibed street for sure. Living in London was do able when squatting the many empty houses was legal, but nowadays they put a stop to all that. Daft, as a lot of the Swaton Road people did look after the houses.
We had a tap out the back in a scullery that wouldn't turn off- the upstairs was a bit rainy, where there was a crack in the wall, but it hadn't percolated downstairs. Re dull 'burbs-yuck, that would be grim- we moved to Bristol, which still has that Swaton Road feel in places. Do you live in England still? or did you Emigrate. cheers, Catherine

Ron Pattinson said...


I haven't really lived in Britain since 1985. The last 25 years I've been living in Amsterdam. It's not quite as bad here as London for house prices yet. But I still couldn't afford to buy the flat I live in today. Luckily I bought 15 years ago when prices weren't so daft.


Anonymous said...

Dear Ron, Amsterdam is a good place to live! -visited once only, but loved it.
It is strange, when I was a 'hippie' I was very against money and home owning...but what a fool I was.
Owning a house or flat brings independance, and luckily my son was able to buy a small house locally with his girlfriend- simply as landlords are in total control ''can't do this, can't do that'' -squats are now a thing of the past.
Sadly, money brings freedom.

Why didn't I realise that as a kid?
All the money I wasted on rent [when squats became harder to find]

Amsterdam must be a good place to live.
Assume that you are now fluent in Dutch?

Am buying something from a Belgian man next week, and I have to use google translate, simply as I don't know how to speak any Dutch phrases.
Fortunately his English is good.
Best wishes,