Mild Ale: It’s Not Dead Yet!

“Mild ale is the lowest of the low!” “Mild ale is dead!” In Britain,
where it originated, it is seen as weak, uninteresting and
old-fashioned. It has the reputation of being a “cloth cap” beer, drunk
by the sweaty working classes as they swarmed out of the factories and
coal mines, eager to slake their thirst after long hours of hard
physical labor.
Mild is generally the lowest-strength beer in
any brewer’s portfolio. It is often very difficult to find, especially
in London and the South-East of England. The bigger brewers are not
interested in brewing a slow-selling, low-volume beer. And publicans are
not interested in selling a beer that has low turnover and does not
keep well in cask because of its low strength.
Bitter ales and pale lagers are now the most popular beers in Britain, and mild ale
makes up only about 3% of total draught beer consumption. Many see mild
ale as, if not already extinct, at least a highly endangered species.
Some brewers have succeeded in increasing poor sales of mild by simply
renaming it, leaving out the word “mild” all together. And CAMRA (The
Campaign for Real Ale) has run promotions for some years making May a
“Drink Mild” month, in order to keep the beer going. It wasn’t always
that way, though. From around the end of the nineteenth century until
just after the Second World War, mild ale was the most popular English beer.


The term “mild” seems to have become relatively common in the eighteenth century, although there are
even earlier references to it. At this time it did not really apply to
any particular style of beer, but merely to beers that had not been
kept, and were sent out for drinking within a matter of weeks after
brewing. It was often applied to porter, the most popular beer in
England in the late eighteenth century. But this was only to distinguish
new porter, from “stale” porter, which had been kept in wooden vats for as much as six months to
over a year.
Going into the nineteenth century there was a change in popular taste,
and more and more of the beer brewed was new, rather than long-vatted.
These new beers were sometimes called mild, still as a descriptive term
only, or more commonly “running beers,” a term still sometimes used by
modern English brewers. Even by the middle of the nineteenth century,
there does not appear to have been an actual style designated as mild
ale. That may be because most brown beers were simply called “ales” if
they were not porter or stout. The use of “mild” to designate a new beer
somewhat fell out of use as virtually all ales became running beers.
Those that were meant to be kept were now termed “stock ales.”
An important development in English brewing around the 1820’s was the
development of India pale ale in Burton upon Trent. Pale ales had been
around before, but had not been widely popular until IPA came on the
scene. By the second half of the eighteenth century, most brewers were
producing pale ales of one sort or another, and the popularity of porter
and stout had waned drastically. So they had to come up with another
name for their brown, non-porter beers, and “mild ale” was the term they

Mild Ale by the numbers:*

Dark Mild
OG    1.030–1.037 (7.5–9.3 °P)
FG    1.004–1.008 (1–2 °P)
SRM    17–34
IBU    15–24
ABV    3.2–4.0%

Pale Mild
OG    1.030–1.037 (7.5–9.3 °P)
FG    1.004–1.008 (1–2 °P)

SRM    8–17

IBU    15–24

ABV    3.2–4.0%

*numbers given are the author’s opinion, and differ slightly from the BJCP Style Guideline numbers.

The HIGHS and LOWS of mild

Nowadays, we think of mild ales as the lowest-strength English beers,
but that was a later development. In the latter half of the eighteenth
century, a particular brewer often charged more for his mild ale than he
did for his pale or bitter ale. One publication of the 1880’s lists
Burton Mild with an OG of 1.080 (19.3 °P), compared to bitter at 1.064
(15.7 °P). Around the turn of that century, mild ales were still being
brewed at gravities of 1.055–1.060 (12.4–14.7 °P) on average. By this
time, porter had almost entirely disappeared in England, and the most
popular beers were pale and mild ales, with the latter predominating.
From around 1900 onwards, there was a general decline in strength in
British beers. This may have been a gradual trend anyway, as a result of
an 1880 Act of Parliament that taxed beers according to their original
gravity. But a drastic acceleration came during the First World War,
with the average original gravity of all beers falling as low as 1.031
(7.8 °P) by 1918. This was partly due to a shortage of raw materials,
and partly because the government limited both the volume and strength
of beer which individual brewers could produce.
Beer strengths in Britain did increase after World War I, but they were never to return
to pre-war levels. Even today the average original gravity is only
around 1.038 (9.5 °P). It took a while, since many breweries still
brewed more than one mild, but bitter soon became the stronger of the
two for a given brewer. More to the point, after World War II, bitter
became increasingly popular, as tastes changed and drinkers became more
affluent. The position of mild was not helped by it gaining a reputation
for being the beer to which the publican added back all the slops
collected during serving. It wasn’t helped either by other tricks
practiced by unscrupulous brewers, such as producing a very light
bitter, then coloring part of the beer with brewer’s caramel and calling it
mild ale.

NO LONGER number one . . .

It seems to have been around the 1960’s when bitter took over from
mild as the most popular drink in Britain, and it continued to forge
ahead of mild. In some geographical areas, notably the Midlands and
parts of the North, mild was still the favored drink; even in the 1970’s
there were close to twenty breweries producing not just one but two
milds. But both mild and bitter were to drop in consumption as lager
became more popular, with the latter taking over from bitter as the
most-drunk draught beer, sometime around 1990. The once-mighty mild ale
has now dwindled from being the star to being just a bit-player whose
part could be quickly written out of the play.

. . . but NOT DEAD YET!

But, perhaps the picture is not quite as bad as I have painted it.
There are still something like 50 breweries in Britain who produce a
mild, albeit in small quantities. A few of these are producing milds at
something approaching their original strengths. Noticeable among these
is Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby (which has dropped the word mild in recent
years) at around 6% ABV, and Father Mike’s Dark Rich Ruby, from
Brunswick Brewery, at 5.8% ABV. And just this year, a 4.4% ABV
dark mild from Rudgate was overall champion at the Society of
Independent Brewers’ North Region Festival and Competition.
Mild ale, as defined above, is clearly a low-alcohol session beer, meant to
be suited to drinking several pints in a few hours, without falling
over. With a low hop-rate too, it can never be a dramatic beer, like so
many new American breweries prefer to produce. So you would think it
would never be commercially successful here.
Yet, what about Southern Tier from New York and their “mild,” an excellent version of
pale mild? Also, in last year’s New England Real Ale Festival, there
were three mild ales from New England Brewers — one from Martha’s
Exchange and one from The Tap in Haverhill. The third came from BRU Rm @
Bar, in New Haven Connecticut; despite being a classic 3.7% ABV dark
mild, it has sold very well and is produced regularly.

Brewing MILD ALE

You may be wondering why there is both a dark and a pale version of mild ale. It is quite logical when you consider that “mild” originally meant any fresh, non-vatted beer, and
the distinction between them is as much geographical as anything.
Dark mild originated in the London area, but is now more common in
Wales and the Midlands of England, while pale mild is more likely to be
found in the North of England. This makes for some difference in brewing
them, in that a lot of the taste in mild comes from roasted malts, and
the color puts a restriction on how much of these you can use in pale
And these are not easy beers to brew in that it is
difficult to avoid making them taste watery. David Crease, the Head
Brewer at Woodforde’s prize-winning Norfolk brewery, thinks that 3.8%
ABV is the cut-off point. Above this figure it is relatively easy to
make a flavorful brew; below that point the brewer faces a much more
difficult task.

Boosting BODY

Commercial brewers have a couple of tricks up their sleeves, in order
to give the beer some residual sweetness making the beer taste a little
fuller. First they mash at higher temperatures, 153–155 °F (67.2–68.3
°C), in order to give a higher level of unfermentables in the wort. This
allows some sweetness and body to carry through to the beer. Second, if
the beer is got out to the pub and served quickly after arriving in the
cellar, there will be some residual sweetness from the priming sugar.
The first “trick” works for the homebrewer, but the second does not,
since we usually just don’t get through 5 gallons (19 L) or more quickly
enough, and the priming sugar has fermented out by the time we drink
it. In any case, for me, just making the beer with a little sweetness
doesn’t do a lot for flavor. We need to make the beer more complex.

Complex MALT

Since this is not a hoppy style, you have to make the flavor with
crystal, or roasted malts such as chocolate and even black malt. But
first, if you are an all-grain brewer, your base malt should be mild ale
malt, not pale malt. Mild malt is kilned at a slightly higher
temperature than pale malt, is a little bit darker, and adds some
roasted/nutty flavor to the beer.
For a dark mild ale brewed from malt extract, start with an amber extract; for a pale mild ale, you
would be better off starting with a pale malt extract, since this
allows you to use a little more roast malt, without the beer becoming too dark.
Crystal malt is a common mild ingredient, at rates of
about 10–15% of the total grist, or up to about one half pound (0.23 kg)
for a 5-gallon (19-L) brew. Use the more highly-colored crystals, 60 or
80 °L, for dark mild ale, as these give a nice nutty flavor and ruby
red color. For pale mild, you should go to 20 or 40 °L, so that you
don’t overshoot the color. With a dark mild, you can eliminate crystal
malt, if you use relatively high levels of chocolate malt (up to about
5% of total grist, or 4–6 oz. (113–170 g) per 5 gallons (19L)). Pale
mild will require lower levels — about 1–2% of total grist, or 1–2
oz. (28–57 g) per 5 gallons (19 L). I prefer a combination of the two,
since you want to make the beer as complex as possible.
Black malt can be used for dark mild ale, either alone, or more preferably in
combination with crystal malt. You must use it sparingly, about 2% of
grist maximum or 2 oz. (57 g) per 5 gallons (19 L), or the beer will
finish up harshly bitter and one-dimensional.
Crystal and roasted malts are normally mashed with the mild ale malt. In extract
brewing they should be steeped in hot water (150–160 °F/66–71 °F) for
30–45 minutes, then the grains removed and the liquor run into the boiler.
However, when we brewed Raven Hair Beauty, we used a
somewhat different approach. We had a black malt flour (from Briess).
The malt was very fine, as the name suggests, and not as whole or just
broken grains, as black malt is normally obtained. This flour was added
to the copper at the end of the boil. That meant it sat in the hot wort
for 30 minutes — that is, a 10 minute rest after turning off the heat,
10 minute whirlpool and a final 10 minute rest. That meant that a good
deal of the black malt was removed with the trub; anything that wasn’t
would sit in the fermenter, and be removed from the beer during
filtration. You could try this if you can get the flour and filter your
beer. If not, it might be better to add the black malt to the mash, or
pre-steep in the case of extract beers.

English HOPS

Hops are a simple matter with mild ale, as they are used only for bittering.
In general, English hops such as Fuggles and Goldings are best, or
English-derived types, such as Willamette or Styrian Goldings. Northern
Brewer also works quite well. Although many milds do not use aroma or
flavor hops, it is permissible to do so, but you don’t want this to
stand out, so Goldings in moderate amounts is probably the favored
approach. However, in Raven Hair Beauty we used Mount Hood and Liberty
(both Hallertauer derivatives) for bittering and aroma respectively,
with Mount Hood for flavor.


Water is pretty straightforward. Use what you have! The only possible problem
would be very hard water, such as that from Burton, which can make the
beer taste somewhat harsh, and we’re looking for a mellow flavor. Having
said that, at least one British brewer — Marston’s — has used Burton
water for brewing mild ale for many years. Others have used very soft
water, whilst yet others, notably in the London area, have successfully
used high-carbonate water. Therefore, I would only make adjustments if
making an all-grain brew and I was having problems getting the mash pH
in the 5.2–5.5 range. In that case, I would simply add a little gypsum
(5–10 g for a 5-gallon (19 L) brew) to bring the pH into the required range.
Yeast is also straightforward, almost any top-fermenting
strain will work well. We use Wyeast 1098, a Whitbread strain, at Bru Rm
@ BAR, but White Labs WLP002 also works well, as it tends to leave some
residual sweetness. Wyeast 1028 (London Ale) yeast is also a
possibility; it does tend to give relatively high levels of diacetyl,
but if you are not averse to this flavor note, it can add a welcome
richness to this style of beer.


Mild ale is a simple beer, meant for pleasant drinking in a long
session. However, with care, it can be made into a quite tasty,
interesting beer, and should not be at all bland or boring. You need to
get some complexity into the beer, and that is going to come from the
malt. Although I’ve given you a couple of quite simple recipes, you will
see that Raven Hair Beauty from Bru Rm @ BAR has a complex grain bill,
using no less than 8 different malts. I’ve also thrown in a couple of
recipes for mild ales which don’t fit the profile given at the
beginning, but rather more resemble what mild might have been like a
century or more ago. So don’t be afraid to experiment, and you will find
yourself making some very tasty mild ales, which will make you wonder
why on earth it should be losing popularity in its homeland! And
remember, “mild” in this context means fresh!

MILD ALE mania

Standard Dark Mild
(5 gallons/19L, all-grain)
OG = 1.035  FG = 1.009
IBU = 20  SRM = 24  ABV = 3.5%

6 lb. 10 oz. (3 kg) mild ale malt
3/4 lb. (0.34 kg) crystal malt (60 °L)
2.0 oz. (57 g) chocolate malt
5.3 AAU Fuggles hops (90 mins)
(1.33 oz./38 g at 4% alpha acids)
Wyeast 1098 (Whitbread) yeast
1/2 cup dried malt extract (for priming)

Standard Pale Mild
(5 gallons/19L, all-grain)
OG = 1.037  FG = 1.010
IBU = 23  SRM = 13  ABV = 3.6%

6 lb. 8 oz. (2.9 kg) mild ale malt
1 lb. 6 oz. (0.62 kg) crystal malt (20 °L)
6 AAU Willamette hops (90 mins)
(1.2 oz./34g at 5% alpha acids)
0.5 oz. (14 g) Goldings hops (5 mins)
Wyeast 1098 (Whitbread) yeast
1/2 cup dried malt extract (for priming)

Step by Step
Use a single-step infusion mash at 152–154 °F (66.7–67.8 °C) for the
dark mild or 153–155 °F (67.2–68.3 °C) for the pale mild for 1–1.5
hours. Sparge one hour, with water no hotter than 175 °F (80 °C),
until run-off reaches SG 1.010–1.012. Boil 90 minutes, with bittering
hops added at the start. Strain, or siphon off from the hops, and adjust
wort volume with cold water, and cool to about 70 °F (21 °C). Pitch
with yeast starter, and allow to ferment. By 5–7 days, final gravity
should have been reached; rack into a glass fermenter. One week later,
rack again, prime with dried malt extract, and rack into keg or bottles.
To ensure good fermentation, it is best to make a half-gallon starter
of the original yeast culture.

Brainstorm Dark Mild
(5 gallons/19L, extract w/ grains)
OG = 1.037  FG = 1.009
IBU = 24  SRM = 22  ABV = 3.7%

4.5 lb. (2.0 kg) amber malt extract
(Muntons or Alexanders)
14 oz. (0.40 kg) crystal malt (40 °L)
3 oz. (85 g) chocolate malt
6.3 AAU Goldings hops (90 mins)
(1.4 oz./40g at 4.5% alpha acids)
Wyeast 1098 (Whitbread) yeast
1/2 cup dried malt extract (for priming)

Yorkshire Pale Mild
(5 gallons/19 L, extract w/ grains)
OG = 1.034  FG = 1.008
IBU = 24  SRM = 14  ABV = 3.5%

4.0 lbs. (1.8 kg) amber malt extract
(Muntons or Alexanders)
1.0 lb. crystal malt (20 °L)
1.0 oz. (28 g) chocolate malt
6.4 AAU Northern Brewer hops (90 mins)
(0.8 oz./23g at 8% alpha acids)
1.0 oz. (28 g) Fuggles hops (15 mins)
Wyeast 1098 (Whitbread) yeast
1/2 cup dried malt extract (for priming)

Step by Step
Add crystal and chocolate malts to 1 gallon (3.8 L) water, bring to
about 150–160 °F (66–71 °C), hold for 1/2 hour and strain off malts. Add
water to about 3 gallons (11.4 L), and bring to a boil. Turn off heat
and add malt extract, stirring well to ensure the extracts dissolve
properly. Bring to a boil, add the bittering hops, and boil one hour.
Strain, or siphon off from the hops, and add cold water sufficient to
obtain the starting gravity. Cool to around 70 °F (21 °C), pitch with
yeast starter, and allow to ferment. By 5–7 days, final gravity should
have been reached; rack into a glass fermenter. One week later, rack
again, prime with DME or corn sugar, and rack into keg or bottles. To ensure good fermentation, it is best to make a half-gallon starter of the original yeast culture.

Raven Hair Beauty
(5 gallons/19L, all-grain)
OG = 1.043  FG = 1.016
IBU = 19  SRM = 25  ABV = 3.6%

This is simply the 11-barrel brew made at Bru Rm @ BAR scaled down to 5 gallons (19 L) and adjusted
to match BYO’s standard recipe assumptions. Details courtesy of Jeff Browning, the brewer.

2.5 lb. (1.1 kg) mild ale malt
2.5 lb. (1.1 kg) US 2-row pale malt
1 lb. 11 oz. (0.77 kg) Briess Munich malt
14 oz. (0.40 kg) crystal malt (60 °L)
4.5 oz. (0.13 kg) Belgian Special B malt
7.0 oz. (0.20 kg) Briess Extra Special
Roast malt
14 oz. (0.40 kg) Briess Vienna malt
1.1 oz. (32 g) Briess black malt flour
3.33 AAU Mount Hood hops
(90 mins)
( 0.47 oz./13 g at 7.1% alpha acids)
1.25 AAU Willamette hops
(30 mins)
( 0.25 oz./7 g at 5% alpha acids)
2.5 AAU Liberty hops
(5 mins)
( 0.5 oz./14 g at 5% alpha acids)
Wyeast 1098 (Whitbread) yeast
1/2 cup dried malt extract (for priming)

Step by Step
Use a single-step infusion mash at 154 °F (67.8 °C) for 1.5 hours,
keeping the black malt flour to one side. Sparge one hour, with water no
hotter than 175 °F (80 °C), until run-off reaches SG 1.010–1.012.
Boil 90 minutes, with bittering hops added at the start. Add the flavor
hops 30 minutes, and the aroma hops 5 minutes before the end of the
boil. Add the black malt flour*, stir gently, and allow to sit for 1/2
hour.  Strain, or siphon off from the hops, adjust wort volume with cold
water, and cool to about 70 °F (21 °C). Pitch with yeast starter,
and allow to ferment. By 5–7 days, final gravity should have been
reached; rack into a glass fermenter. One week later, rack again, prime
with 1/2 cup DME, and rack into keg or bottles (after filtration if
desired). To ensure good fermentation, it is best to make a half-gallon
starter of the original yeast culture.

* As discussed earlier, if you do not have this flour, but only whole grain black malt, then add
it the mash along with the rest of the grist.