Style Profile: Mild Ale

Posted on June 23rd, 2010

Mild Ale is an oft overlooked style, but it holds an important place in the history of beer. For many many years mild ale was the most popular style of beer in The United Kingdom, and the base on which many other styles are built upon. Here’s a quick look at the style.

As one might expect, mild ales are lightly flavored beers, and tend to be low in alcohol (3-5%ABV). These are the qualities that made mild ales one of the most popular session beers around. For many years from the late 19th century to the 1950’s mild ales were the beer of choice for working class men and women in their off hours, particularly those in the South Midlands and Wales. Mild ale’s light refreshing flavor and low alcohol made it a great way to refresh yourself from a hard day’s labor. It was the quintessential session beer.

The term “mild” ale originally referred more to the age of a beer than its taste. In the 1800’s food storage was a much more crude process than today and frequently beer and other items would develop off flavors or spoil if stored for long periods. Despite this old beer was still regularly sold to the poor and working class as it was all they could afford; Due to the poor condition of drinking water stale beer was still much safer to drink than water. As mild ale was much fresher and tastier it was also much more expensive. Frequently mild ale would be mixed with older brews to make cheap beer cocktails, which would eventually serve as the inspiration behind porter beer.

We’ve come a long way since those days and today mild ale refers more to a style of beer based on the historical drink. Generally speaking mild ales tend to be lightly sweet with mild body and low hop aroma. A lighter version of brown ale, perhaps. The style remains quite rare in America, but if you can find some you should definitely give it a try.

Harpoon’s Brown Session Ale is a great modern example of this style. Anchor Steam has crafted a unique take on the style with their Small Beer, which clocks in at just 3.3%ABV. A more traditional variety would be Black Cat from Moorhouse in the UK or Gale’s Festival Mild from Fullers. Numerous local and regional microbreweries have done one off and seasonal milds, be sure to look out for one in your area to get the chance to try this traditional style.

  • Beer Journalist

    Mild beer is actually so-called because it is not bitter. There used to be two types of beer in the UK – bitter and mild – and two taps and the name mild simply originated to differentiate the two.