Mild, its seemingly inevitable decline and probable extinction have got me thinking. Dangerous, I know. Why do beer styles die out and where do they go after death? Is there a style heaven? (I don't need to speculate about style hell. That's here on earth.)
The heyday of Mild was approximately 1850 to 1960. Not a bad run. After that serious, accelerating decline set in. Here are the depressings facts in number form:
As Porter amply demonstrates, the key to longterm survival is a wide geographical reach. Porter died out in its homeland around 1940, in its second home of Ireland about 1970. Yet it continued to be brewed elsewhere. The first truly international style, it was able to escape fickle fashion in one particular country. By 1850 Porter was brewed across the northern hemisphere and was widely exported to the southern. Only pale lager is brewed in more countries.
The history of Mild is very different. It was never a big export beer. It was only every really brewed in Britain. When interest faded in the UK, there was no safe foreign haven where it could continue to prosper. Why did Mild so lack international appeal? The dominant styles that preceded and succeeded it - Porter and Pale Ale - were drunk around the globe. Why wasn't Mild?
The more local a style is, the more prone it is to extinction. A look at the recent casualties and some of those most under threat confirms this:
- Leipziger Gose
- Berliner Weisse
- Münster Alt
Will Mild recover and thrive once more? I doubt it. I can't think of a style that has come back from a similar terminal decline to be anything more than a novelty or speciality. I can't see Mild ever being available in every British pub again. Look at Porter. It may have risen from the dead, but what percentage of pubs stock it regularly? Not even 1%, would be my guess.
I could take comfort from Export in Germany. It's sort of Light Mild to Pilsner's Bitter. It went from being the nation's favourite to an endangered species in little more than a decade:
But see what's happened. In the last few years. Its market share has started to rise again. It may be just a blip, but I'll be watching developments closely.
Perhaps some other nation will take Mild to its heart. Mild could be the spearhead of a non-extreme beer movement in the USA. It could, but I doubt that it will. In its modern incarnation Mild is a delicate flower. It only really works in cask-conditioned form. For bottling, it's too weak and kegging it destroys its subtleties. And subtlety is what modern Mild is all about. If it wants to flourish again, it will need to adapt and mutate.
I would love to get a strong Mild brewed. A 19th century XXX Ale. That might appeal more to today's beer freaks. Something of 8 or 9% ABV. In my polls, beers of this type haven't done well. They've garnered next to no votes. Is it just a matter of eduction, or is there really that little interest?
Charts created by Andrew Kempton Pattinson (my son).