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
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.