People associate London’s workers with porter (and rightly so), but by the late nineteenth century, beer drinkers throughout England were gravitating to an ale called mild, in part because it was cheaper. Mild ale’s popularity grew into the twentieth century. According to Martyn Cornell “The continuing popularity of mild meant that even after the Second World War it made up close to 70 per cent of draught beer sales” yet by the late 90s, mild ale accounted for just three per cent of draught beer sales in England. What could explain this precipitous drop in popularity and what exactly was mild ale anyway?
Mild is notoriously difficult to pinpoint. Some were light and some were dark, some were strong and some were weak. Some were even well-hopped, though the style typically was not. Originally a mild was just a fresh beer (frequently consumed before it was even two weeks old). This differentiated it from the old or stale (meaning aged) ales with which mild was often mixed. Indeed, patrons often ordered their mild blended with another beer, both bitter and brown ale being popular choices. In the winter, mild was often served mixed with Burton ale.
Though they could be light, the darker slightly sweet style of mild became dominant by the start of the twentieth century, with colors ranging from reddish brown to black. The Civil Life British mild ale fits into this category, though it is dry. At 3.8% alcohol, it is a true session beer, but it’s not short on flavor, having some beautiful earthy roast character. We serve it in a traditional 20 imperial ounce Nonic pint glass, but originally it was served in a ten-sided handled mug. As taste in beer changed, so did the glasses. The dimpled pint mug soon became the norm, but it quickly lost favor to the tall, thin Nonic glasses used today at most better pubs. An article in the Guardian a few years back explained the changes in beer tastes as well as glassware: “This design change fitted in with changing drinking habits: dark mild had acquired an unfashionable image as an old working-class man's drink, and its substitute, amber bitter, looks lovely in the refracted light of a dimpled glass.”
And that’s basically it. The young generation in England in the 50s and 60s viewed mild disdainfully and shifted to beers they associated with aspiration and success, namely bitter, but also lager.
Mild ale certainly didn’t deserve such an ignominious fate. Many people forgot how good it was. At the Civil Life, we brew an excellent dark mild ale. We also make a classic British bitter. Support class solidarity and civility! Drink good beer. No matter what style of beer you choose, drink civil and be civil. ~ Esteemed Barman, Dr. Patrick Hurley of Tower Grove South
The Civil Blog has returned. It is predominantly authored by Civil Life Barman, Dr. Patrick Hurley, who can be found tending to our bar patrons on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He is also responsible for tending to our draft lines, which is recognized as one of our most important tasks. Special guest writers will appear from time to time. We hope reading this blog will give you much insight about the Civil Life and most importantly help you understand a bit more about all of us that work here and the beers we put our hearts into.