Monday, 30 May 2016

Brown Sweet Ales

One event in the history of Mild intrigues me more than any other: it turning dark.

I was gobsmacked when I first looked at 19th-century Mild recipes and realised that they must have been pale in colour. I’d imagined Dark Mild stretching back into the mists of history. Only to discover it had developed almost within living memory.

Trying to pin down exactly when Mild started darkening is frustratingly difficult. I’m pretty sure it was after 1880, when sugar usage greatly increased as a result of the Free Mash Tun Act. But, as brewing records give no indication of colour and aren’t always that specific about the type of sugar, it’s hard to find any traces.

Evidence like this is extremely rare:

Buckingham Advertiser and Free Press - Saturday 04 January 1890, page 6.

The description “Brown Sweet Ales” implies something darker than Pale Ale. But how dark exactly? Even after WW I, many Milds were much paler than modern Dark Mild: 20 EBC rather than 40 EBC. My guess is that these “Brown Sweet Ales” were a similar colour to the Milds of the 1920’s.

There was something else in the advert that attracted my attention. The description “Sound Ale for vatting” and the note:

“Vats filled in the Spring and Autumn seasons on the most reasonable terms, and the Beer guaranteed to keep sound. A Cooper sent to clean Vats free of charge.”

It sounds like people were vatting beer at home and ageing it for months. I’m surprised the practice was still going on. Especially as XA, at just 10d a gallon, couldn’t have had a gravity of more than 1045º. Which seems too weak to be a suitable candidate for ageing.

The cooper sounds like an outdoor cooper: someone employed by a brewery to look after vats not on their own premises. I’d assumed the job died out in the 18th century. Evidently not.

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