Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Mild mannered beers at SIBA

Last week saw me in Nottingham for judging at the SIBA National Championship — I had plumped for the mild section because I wanted to see what brewers were doing with mild. Judging on the table brought forth comments such as ‘what is mild’ and ‘is this a mild’, as well as the more surreal one of ‘where’s the cream’. This was all well and good, but it did make us wonder what the parameters for mild were. After all we had coffee notes, chocolate ones, as well as hints of sherry and aniseed (plus black pepper according to one judge, which might be fine for a saison but not for a mild). Maybe those who live in mild-drinking sections of the country have a better idea of what mild is, but I, a very late convert to it, think chocolate, coffee, an occasional graininess and a refreshing quality despite its weakness (strong milds are another kettle of mashed malt). Others might disagree. This then moves me to think about beer styles in general (once again). Compared to the American strictures (as well as those that govern the European Beer Star competition), the rules for the milds were pretty loose — sure the beers were all dark chestnut in colour onwards (no light milds or AKs) and they had various elements that constitute a mild, but what about a beer in a mild category that has a fragrant hop character just hovering about on the nose? Is that a mild or does it really matter? I do seem to remember a What’s Brewing letter from ‘Outraged of Oop North’ (or some other faux proletarian address) fulminating at Protz for his tasting notes on Rudgate’s award-winning 2009 mild, part of which included the word fragrant (as in hop). Oh lord.

With the next category I was on the speciality beer section, once again deliberately chosen because I wanted to see what SIBA brewers were doing with this category. A beer that tasted like a raspberry mivvi (with added vanilla) and another that might or might not have had apple didn’t exactly leap out of the glass, put their arms around me and say ‘how’s it going pal’. There was also a beer with somuch fudge on the nose that I could have syphoned it off and opened up a West Country gift shop selling the stuff; the palate, however, like Arsenal in a big game, let me down.The final beer was sensational — its use of a special ingredient was awesome and it romped home as the favourite of our table. I know the name of the brewery and the ingredient used but in the name of fairness I won’t mention it (the winners are announced next month). So if there was a champion speciality beer then this was it. But I do wonder what British brewers are aiming for when they make a speciality beer. Do they have a clue or are they mimicking the beers of Belgium or wherever (anyone for a sorghum beer?), or should we be grateful that experiments are being tried? On a similar speciality beer note, once whilst writing a piece about foreign speciality beers I was dumbfounded to see that Peroni was being touted (and probably still is) in that category — it’s a Euro-lager nothing more and nothing less, to suggest otherwise is to treat the drinking public like idiots (it’s a bit like when so-called cask-conditioned lagers win CAMRA speciality beer categories, but that, as they say, is a topic for another day).
The judging was held at the excellent Canal Inn (see pic), a place where Castle Rock’s Harvest Pale is king for me.


  1. Having judged on the specialty panels at CBoB for the past three years, I believe that in such categories with very different beers being judged together, it is vital to try and understand first what the brewer was trying to do, notably what are faults and what purposedly is in there...

    We once had at CBOB a pale, dry, slightly cloudy beer woith little bitterness and a clear lemony lactic sourness. Was it an attempt at a berliner weisse ? Unlikely from a british brewery, but ou never know.
    It had rather rough edges, so I went for "cask lager with a fermentation problem" as a reference frame instead. Which was confirmed in the results later on, but that kind of guesswork can lead to completely misled evaluation when you get it wrong.

    (Sorghum beer ? Wasn't the point here to make it gluten-free ?)

  2. Laurent
    giving people an idea of what the brewer is trying to do is a good idea, but then sometimes they don’t know either, apart from trying to do a Mongozo (ie adding whatever is sitting around in the fruit bowl)
    On the sorghum front I’m thinking Southern African beers such as iJuba, rather than the health jobbies.

  3. Canal Inn is nice but I'd have never expected the words excellent next to it. Think it's a good venue and location but food and drink a bit average food and drinks. I'll drop in next time I'm there.

    I always liked the look of Fellows, Morton & (the last name escapes me) but I wasn't bowled over by that either last time I went. I do like Jerusalem, touristy as it is and I'm told Salutation is good.

    Perhaps I'm a tad fickle...?!

  4. Mark
    I hated Salutation last time I was there, the Jaipur was ok, but I don’t like metallers or goths, which seemed to be its clientele; FM&whatever was ok, pint of Mallard I think, I like the Kean’s Head and quite enjoyed a late morning pint at the William IV. What I like about the Canal is that you expect city centre mayhem but it isn’t and you get all sorts, while there’s a good range of beers and always somewhere to sit; the buffet for afterwards was poor but I wasn’t there to eat (gets in the way of drinking sometimes). Am in Leeds next week so I will be casting my eye over pubs out there.

  5. Castle Rock's Harvest Pale is MUCH better on draught than bottled...good shout.

  6. Leigh
    have only had it in bottle once but a far few times on draught. Could do with a drop now. Nice mid afternoon tipple.

  7. Recommend the Vat and Fiddle, another Castle Rock pub to the left as you come out of Nottingham station. Lincolnshire Poacher is always worth a trek up Mansfield Road, in the Rock Pubs be careful of the Screech Owl IPA, border line session ale dangerously drinkable

  8. Hopefully I'll see you for a beer next week, unfortunately I don't think I can make your event though. There's a Dogfish tasting the same night so I imagine a few suitably lubricated (with alcohol) folks will be heading to North after.

    I've never heard that about Salutation, I had visions of a quieter Jerusalem. Oh well. One good thing about Canal you always get a seat and it is quite relaxing given the chaos of the high street a stones throw away.

  9. Ah right, southern African beers with sorghum... well I guess the idea is to come up with a beer that relies on local ingredients rather than imported ones. Pretty much the reason why Nigerian Guinness contains Sorghum as well.

  10. Mark
    hope to make it to latter part of tasting with Zak nd hopefully North.
    I don’t think Brit brewers necessarily think local when they do speciality, it’s very laudable especially if they can use rosemary or sage grown in their garden, but if they use spices then they’re going to have to go to their local cash and carry and lord knows where they get their stuff.

  11. Me too, hopefully be at Cross Keys for 10pm

  12. AK isn't another term for Light Mild. AK was a Light Bitter.

  13. Ron, apologies, I stand corrected. That’s why I stick to the Spanish Civil war and the 1930s when it comes to history…