Again this month I feel compelled to offer up my own subtitle: "Mild Meanderings." Largely because I wasn’t able to find an actual Mild Ale locally—though I came close, and I’m hopefully there at least in spirit—but also because I’ll be segueing a bit as I write this.
The problem with finding an actual, honest-to-goodness Mild around here is that this is the Pacific Northwest, and that means Hop Country. The Northwest has (rightly) acquired a reputation for brewing and liking hoppy beers, even so much as to be able to (rightly) dub this the "Pacific Northwest Style." When shopping for beer, there is always an abundance of Inda Pale Ales, double/Imperial beers (particularly IPAs, porters, and stouts), American strong ales, extreme beers of one sort or another, and generally strong and dark beers.
The store I like for my beer selection (Newport Avenue Market) also has a very good selection of Belgian beers and a decent selection of German beers. Of the British beers, they carry the usual minimum: mainstream Samuel Smiths, some Fullers, some Youngs. No Milds, though.
In essence, I was looking for a beer that would fit the characteristics of a Mild so I could at least kinda sorta be on-topic. It’s a shame that none of the local breweries produces a Mild, although I seem to remember that at one time the Deschutes Brewery had indeed brewed a mild as part of their tap rotation at the brewpub. The closest they come now is with their Dehlia Falls Session Ale and their Buzzsaw Brown.
The Dehlia Falls, though, is much too light to be considered a proper Mild: a pale golden yellow with a light malt bill. It’s only 4.6% alcohol but a bit too hoppy to count as well—coming back around to the Pacific Northwest Style of brewing yet again.
The Buzzsaw Brown would be more promising, as Milds evolved from Browns and are closer in "family" than the rest. But I’d just reviewed Beertown Brown as well, and I wanted to try something new in the same spirit.
(Actually, on our San Diego trip I apparently did have a Mild: the Dawn Patrol Dark when we visited Pizza Port in Solana Beach. Their sign said "English Brown" but all online indicators I’ve seen say it’s actually a Dark Mild; I wish I had more that a couple of quickly jotted notes: "On cask, so very smooth and creamy. Malty, a hint of fruitiness… a bit dry. Sweetish and a bit roasty. Yes, I know ‘sweet’ is the opposite of ‘dry’ but that’s my impression.")
So the beer I finally settled on at Newport Market was a new one they hadn’t had the last time I was there: Old Speckled Hen. Now, I know this is technically an English Pale Ale and is just outside the alcohol range at 5.2%, but for me it was more in the spirit of The Session: Mild Ale is a traditional, sessionable English style, and so is Old Speckled Hen. Plus I’ve never tried it before, so why not select it for the tasting? (Especially considering most of the other suitably low-alcohol beers I can find that might be comparable are lagers.)
This particular beer is the canned version, the one that contains the nitrogen widget that injects nitrogen gas into the beer when it’s opened—much like the canned Guinness, or Beamish Stouts. This simulates a cask/nitro tap and arguably contributes to the "authentic" draught experience.
Appearance: Pour was super-dense creamy foam (from the nitro widget inside) that visibly settled into an attractive amber-orange, slightly hazy beer. Remaining head is beige-white and very thick and fine.
Smell: Clean and mild. Whiff of nitro foam gets in the way. Hops and caramel.
Taste: Bitter—hops are first—a bit woody, a bit spicy, herbal. No fruit or citrus at all (a nice change). Base is a nice pale malt—a bit sweet, a bit dry (from the hops)… no roasted character here or off-flavors or tricky malt combos. It’s an excellent pale ale.
Mouthfeel: Extraordinarily smooth and creamy, from the nitro widget. Body is a bit shy of medium, but has nice weight on the tongue. Refreshing.
Overall: Okay, it’s no Mild—it’s too hoppy and higher in the alcohol—but I think it’s as close as I’m gonna get around here, adhering more to the "traditional English pub" experience. It’s a good, well-balanced pale ale, and the nitro flair is a bonus that I haven’t had in awhile.
So I didn’t help to clear up the "Mysterious Misunderstood" part of the Mild Ale mythos, but I enjoyed the tasting at least and got to try something new. I think my best bet for a Mild is to brew my own, so that will likely be my next homebrew project (whenever that happens).