A History of Mild

Milds and history – compiled by Tim Stuemke
These beers should be viewed as not as a single low alcohol style, but as a group of beers. Mild merely refers to beers that were not stored for long periods of time at the brewery. Milds were young beers produced and consumed within months. At the time, they were also called running beers. The other style of beers from the 1700’s were called stock, keeping or stale ales. These were in some cases, the same beers as the milds, but more highly hopped and stored in wooden vats for up to one year to achieve the desired vinous flavors. As you can imagine, many more than likely contained with Brett.

Initially milds were all pale malt, leaving the darker malts for porters and stouts. This type of beer ranged in color from amber to a light brown. This was due mostly from the lack of control in the malting process before the industrial revolution. But also from the beers being boiled and fermented in non stainless metal fermentation vessels. Bittering ranged from light and flowery to a bracing tannic bitterness. The gravities for the smallest milds started at about 1.070 OG and over 1.100 OG for the largest. I assume the gravities were the result of brewers wanting the most efficiency out of the brew house as possible, and of course the resulting flavors. At the time, most breweries boiled for 2 hours to 3 hours, thinking the boil helped preserved the beer longer.

Attenuation is an odd thing to generalize for the time frame. Some were in the mid 60% range, while others had up to 80% attenuation. I can’t say if this is more a factor of the malt itself, mash temperatures, yeast pitching rates, or even viability. Fermentation temps did vary from the low 60’s to the upper 60’s. These numbers to track with the general seasonal temps of the region.

Hopping rates; beers with gravities of 1.070 had rates as low as 1 1/4 lbs. per barrel in some cases, while 1.090 and above may have had up to 8 lbs. per barrel. Yes, that’s a shit ton, but we need to remember these are lower alpha hops, and possibly stored for long periods of time in not the best of conditions by todays standards. Hops not only came from England, but also Germany, Poland, and America.

When it comes to storage/serving vessels, wooden barrels were of course the primary container (until glass becomes widely available and cost efficient). English oak was becoming more and more scarce as time went on, so they began using imported wood. Breweries preferred Russian and Polish oak over others, though American oak was used by some. The main issue with US oak was that flavor from the wood could be detected within two weeks, and that was no considered a good thing for the most part.

In the early 1800’s breweries began to use two important changes. The first was the hydrometer. Not only did it help with control of the process, but it brought about change two. Brewers noticed that paler malts gave better yields than dark malts. So by the later decades, most people added small amounts of the darker malts to the lighter base grains, as opposed to using all darker grains.

Most breweries had 3-5 milds. This is the period that the X system of classification began. X being the smallest beer, and XXXX was the strongest. The bigger beers were essentially the same as their strong ales, only with a lower level of hopping. Most were brewed in the parti-gyle method. A brewery may have had 5 milds, but they were pretty much the same base recipe parti-gyled at different ratios.

The 1880’s brought another large change to the beers. The Mash Tun Act of 1880 taxed the wort and not the sold product. The other was the new ability to use adjuncts. English brewers embraced sugar without hesitation, sometimes in amounts over 20% of the grist. Cane, turbinado, invert, imported from many parts of the english empire, you name it they used it. By 1900 there were over 50 companies producing sugar products, many proprietary blends just for the brewing industry. I posted a link several months ago on how to make invert, so go it it. Oh yeah, by this time, sales of milds were about the same as porters and stouts. Also by this time, England was importing vast amounts of American six row barley, hops and maize for brewing. Tiny England brewed about 32,000,000 barrels a year at this time. American cluster hops replaced english hops as required to keep up with demand, and maize was sometimes used for over 10% of the grist.

By 1900, milds were outselling all other styles of beer in England. But strangely enough, the number of milds brewed per brewery dwindled to just 1 to 3. XXXX was about extinct at this time. It was thought to be the drink of old working class types, not fashionable enough for the younger crowd. If you look at brewing records you will notice that throughout the 19th century, gravities were slowly diminishing.

This is also the time period that dark milds begin to come about. The sugars mentioned before were coloring the beer along with caramel colorants and small amount of black malt.

Both world wars were devastating to the brewing industry. Taxation and shortages brought gravities down to a mere shadow of the former beers. In 1917 government decreed breweries could only brew 1/3 the amount from the previous year. 1918 restrictions knocked down the abv of some beers to below 2%. But milds continued to be the preferred beer until the 50’s, accounting for 70% of beer sales.Unfortunately, mild accounts for only 10% of todays draft sales. Bitters and pale ales have now become the drink of choice in the UK, though some smaller breweries are looking back in time to resurrect old recipes for the modern beer enthusiasts.

If I haven’t considered offing yourself out of shear boredom, lucky you. Here are some recipes I pilfered from my favorite web site, Shut Up About Barclay Perkins.

1834 Vasser Double Ale (american mild)
OG 1.098. FG 1.038. IBU 75
Vienna. 70% UK Amber 30% (high dryed malt is what’s actually called for)
Cluster 7% 90 minutes 2.83 oz. Cluster 7% 30 minutes .94 oz.
Mash 120 minutes @ 153 F. Boil 90 minutes
Ferment 1332 northwest ale 68F
Under pitch to 60-70 % and cold crash when you hit proper gravity.

1920 Fullers XX
OG 1.041. FG 1.007. IBU 21
English pale malt 46%. American six row 35%. Flaked maize 15.5%.
Glucose 3.5%. Caramel colorant to achieve 29 SRM
Hallertauer 3.5% 90 minutes 1 oz. Hallertauer 3.5% 30 minutes .5 oz.
Mash 90 minutes @ 150 F. Boil 90 minutes
Ferment Nottingham Ale, 002 English Ale, 1968 London Ale @ 69 F

1952 JW Lees Best Mild
OG 1.035. FG 1.008
English pale malt 72.5%. Crystal 75 3.9%. Chocolate malt 3.8%. Brown malt 2%. Black malt 1.9%. Invert no. 1 13.8%. Caramel colorant 2% (sinimar) good luck doses that one. I just guessed to get 51 SRM
Fuggles 5.5% 90 minutes .86 oz. Fuggles 5.5% 30 minutes .29 oz.
Mash 90 minutes @ 149 F. Boil 105 minutes
Ferment Manchester yeast, 1318 London Ale III. 63F

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