Monday, 7 January 2013

Barely alcoholic Mild

This is so sad. It documents the fall of Mild from a very respectable 5% ABV in 1914 to what was little more than a soft drink.

Though I think they are overemphasising the low strength. I'll explain that later. Read the article first:


The "Times" says the Government have decided to allow an immediate increase in the output of beer. The barrelage already sanctioned for the summer term is to increased 33 per cent. Provision is also to made for brewing a light beer in place of much of the heavy beer now brewed, and this may raise the increased output to something like 50 per cent.

The aim of the Government will be to provide, with the co-operation of the brewers, an ample supply of light, wholesome beer which can be retailed at 4d a pint. The high price of beer has contributed quite as much as the scarcity of beer to the discontent now prevalent.

Much the home-brewed "harvest beer," which was forbidden under the Food Controller's order, and the lack of which is now so severely felt by the hay harvesters, contained little more than 2 per cent, proof spirit, and this has always been appreciated by agricultural labourers.

The public must not confuse light beer brewed in the same way stronger beers with decoctions (not brewed at all in the accepted sense) which are offered in bottles under fancy names of which "ale" or beer forms part. In some of these no barley whatever is used, and the flavour of beer is missing. Some prejudice against "light beer" has been created consequence, but the real "brew" is in great demand wherever it has been introduced. Some of the "mild ale" now sold in public-houses is of low gravity, and contains very little more than 2 per cent, proof spirit.

In the Birmingham area, where work is conducted under heated conditions, the light beer is preferred to the heavier graded. From Swansea, Bolton, Wednesbury, Dudley Port, West Bromwich, and Tipton most favourable reports have been received."
Liverpool Echo - Saturday 23 June 1917, page 3.
4d a pint beer in 1917 was Government Ale. It was weaker than pre-war stuff but "very little more than 2 per cent, proof spirit"? Proof spirit is ABV * 1.75. So that would mean Mild of 1.25% ABV or so.

I just happen to have details of Government Ale from July 1917. Whitbread's. It had an OG of 1033.5 and was 3.77% ABV. Quite a bit stronger than the article suggests. Barclay Perkins GA from the same month was fairly similar: 1036.4, 3.72% ABV. Stronger than most modern Milds.

Not that there weren't non-intoxicating Milds in WW I. Exactly a year later, in July 1918, one version of Whitbread's GA was just over 1% ABV. I wonder what it tasted like?

What has me wondering most, though, are those "decoctions" with "ale" in the name. What on earth were they? What were they made out of? Were there any government restrictions on making them?

This article repeats the same tale of Mild being non-alcoholic:

The gravity of the beer now sold in most localities is so low as to make intoxication a matter of impossibility, state the directors of Home Counties Public-house Trust.
Western Daily Press - Thursday 26 July 1917, page 5."


Anonymous said...

Some writers did confuse *proof" with "alcohol" (I know people who still
think that proof spirit is pure alcohol)
For those who live in the US, our definition of "proof" is different from yours.Pure alcohol is 177.5% proof here and 200% in the US unless my memory is failing me yet again!

Gary Gillman said...

Possibly the decoctions were ginger ale, ginger beer or other such non-alcoholic drinks which sometimes use the words ale or beer.


Rob said...


Correct. In the USA, proof is 2xABV.

I believe the max in UK is 175 proof.