Sunday, 21 February 2016

Mild Beer

My grandparents ran a large pub near the entrance to the first road tunnel under the Mersey, not far from the great shipyards of Cammell Lairds in Birkenhead, on The Wirral. Situated at 99 Hamilton street, it was called The Wellington and it was the only pub in the town belonging to the firm Greenall Whitley of Warrington. It's not there now, having been knocked down in the 1980s, to make way for the offices of the Land Registry.

To me as a child, it was an enormous place, with the ground floor given over to 4 bars and an off-licence. One of the bars – The Ladies' Bar – was never in use, and neither was the off-licence. I used to practice my darts alone in the The Ladies' Bar.

As you'd expect, the pub had a large underground beer cellar, with a ramp down which the barrels were rolled before being put on their stands. But it also had an unusual – much smaller - second 'cellar', constructed as an unusual mezzanine floor above the main bar. I've often wondered whether there was another of these anywhere in the UK but brief research throws up no answer to this question. Anyway, you had to pass the entrance to cellar as you made your way upstairs and then along a corridor to the living quarters on the first floor. This door was usually open and the smell of the place was hugely enticing.

From time to time, my grandfather would be working in there and I'd go in to chat to him. Usually, he'd be testing the beer in some way, using a long brass rod or dipstick. Showing me this one day, he pointed out how clean the bottom portion of the stick was in comparison with the top half. Brilliantly clean, in fact. “This,” he said, “is what the beer can do to the tarnished surface of the rod. So imagine what it can do to your stomach.”

I've never drunk much bitter beer in my life and I've always partly attributed my distaste of it to this revelation. But there's another beer which I'd never drunk in my life until very recently. Mild beer. Or mild ale, to be more accurate. This is usually black, so easily confused with the beer called 'stout', of which Guinness is the most famous brand. Funnily enough, one of the 7 or 8 varieties of stout – milk stout - was advertised as an aid to recuperation from illness when I was a kid. Even, perhaps, prescribed on the NHS.

Mild beer – though I never knew this until, as I say, very recently - has less of the bitterness of 'bitter' beer because it's 'mildly hopped'. Wikipedia says of it: Once sold in every pub, mild experienced a sharp decline in popularity after the 1960s and was in danger of completely disappearing. However, in recent years the explosion of microbreweries has led to a modest renaissance and an increasing number of milds (sometimes labelled "Dark") are now being brewed.

It was certainly sold in The Wellington as well as probably every other pub in the land when I was young. Often, though, it would be confined to the working class bars - 'the public', as opposed to where it was rather cheaper than the more popular bitter beer favoured more in 'the snug' bar.

 But there's a reason why I never tasted mild beer until recently and this, too, was down to my knowledgable grandfather. Confiding in me one day, he advised me against it - on the grounds that it was customary to put all the bitter beer slops in the mild barrels. I wasn't sure back then what this really meant but it didn't sound good. And I knew for a fact 'slops' included the liquid that had dripped out of the bitter barrels and stayed around for a while. So I stayed off it until a couple of weeks ago, when I was more or less forced to drink it in the absence of anything else. Encouragingly, it came in a bottle and not from a barrel. So, I was less concerned about what might have gone into it since its manufacture. And, what do you know, I loved it.


  1. Debido al aumento de la población en el siglo XVIII, algunos cerveceros empezaron a vender la cerveza antes de que esta estuviese lista, a un coste más bajo que las cervezas inglesas completamente maduradas que podrían requerir puesta en bodega en la botella por hasta un año. Esta cerveza joven fue llamada mild. Era bastante amarga y fue mezclada a veces con la ale envejecida o "añeja" para hacer el producto potable. El cociente estándar 9 a 1 se conocía como porter's ale, por su popularidad y porque era asequible para la clase obrera.

    Durante el siglo XIX la porter evolucionó en su propio estilo, mientras que los cerveceros desarrollaron recetas para las cervezas inglesas suaves que no requerían mezclarse con cervezas envejecidas para saber bien. La malta chocolateada, la harina de avena, el trigo torrefacto, y la cebada no malteada se convirtieron en ingredientes estándares para este estilo. Las nuevas variedades de lúpulo, menos amargas, y las nuevas levaduras hicieron los sabores menos amargos.

    Hoy en día la mild ale es menos amarga, de cuerpo más ligero, pero más oscura que la brown ale. Algunos tradicionalistas tales como Camra consideran que la Mild es solamente una simple versión de la brown ale. Tradicionalmente la mild ale tenía un contenido en alcohol más alto que hoy, que ha disminuido con el paso de los años para evitar los impuestos de las cervezas con más graduación. La mild sigue siendo popular en País de Gales y en el noroeste de Inglaterra, pero es menos popular que la bitter en el resto del mundo.

  2. Gracias. Quizá tendras que re-post eso después de corregir los typos en mi post esta mañana . . . Lo siento.

  3. “Mild ale is the lowest of the low!” “Mild ale is dead!” In Britain, where it originated, it is seen as weak, uninteresting and old-fashioned. It has the reputation of being a “cloth cap” beer, drunk by the sweaty working classes as they swarmed out of the factories and coal mines, eager to slake their thirst after long hours of hard physical labor.

    The term “mild” seems to have become relatively common in the eighteenth century, although there are even earlier references to it. At this time it did not really apply to any particular style of beer, but merely to beers that had not been kept, and were sent out for drinking within a matter of weeks after brewing. It was often applied to porter, the most popular beer in England in the late eighteenth century. But this was only to distinguish new porter, from “stale” porter, which had been kept in wooden vats for as much as six months to
    over a year.

    Going into the nineteenth century there was a change in popular taste, and more and more of the beer brewed was new, rather than long-vatted. These new beers were sometimes called mild, still as a descriptive term only, or more commonly “running beers,” a term still sometimes used by modern English brewers. Even by the middle of the nineteenth century, there does not appear to have been an actual style designated as mild ale. That may be because most brown beers were simply called “ales” if they were not porter or stout. The use of “mild” to designate a new beer somewhat fell out of use as virtually all ales became running beers. Those that were meant to be kept were now termed “stock ales.”

    An important development in English brewing around the 1820’s was the development of India pale ale in Burton upon Trent. Pale ales had been around before, but had not been widely popular until IPA came on the scene. By the second half of the eighteenth century, most brewers were producing pale ales of one sort or another, and the popularity of porter and stout had waned drastically. So they had to come up with another name for their brown, non-porter beers, and “mild ale” was the term they chose.