NOTE: In the 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines, English Mild Ale is now classified as Style 13A Dark Mild in Category 13 Brown British Beer which describes the modern versions of Dark Mild, Brown Ale, and English Porter. They are grouped together for judging purposes only since they often have similar flavors and balance, not because of any implied common ancestry. The similar characteristics are low to moderate strength, dark color, generally malty balance, and British ancestry. These styles have no historic relationship to each other; especially, none of these styles evolved into any of the others, or was ever a component of another. The category name was never used historically to describe this grouping of beers; it is our name for the judging category. “Brown Beer” was a distinct and important historical product, and is not related to this category name.
English Mild Ale History
English Mild Ale is probably one of the oldest beer styles in England. It was popular as nourishment and sustenance for the laboring classes in the English Midlands, especially near Birmingham and Manchester.
Most likely English Mild Ales were made then sold fresh. This lack of aging was possibly one key factor which distinguished it from the other pub offerings of its time. The lack of aging also meant that the beer was probably sweeter (milder) tasting with less acid from souring. These beers were brewed to a darker color and with less hops than the “old ales”.
Today, English Mild Ale is in decline for several reasons. One is its “working-class” image. Another is the huge rise in popularity of pale ales and lagers. Lastly was the decline in heavy industry in the North and Midlands of Britain where English Mild Ale was most popular.
When Mild Ale was in its heyday, it’s gravity ranged from 1.055 to 1.080. Since the start of the 20th century, and especially after the two World Wars, the average gravity of these beers have dropped dramatically to around 1.030 to 1.036.
Today the term “Mild” more often refers to its lack of hop character compared to the more popular bitter. With the rise of “real ale” drinkers and CAMRA, came a rise in the popularity of cask conditioned English Mild Ale and there are possibly 60 or more examples to be found.
In the United States, brewpubs and microbreweries never really got on the Mild Ale bandwagon and you will have to look a little harder to find a good example.
English Mild and Dark Mild Description
Most beers in this style are dark but you will find pale versions as well. The paler versions focus on the biscuity and toasty character of the English malts where the darker versions focus more on the caramel, chocolate, coffee and other dark fruit flavors.
English Milds are low-gravity session beers in the range 3.1-3.8%, although you may find some versions that are stronger, in the (4%+) range for export, festivals, seasonal and/or special occasions.
Overall, these beers are light-flavored, malt-accented session beers. They are refreshing and flavorful. Some versions may even seem like a lower gravity brown porter.
This beer is generally served on cask. Session-strength bottled versions just don’t seem to travel well. You will find a wide range of interpretations for this style but if you follow the guidelines below, you should do well in competition for the style.
English Mild Ale Brewing Tips
There are several important factors to keep in mind when trying to brew this beer at home. Since the beer is low in alcohol and gravity, it can seem thin. Make sure you use a good English base malt and a fairly high percentage of specialty malts that will provide the malt character, some dextrins, and residual sugars that make the beer seem bigger than it really is.
This beer is not highly hopped so using only one bittering addition is plenty. Use a good English hop such as Kent Goldings to be more authentic.
The yeast should provide the “English” character to the beer but shouldn’t attenuate fully which will help with the mouthfeel and body. Serving this beer at cellar temperature helps bring out more of the English yeast and malt character of this beer.
References: Information for this page was adapted from the 2008 and 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines, Brewing Classic Styles, 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew, by Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer, and the book Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels.
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