Saturday, 17 May 2008

Whither Mild?

Mild might have lived a long and (mostly) happy life, but what is its future?

Here are a few of my thoughts on how it might live on.

As coloured ordinary Bitter
A lot of this goes on. Probably more than is healthy. Some breweries who only brew small amounts of Mild make it by basically adding caramel to ordinary Bitter.

This isn't a cheering prospect. The skills of brewing Mild would be lost, though the name might live on. As a stop gap, keeping the style alive and in public consciousness, it may be a necessary evil. Longterm, it's unlikely to save Mild.

This is an ironic one. As, when sales of it fell to low to justify a separate brew, Brown Ale often lived on as Mild that had been interfered with. Basically sweetened Mild. In all the Brown Ale logs I've seen from the 1930's, it's a specific brew, unrelated to the brewery's Mild.

As a seasonal special
In May, obviously. This already seems to be happeneing, with many Milds dusted off and brought out as a one-off for Mild month. If it keeps Mild-brewing skills ticking over ib breweries that no longer make it regularly, this is no bad thing of itself. But it does marginalise what was once just a standard everyday beer. And should the Mild Month initiative ever fizzle out, surely many examples would be lost.

As a beer festival special
This already happens, too. Brewers either revive their discontinues Mild for a festival, or only brew Mild to order. As in the above case, this is leaving the life-support machine on rather than rousing the patient from its coma. At least with Mild Month there's a specific trigger each year to prompt Mild brewing. Brewing it as a special on an ad hoc basis is more likely to fade away and die.

As a stronger beer
As I've already explained in my definitive "A Short History of Mild", Mild as just a very weak beer is a relatively recent phenomenon. I'm old enough to remember brewers with both a Mild and a Best Mild. Perhaps pre-war style Milds with an OG of 1040 to 1050 might help create a new market. Or even stronger pre-WW I versions, with an OG of 1050 upwards (the sky is the limit).

One of Mild's particular features is the incredible range of gravities to which it's been brewed - 1024 to 1105. What other style can match that spread? Perhaps it's time for Mild to break out of its low-gravity ghetto.

As a standard beer in every pub
Despite my best efforts to the contrary, you can't make the clock run backwards. I don't see Mild once again becoming an everyday beer, sold in every pub and rivalling Lager and Bitter for popularity. Just can't see that happening. Perhaps once Mild has been all but forgotten, along with its damaging old- bloke-in-a-flat-cap image. I would be gobsmacked if Mild could even get a 5% market share. Delighted, but gobsmacked.

As a memory
It's still possible that Mild will disappear altogether from Britain. As Porter did. Depressing, but possible. Then, in 2060, some small brewery looking for something unusual will excavate an old recipe from the archives and bring Mild flickering back to life.

If you'd asked me 10 years ago, I would have said that I expected Mild to die out within my lifetime. Will it? Possibly not. If only because the odd American brewery is bound to give the style a try every now and again. Does it have a future as a mainstream beer? I doubt it. But weird things happen. Fashion is a fickle beast.

I expect Mild will just about cling on in the UK, but not as a beer brewed year-round. Except, perhaps, with the odd exception here and there. How many Milds are currently available 12 months a year? And how many occasionally or for part of the year? It would be interesting to know and reveling to track any change in the proportion of permanent to occasional. Where on earth do I get hold of the numbers?


Bailey said...

Don't give up on mild as an everyday drink yet -- our local got Oscar Wilde in for the month of mild a couple of years back and has had it on as a regular since. And it sells! One of our mates won't touch anything else, and he's a not especially fussy, youngish bloke who doesn't wear a flat cap. The amount of flavour for the strength is the main selling point for him -- it tastes like a much stronger beer than it is, but doesn't give him a hangover.

maeib said...

I think mild will live on. It has numerous fans, especially in certain parts of the country (North West, West Mids for example) as you know.

Other brewers will, I believe, continue with milds but may not use that word in the name of the beer (substituting it for dark, chocolate or whatever)