The Session #99: Localising Mild

The SessionWith the first Friday of May comes the monthly installment of The Session, or “Beer Blogging Friday,” prompting bloggers (beery and non alike, all welcome) to ruminate and write about some suggested beery topic. Over the years The Session has morphed from reviews of beers by styles to beer-and-food, event, and more philosophical questions.

This month Alistair Reece of Fuggled puts the spotlight back onto a style, one that is too often under-appreciated: Mild Ales. Indeed we have touched on Milds for The Session, way back in May 2007 with only the third installment. This time Alistair wants us to consider what Milds might look like in other regions—Localising Mild, in other words (or “Localizing” for Americans):

Each May CAMRA in the UK encourages drinkers to get out and drink Mild Ales. This May is the first, as far as I am aware, American Mild Month, which has 45 breweries, so far, committed to brewing mild ales. Of those 45 breweries some are brewing the traditional English dark and pale mild styles, while a couple have said they will brew an ‘American Mild‘, which American Mild Month describes as:

a restrained, darkish ale, with gentle hopping and a clean finish so that the malt and what hops are present, shine through

An essential element of the American Mild is that it uses American malts, hops, and the clean yeast strain that is commonly used over here. Like the development of many a beers style around the world, American Mild is the localisation of a beer from elsewhere, giving a nod to the original, but going its own way.

That then is the crux of the theme for The Session in May, how would you localise mild? What would an Irish, Belgian, Czech, or Australian Mild look like? Is anyone in your country making such a beer? For homebrewers, have you dabbled in cross-cultural beer making when it comes to mild?

When you start to step beyond England, Mild to me has always been one of those beer styles that is among the most difficult to quantify—indeed, illustrates how quixotic the concept of “style” even is. Broadly speaking, the common style descriptor is something like, “low-alcohol, malt-forward, little to no hop character,” though the numbers range pretty widely within that spec—so really, a brewer could make a case that any sub-4.5% abv beer could be a “Mild.”

And then again, via Martyn Cornell I know that historically, “mild” actually meant “fresh and recently brewed”—regardless of strength, color, and so on.

Given the task of localizing such a style, I’d approach it like any other—start with the ingredients and/or processes local to your region, if possible. Yes, American Mild means American malts and hops, and yeast if possible. Australian Mild would be similar, as would Brazilian, French, Czech, and so on.

And then we can take it a step further—incorporate some local, indigenous ingredients beyond just the malt and hops (particularly if the region in question doesn’t produce its own of either). Why not? Give Brazilian Mild an infusion of manioc for body, for instance.

For the homebrewer question, I know I frequently cross the streams, culturally speaking, when brewing beers, and I’m quite certain every other homebrewer has done so as well. For myself, targeting a “local” Mild, I would simply brew for a low-gravity, moderately hopped ale, and let the ingredients I have on hand dictate the final result. Although now that I think about it… Pumpkin Mild, anyone?

Denny's Murican Mild AleThat’s my take. And for a bonus, a review of an American Mild that I happened to acquire recently, coincidental with this month’s Session topic; it’s been awhile since I’ve had a chance to do a review for The Session so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

The beer was a private-label bottling that was handed out to members of the Cascade Fermentation Association homebrew club here in Central Oregon during an event at the end of March; the event itself was a special hosting of homebrewer and author Denny Conn, and the beer was brewed by Redmond, Oregon’s Juniper Brewing.

“Denny’s Murican Mild Ale” was based on a recipe from Denny, as I understand it, and while I don’t know the ingredients used, I do know that it was 4% abv.

Appearance: Copper-brown, clear and nicely effervescent. Ample off-white head is continuously fed by the bubbles.

Smell: Dark bread crust, a nice grainy barley character in the nose—like fresh-baked bread. Mild hops are earthy and herbal.

Taste: Grainy with a touch of astringency, with some husk (a “dusty” character). Bit of roast in the malt, but it’s very mellow. Hops bring an herbal bitterness but they aren’t overt about it. A bit woody perhaps (likely from the hops), but it’s light and clean.

Mouthfeel: Light-bodied, not watery, leaves a bit of a bitter aftertaste.

Overall: Very easy drinking, the astringency/woody note throws it a bit off for me but it’s a good effort and makes for a nice session ale.

Incidentally, Juniper brews a commercial version of this recipe they call “Morning Wood.”