In Praise of Small Beer

My brewing assistant, Susan.

I really love what Anna wrote for this blog about “foodie culture” and the way that it fetishises eating and drinking seemingly without regard for social context. What is true for food is likewise true for beer.  It goes without saying that I love what is usually termed “craft beer”, i.e. distinctive, flavourful, and well-made beers that come from a place of genuine love and passion instead of the dictates of a marketing department. But there is a sense in which the culture surrounding craft beer is, well, too much about the beer itself.

Take, for example,’s “Best Beers 2011” list, and note, along with Stephen Beaumont, that 39 of the top 50 beers are imperials. The beer writer and historian Martyn Cornell worries about how these lists will encourage brewers to focus on “extreme” beers to the “detriment of those of use who want nuance, subtlety and depth in our beers.”  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a beautifully complex 10% abv Russian Imperial Stout every now and again, but this isn’t an everyday kind of beer.  What we have here is craft beer’s “wine envy”: the idea that beer can and should be far more than the industrially-produced fizzy yellow stuff and can have a real depth and complexity that rivals the sophistication of wine. While this is not untrue, the problem with “wine envy” is that it only looks at the elite consumption and appreciation of wine for guidance. Sure, wine can be a perfectly aged bottle of Bordeaux from a good vintage, but it can also be a simple bottle of red table wine, enjoyed with friends over a long and comforting dinner, both of which can be great given the right context and company.  And so it should be with beer: a beer shouldn’t have to be mind-blowing and hammer your tastebuds into submission to be the right beer at the right time. Sometimes a less aggressive, thirst-quenching “session” beer is what you want, and it can be just as beautiful and flavourful as an imperial.

And so, partly because I was thinking of brewing one eventually, and partly because my coworker Julien was trying to push the homebrewers at work to brew milds inspired by CAMRA’s “Celebrate Mild in May” campaign, my latest brew is a mild.  With a couple of exceptions, such as Jester King Brewery’s hopefully not accurately named Commercial Suicide Oaked Dark Mild and some hard to find bottled imports like Moorhouse’s Black Cat, mild is a style of beer very rarely seen in North America.  It’s a traditional low gravity, light bodied, lightly-hopped British style of beer that was once favoured by the working classes because it could be drunk for lunch without interfering with work, but it almost disappeared as kegged lager became popular.  It’s now seeing a revival largely because of CAMRA’s tireless campaigning, but I think a large part of the appeal is that much like a lager, mild is fundamentally a refreshing and thirst quenching beer, though unlike lager it has a lot of depth and flavour.

I can’t claim that my version of a mild will be anything close to authentic.  There is a volume of the Classic Beer Style Series devoted to mild, but I haven’t read it.  My recipe is sort of based around my not very clear recollections of drinking Black Cat, though this is all interpretation with nothing solid to back it.  It will be hoppier than is strictly traditional, but this is because I find a nice hop aroma to add to the refreshing qualities of the beer–and hey, this is homebrew, so I have unlimited creative freedom here. I will let you know how it turns out.


May Day Mild

For a 3 gallon (11.5L) batch

1.25kg Maris Otter malt
0.25kg 40L Crystal malt
0.15kg Amber malt
0.15kg Chocolate malt

20g leaf Fuggles [5.2% AA] (60 min)
15g leaf Fuggles [5.2% AA] (5 min)

Whirlfloc tablet (Boil 15 min)

White Labs #WLP013 London Ale Yeast

Starting gravity: 1.038
Final gravity: 1.010
BU: 25.5
Colour: 22.0 SRM

Chilling wort


4 thoughts on “In Praise of Small Beer

  1. Because it’s such a low gravity beer you could probably have it in bottles in a week, which would be another couple of weeks until it’s carbonated and ready to drink. Less if you were to keg it, depending on how you carbonate it.

  2. Pingback: Fresh summer beer | Braising Hell

  3. Pingback: Damm Inedit | Braising Hell

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