Drinking in a session style

Related tags Beer Beer style

The darling suds of May are of the mild variety. Yes, if you hadn't heard, this month has been dedicated by the tireless sabre-rattlers at the...

The darling suds of May are of the mild variety. Yes, if you hadn't heard, this month has been dedicated by the tireless sabre-rattlers at the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) to mild - a derelict beer style if ever there was one.

Mild enough for a session

Mild is one of the oldest and most traditional beer types. Low in alcohol yet big in flavour and eminently drinkable, it was first brewed to quench the rapacious thirsts of sweaty-browed farmer types and, later, wet the weary whistles of industrial workers. It poured supreme in the nation's pubs at a time when Britain's labour force were harvesting or hitting, drilling, building and bashing stuff for a living.

Those sepia-tinted days of yore are long gone. The problem is that, what passes for work these days (moving a mouse about, buggering around with a Blackberry, hoodwinking people into buying stuff they don't need using sinister 'guerrilla' marketing and providing IT 'solutions') doesn't make you very thirsty.

Or, one could argue, happy. We collectively hanker after high gravity beers to escape these high-octane, high-stress times.

The UK likes its beer characterless, charged with alcohol and chilled to near freezing - like a reliable liquid chauffeur that takes you where you want to go, as quickly and conveniently as possible, without asking any questions.

Low gravity beer styles such as mild, which will take you along the scenic route and be courteous enough to point out all the good bits on the way, are just as easy to drink yet seldom pick up the punters.

What's in a name?

Then there's the name. Mild is, let's face it, not a very sexy word. Like 'bitter' and 'brown ale', it conjures up apparitions of whippets, flat caps and other Northern clichés from which beer is anxious to distance itself.

Factor all the above in and it's hard to shake the suspicion that mild's chances of a comeback are about as likely as Gary Glitter's. Yet hope for CAMRA and all devotees of flavoursome light alcohol beers can be found in the unlikely shape of German wheat beer. Twenty-five years ago 'weissbier' was a beer drunk exclusively by toothless, grinning old codgers and sheep-bothering country bumpkins.

Yet somehow, entirely uninfluenced by the evil machinations of marketing men, it was revived by a new generation of drinkers, seemingly disillusioned with what else was on offer. These days, Bavarian wheat beers are being sold in UK style bars for £4 a pint by bartenders with absurd, directional haircuts.

Bring it back

Mild, and other low gravity beers, could do the same. They can be marvellous beers and liquid proof that great beer needn't be high in alcohol. Brewing a beer with depth and breadth of flavour while keeping the ABV down is jolly difficult and, when done successfully, hailed by many as the pinnacle of the brewer's art.

As someone who has never brewed a beer in his life, it ill-behoves me to make such a statement but just ask a brewer what beer he or she enjoys drinking. Nine out of 10 will say they prefer something low in alcohol and high in flavour.

If it's good enough for brewers then who's to say that in 2032, we won't be following their lead? Quite apart from the fact that drinking trends are circular and that what goes up (including alcohol) must come down, low-strength beers uphold the vision of a responsible drinking culture; they have the easy-drinking, low-calorie charms to woo the oh-so elusive female drinker; and they could even be served in secondary schools as part of a joint initiative between brewers and Alcohol Concern.

You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. The release of Carling C2, for example, suggests that beer's future may lie in less potent brews. In fact, I've seen the slick Powerpoint presentation saying as much. So it must be true.

Go with the low!

Some great lower alcohol beers

Moorhouse's Brewery: Black Cat (3.4 per cent ABV)

Classic ruby-coloured Northern mild that shoehorns chocolate, raisins and a dry finish into the glass was named CAMRA's Champion Beer of Britain in 2000

McMullen's Brewery: Original AK (3.7 per cent)

A tenderly hopped and beautifully balanced classic ale from Hertfordshire.

Fuller's: Chiswick Bitter (3.5 per cent)

Fabulously quaffable bitter that, in terms of complexity and depths, drinks well above its strength.

Timothy Taylor: Golden Best (3.5 per cent)

A smooth, creamy and lightly-coloured mild from the Pennines.

Brakspear: Brakspear's Bitter (3.4 per cent)

A red amber beer with a tight white head and a delicate toffee aroma now available in 500ml bottle as well as cask.

Ben McFarland is Beer Writer of the Year

Related topics Beer

Property of the week


£ 60,000 - Leasehold

Busy location on coastal main road Extensively renovated detached public house Five trade areas (100)  Sizeable refurbished 4-5 bedroom accommodation Newly created beer garden (125) Established and popular business...

Follow us

Pub Trade Guides

View more