While it's no secret that mild as a mass-market beer is in a bad way, one place where it actually seems to be doing alright is our local homebrew club. At a group that meets in the back room of a craft beer bar, and where the styles presented range from Brut IPA to Hefeweisen, from experimental sours to Imperial Stouts, Dark Milds still crop up surprisingly regularly.
To me, though, the idea of Dark Mild as a "brewer's beer" makes a lot of sense. Well-made mild is nice to drink, of course - rich and satisfying without being too heavy or too strong - but they're also interesting to brew. The current range of fashionable beer styles offers relatively few opportunities to explore characterful sugars and crystal malts, but Dark Mild puts them front and centre, and invites you to explore and combine them to your heart's content.
But what exactly are we talking about? With that in mind, I'd like to present the following - a Modern Mild Manifesto.
Modern Mild is first and foremost about dark sugar and caramel flavours. Characterful base malt and British yeast probably feature, too. A chocolate note from roast malt is also common in contemporary milds, and while purists will argue that it's not traditional, to me it seems like a worthy development. However, roasty flavours should stay in a supporting role, and on no accounts should a mild be turned into a baby stout - in fact, a session Dubbel might be a better way to think about it.
Modern Mild is easy to drink both in terms of strength and character. Ideally, it should be interesting but unobtrusive, characterful but restrained - the sort of beer that doesn't demand your attention but does reward it. (Ambient beer, perhaps?) Modern homebrewers might push the strength a shade higher than most late 20th Century commercial examples, but it should still feel very sessionable.
Modern Mild isn't restricted to historic ingredients. Yes, mild is traditionally brewed with British malts, adjuncts, caramel and invert sugar, but alongside that, the modern homebrewer has a free rein to experiment with continental malts and a whole world of culinary and brewing sugars. Historic Mild, brewed with strictly traditional ingredients to strictly traditional recipes is also a Good Thing, but it's a different thing.
That said, Modern Mild is basically about malt, hops, sugar, yeast and water. If you want to build a mild recipe around fruit, spices, sweets or breakfast cereal then I'm not going to stop you or even discourage you (much), but you should be aware that by doing this you're turning the style into something else rather than enriching what it is.
Maybe this is the start of a dynamic new movement of Modern Milds? I doubt that we're going to sweep hazy IPA off the taps of the nation's craft beer bars, but we could at least bring a bit of extra interest to its homebrew clubs.
For the record, the recipe for the mild that I'm currently drinking is roughly as follows:
65% Golden Promise, 18% soft dark brown sugar, 11% Medium Crystal, 5% dark chocolate to 1.042 OG. Mashed at about 67 degrees, with the sugar added in the boil, First Gold hops to 18.3 IBU at the start of the boil and no late hops, fermented with Windsor yeast. 4.3% ABV.
This came out stronger than I intended (bafflingly so, actually - my software predicted 1.036) and is probably at the upper end of what's acceptable for dark malt character but it's a very drinkable beer and a good start. For the next iteration I'll probably roll off the chocolate malt a bit and bring in some more interesting crystal malt - maybe Special B, maybe Crystal Rye.
Hopefully this post will inspire a few homebrewers - I'd love to hear from anyone who tries brewing my recipe, something like it, or who's come up with their own take on the style.