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Bury St Edmunds beer expert René van den Oort celebrates Mild Ale

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May is one of my favourite months of the year. New life in the garden, the dawn chorus of birds, bank holidays, Whitsun Fayre and the nice mild weather; not too cold, not too hot.

But not only the weather. For those of you familiar with the Campaign For Real Ale you will be aware that May is chosen to promote an unfamiliar and slightly unusual beer; the Mild Ale. Very few breweries produce a Mild on any grand scale, in fact, in the late ’80s it almost disappeared from the beer scene. Thanks to an increased number of smaller craft breweries, we now see a Mild returning in pubs and shop shelves.

A Mild ale can take on many forms depending on how far back in history you want to go. Although nowadays most Milds are dark and typically around 3.5% abv, there were times when a Mild ale was well over 6% abv. What they do all have in common though, is the flavour; malty sweetness with a very low (mild) level of hop bitterness. In fact, mild actually meant a young, freshly brewed, un-aged ale which was sometimes blended with older, matured ales to produce a Mild Porter, often shortened to just a Porter. These beers were a little cheaper and more affordable to those on a meagre income such as the 18th century street porters of London, hence the name.

Mild May (11470835)
Mild May (11470835)

Prior to the First World War the Mild ales often were brewed at strengths of 6% abv or above, but due to rationing and strict price controls the strength dropped sharply. Since then the Mild has generally stayed at that level for a few small exceptions. The Elmtree Brewery’s Nightlight Mild being one of them. Brewed at a strength of 5.7% abv it has an abundance of malty sweetness with hints of chocolate and roasted coffee. Rich and smooth with a very low bitterness in the finish. Delicious, and no wonder it has received numerous awards recently.

Other local breweries, such as Reepham’s Panther Brewery, Reedham’s Humpty Dumpty Brewery, Braintree’s Bishop Nick brewery and Mighty Oak Brewery in Maldon all produce excellent dark Mild ales, typically between 3.3 to 3.7% abv. All have subtle differences depending on the choice of malts used in the brewing process. Some are smooth and creamy, others are more nutty and coffee-like due to the use of a higher roasted malt.

At one stage there were some Pale Mild ales available but I have yet to try one. Perhaps a challenge for some of our local craft breweries? If not, one could always brew their own of course. A very satisfying hobby indeed and one that, in many cases, develops into a more serious, commercial way of life. The huge increase in new breweries popping up all around the country is evidence of that! And what a great thing that is. So a big ‘thank you’ to all those that keep these wonderful, quirky, classic styles of beer alive for us to enjoy.


René van den Oort is owner of Beautiful Beers

1b St John’s Street, Bury St Edmunds

01284 767205