Milds are Wild: Bigger Beers Don’t Have All the Fun

BYOB by | Apr 2008 | Issue #15
Illustration by Scott Murry

The party season arises and the kegerator awaits filling! After all, what kind of host would neglect his guests? It always happens—the wife, the club, your friends, your boss—someone forgets until the last minute and then you have no time to pull together your super stupendous Double Russian Imperial Chocolate Belgian Pale Ale. Or maybe just like me, you want to always have bottle or cask beer on tap that won’t put you down after you put a few pints down. What are you to do?

The answer lies in my favorite tipple: Mild Ale. The daily drink of English miners, it’s the pint you have with your buddies while trading rounds. Smooth, deceptively rich, yet easy to put back in large quantities even in the summer. Mild’s great advantage to those in need is a speedy turnaround from kettle to keg.

For the uninitiated, modern-day Mild is the malt driven session counterpoint to the ordinary bitter. The Beer Judge Certification Program, to the uproar of our British readers, defines it as the weakest Brown Ale. Mild’s long history includes a stint as a fresh, unhoppy Strong Ale and an eventual tax-driven decline to the modern standard. Seize the opportunity to try Sarah Hughes’ Dark Ruby Mild for an insight to the older, stronger style. Pale versions with their golden hues and toasty biscuit flavors can fool the diehard yellow beer drinkers.

What’s the big challenge brewing a beer weighing in at less than 1.038? Why, packing in a pint’s worth of flavor in a small grain bill. Start with a base of English Pale Ale Malt. I use Crisp Maris Otter. For extract brewers, use a quality British extract like John Bull. Scant additions of Roasted Barley and Crystal malt give color and flavor. Carafa malt, a Weyermann dehusked chocolate malt, darkens the beer without increasing the harsh acidity found in darkly roasted malts. Flaked oats increase the mouthfeel and apparent body without the beer seeming sickly sweet. Other adjuncts including sugar, molasses and corn (maize) are traditional. Mashers, British beers fit the busy lifestyle as well with their simple single infusion mashes. Perform your sacchrification rest at 152–154 to ensure a dry finish without a supermodel thin body.

In these trying times of the hop crisis, you can count your blessings as a Mild takes about three pellets to make. Well, maybe a bit more, but with the proper varieties on hand, I can get away with about one-third of an ounce. There are recipes with plenty more hops, but for this beer, it is a waste of a now strained resource. Remember, the hops cut the beer, but do not push themselves into the forefront.

It is tempting with such a low gravity brew to skip a starter. Don’t! A starter ensures speedy success with complete fermentation, subtle esters and minimal diacetyl. Sadly, my favorite strain, White Labs Essex Ale, is a seasonal strain. When not available, I turn to the trusty Wyeast 1275 Thames Valley. The clean malty profile contains just enough esters and fruit to be interesting, but not overpowering. Use an American yeast (WY1056/WLP001/US-05) for a true neutral profile that moves quickly and provides a perfect base for experimentation. With a large pitching rate and a chest freezer standing by for crashing purposes, you can ferment, cold crash and carbonate the beer in roughly one week.

The versatility, speed and frugality of Mild encourages playing around. While the guidelines serve as a useful launchpad, find your own spin for the beer. Twist things with additions of rye, spelt, funky sugar, smoked malt and spices. The caramel, coffee and roast characters play exceptionally well with a number of flavors. Imagine a lightly perfumed orange pale summer Mild, a vanilla- and chocolate-spiked fall Mild or a cinnamon-infused winter session ale.

As traditional Real Ales, Milds have very little fizz. The low carbonation means low to no head. Aim for carbonation in the 1.5–2.0 volumes CO2 range. That translates to 1.7 to 3 ounces (wt) of corn sugar per 5 gallons. Without a beer engine at home, the only CAMRA approved “real ale” method is bottling. “Cheating” with a primed keg is a great solution and I promise not to tell if you use CO2 to serve the beer. Heck, since my kegs move constantly, I don’t even prime! *gasp* Just remember, the more CO2 dissolved, the more acidic and hoppy your beer will taste!

Now that you have the answer in hand, you never have to fret being caught short. With a few days, quick acting yeast and a keg, pints to tip back will never be in question. After the first keg, I guarantee a Mild will be a constant welcome presence in your bar.

For 5.5 gallons at 1.037, 16 SRM, 13 IBU, 60-minute boil

6.75 lb. Marris Otter malt
0.5 lb. flaked oats
0.25 lb. Crystal 150L
2.0 oz Carafa II dehusked chocolate malt
2.0 oz roasted barley

Mash for 60 minutes at 152˚F.

0.25 oz Target (pellets) | 10.6% AA | 60 minutes
0.12 oz Challenger (pellets) | 6.5% AA | 30 minutes

Wyeast 1275 Thames Valley, White Labs Essex Ale, WLP001 Cal Ale, Wyeast 1056, Wyeast 1318 London Ale