Tuesday, 12 May 2015
The first beer I bought was a half of Tetley's Mild in Liverpool, which I wrote about here. It cost 10d (worth about 53p today). Although I switched to bitter at 18, I occasionally drank mild and still do. In more recent decades, when the Warrington Tetley brewery closed and all production moved to Leeds, everyone said, "Oh good; we'll now have the superior Leeds Tetley Bitter." No chance! From then on, the output from Leeds was worse than the less-favoured Warrington bitter had been, although it hadn't actually been quite as different from the Leeds version as everyone claimed. Why the beer was worse I've no idea, but it was. The consequence was that, if I ended up in a pub that sold only cask Tetley Bitter and Mild, I'd always opt for the latter. It wasn't wonderful, but was reasonable enough without that unpleasant chemical taste that I detected in latter day Tetley Bitter.
A popular mild is Moorhouses Back Cat; they don't call it mild any more, but that's what it is. I've drunk other pleasant-tasting milds such as Nutty Slack from Prospect of Wigan and Dark Mild from Bank Top of Bolton. I've had others, but can't bring the names to mind. I remember going round the Cains Brewery in Liverpool in the very early days when they brewed only bitter but were experimenting with mild. We tried the test brew and it was delicious. Unfortunately this was not the recipe that they settled on, because the mild that subsequently went on sale was, to my mind, quite unexceptional.
I will tend to gravitate towards a mild or low strength bitter on the rare occasion I go to the pub in my car, which - despite the best efforts of the anti-alcohol brigade - is still completely legal, as long as you don't exceed the limit.
About five or six years ago, there was an attempt to launch a campaign to persuade CAMRA to Make March Mild Month. The argument was: "Like them or loath them, golden ales are in full swing by then [May] and mild ain't going to get much of a look in, certainly not as far as we are concerned. Mild is associated with cooler and cold weather; it is not considered a drink for late spring/early summer." I agreed with this idea, although it didn't go anywhere: May is still Mild Month. But this begs the question: why? A once a year surge won't enable a brewery to keep a beer style going throughout the year. CAMRA members are urged to encourage pubs to stock mild: as a person who usually drinks bitters and golden ales, I'd be a charlatan to expect them to stock something I am likely to drink only occasionally. Further to that, licensees have told me that they have stocked a real ale, not necessarily mild, in response to suggestions from CAMRA members, whom they don't see again even though the requested beer has been put on. A bit cheeky that.
Mild's poor reputation was originally partly due to the practice of pouring all the beer slops into it. One irate CAMRA member took me to task for spreading scurrilous urban myths, but he was wrong; this practice did go on. I know because I had several relatives who worked in the pub business from the 1940s to the 1980s, and also some longer serving licensees have told me. I wrote in some detail about this in September 2013, and covered the possibility of infection and the effects of returning flat beer into the cask. What I didn't cover was that, by putting different beers into the cask, you'd be changing the nature and flavour of the beer in an unpredictable way. No wonder keg caught on: at least you knew what you were getting.
Can mild make make a comeback? It's certainly possible, because people's tastes do change and the golden ale bubble may not last forever. Or drinkers may adopt it as one of a range of beers they're happy to drink, in contrast to the past when you'd just drink bitter, mild or lager. One thing I do believe is that a once a year campaign is unlikely to make any significant difference to its chances of survival.