Beer Style 13A: Dark Mild
There are dozens of beer styles and we know it can get a little confusing, so each week we profile a particular style of beer in the Devil’s Peak Beer Guide. We’ll outline beer styles from the 2015 BJCP guidelines, offering both a technical and somewhat anecdotal overview of the dozens of beer offerings from around the world.
The Dark Mild, which belongs to the Brown British Beer category in the BJCP, has been around for the better part of 400 years. As you’ve probably realised, most beers coming out of Europe tend to have quite a long history. The dark mild is no exception, and it has had an ebb and flow of popularity over the centuries. Would you believe that milds were once the most popular style of beer in England? And there’s a good chance you’ve never even heard of the style. Well, lucky for you, we’re here to change that.
Often dubbed “the original session ale,” dark milds are typically between 3% to 3.6% abv with a malt-forward palate, low to low/moderate bitterness and a light body. Nowadays the “mild” refers to the flavour profile of the beer. It’s “mild” compared to the English bitter and other English pub beers. Back in the day, “mild” actually referred to a beer that was young. As beer ages, its flavour profile changes dramatically. These milds were served as fresh as possible to avoid the stale flavours that were sometimes common with other available beers. There were dark milds, bitter milds, porter milds etc. Quite interesting to see how the meaning of the word has evolved!
Mild’s popularity began to drop off in the 50’s and 60’s as patron’s palates shifted towards bitters and away from the sweet maltiness that was the hallmark of the dark mild. As force carbonated kegs were introduced in the 70’s, more traditional cask aged beers (the dark mild included) took another knock as pubs adopted this new technology. It wasn’t long before lagers were seriously butting in on tap space and the dark mild was all but kicked to the curb.
Thankfully, with the “real ale movement” and the craft beer revolution during the 90’s, this traditional style enjoyed a small but significant revival. Many pubs across the UK participate in “Mild May,” where they will stock a locally-produced dark mild on one of their taps for the entire month. The American craft beer scene has also embraced the style, producing and dispensing world-class examples all year round.
So what can one expect when trying a dark mild for the first time? Let’s see what the BJCP Style Guidelines have to say.
Overall Impression: A dark, low-gravity, malt-focused British session ale readily suited to drinking in quantity. Refreshing, yet flavorful, with a wide range of dark malt or dark sugar expression.
Aroma: Low to moderate malt aroma, and may have some fruitiness. The malt expression can take on a wide range of character, which can include caramel, toffee, grainy, toasted, nutty, chocolate, or lightly roasted. Little to no hop aroma, earthy or floral if present. Very low to no diacetyl.
Appearance: Copper to dark brown or mahogany color. A few paler examples (medium amber to light brown) exist. Generally clear, although is traditionally unfiltered. Low to moderate off-white to tan head; retention may be poor.
Flavor: Generally a malty beer, although may have a very wide range of malt- and yeast-based flavors (e.g., malty, sweet, caramel, toffee, toast, nutty, chocolate, coffee, roast, fruit, licorice, plum, raisin). Can finish sweet to dry. Versions with darker malts may have a dry, roasted finish. Low to moderate bitterness, enough to provide some balance but not enough to overpower the malt. Fruity esters moderate to none. Diacetyl and hop flavor low to none.
Mouthfeel: Light to medium body. Generally low to medium-low carbonation. Roast-based versions may have a light astringency. Sweeter versions may seem to have a rather full mouthfeel for the gravity.
Comments: Most are low-gravity session beers around 3.2%, although some versions may be made in the stronger (4%+) range for export, festivals, seasonal and/or special occasions. Generally served on cask; session-strength bottled versions don’t often travel well. A wide range of interpretations are possible. Pale versions exist, but these are even more rare than dark milds; these guidelines only describe the modern dark version.
History: Historically, ‘mild’ was simply an unaged beer, and could be used as an adjective to distinguish between aged or more highly hopped keeping beers. Modern milds trace their roots to the weaker X-type ales of the 1800s, although dark milds did not appear until the 20th century. In current usage, the term implies a lower-strength beer with less hop bitterness than bitters. The guidelines describe the modern British version. The term ‘mild’ is currently somewhat out of favor with consumers, and many breweries no longer use it. Increasingly rare. There is no historic connection or relationship between Mild and Porter.
Style Comparison: Some versions may seem like lower-gravity modern English porters. Much less sweet than London Brown Ale.
Characteristic Ingredients: Pale British base malts (often fairly dextrinous), crystal malt, dark malts or dark sugar adjuncts, may also include adjuncts such as flaked maize, and may be colored with brewer’s caramel. Characterful British ale yeast. Any type of hops, since their character is muted and rarely is noticeable.
Vital Statistics: OG: 1.030 – 1.038
IBUs: 10 – 25 FG: 1.008 – 1.013
SRM: 12 – 25 ABV: 3.0 – 3.8%
Commercial Examples: Banks’s Mild, Cain’s Dark Mild, Highgate Dark Mild, Brain’s Dark, Moorhouse Black Cat, Rudgate Ruby Mild, Theakston Traditional Mild
Tags: session-strength, dark-color, top-fermented, british-isles, traditional-style, brown-ale-family, malty
Photo Credit: Trip Advisor