Thursday 29 March 2012

Rye mild west at Arbor Ales

If the song remains the same then you’re listening to the same song all the time, but if the beer remains the same then the beer remains the same. Sameness and variety both have their uses within the frenetic and febrile world of beer — sometimes I would like more of the same but at other times (and I must admit that this happens more and more) I want something different. This is the something that Arbor Ales (along with many others of its ilk) have cottoned onto. On the day that I arrive at the brewery in Bristol, the sun is shining, as if to bless the day’s endeavours. I’m there to brew a beer, once more into the mash tun in the name of creativity (as well as beery ego let’s be honest — Pete Brown has written elsewhere about how brewing a beer with a friendly brewery is akin to a rock journalist getting on stage with their favourite band, and why not?). 

The idea emerged a couple of months ago when I met Arbor’s Jon Comer for several beers at the brewery’s Three Tuns in the Hotwells area of Bristol. And the beer we were brewing? I had long harboured the desire to produce a rye mild, something that would make use of this most excellent grain (I used to enjoy O’Hanlon’s rye beer as well as Rye (I)PAs from Founder’s, Terrapin and Bear Republic). I envisaged a low-gravity beer with plenty of body and just to make it interesting have it dry hopped with Tettnang hops. 

For the record 50% of the base malt was mild malt, 25% rye malt and the rest Munich malt; then we added some crystal rye, oats and caramalt. Tettnang Hersbrucker was chucked in at several stages and I think we boiled for about an hour. The abv will be about 3.7% and Jon’s initial tastings suggest a big malty presence. I tasted the hopped wort after it had been chilled and I hope that the spiciness of the rye will still make itself felt. I’m looking forward to seeing what the dry-hopping will do. It will be available soon so I’d welcome comments on it.

But then is it a mild? If you want to know what I think here is something I wrote for a Beer magazine debate a couple of years ago, which I suspect started my thought process that would lead to Arbor Ales’ Ryeteous Ale, as we have decided to call it.

Are milds really milds these days?

Sitting at a table judging a selection of milds at SIBA’s National Awards earlier this year, one question kept cropping up — ‘is this to style?’ We had creamy milds, slightly hoppy ones, sweetish ones, grainy dry ones and ones with plain chocolate on the palate and nose. One had a hint of white pepper on the nose. Is this so bad?

A recent What’s Brewing correspondent claimed that the current Champion Beer of Britain was not a mild because it was too hoppy. I would disagree. In the shifting ever-restless world of beer styles nothing remains exactly the same and nor should it. And while we should respect that mild has its perimeters, maybe it’s time to recognise that they are seemingly wider than we thought, thus allowing brewers to make their own mark.

If we didn’t favour such a promiscuous attitude towards beer styles then we wouldn’t have the current crop of IPAs (go back 30 years and apart from White Shield anything with the word IPA would have been as weak as, er, a mild). Furthermore, we wouldn’t have, for better or worse, golden ales, double IPAs, chilli stouts and coffee porters.

A style category for mild is imperative (as for dropping the name from the brand that’s a different mash tun of amber malt), but it shouldn’t be based on what it was like in the ‘good old days’. A beer style is there as a starting point for innovation and experimentation — you have to learn what something is before disassembling it. Even Tracey Emin probably got an O-Level in art before she started rearranging beds.

Beers change, beers develop. All beer styles in their way should be moveable feasts (though maybe not as crazily amorphous as saison). And if this broad new meaning of mild brings new drinkers to the category then all the better — now where’s that glass of triple hopped, double fermented, black pepper spiced mild?


  1. much better name than my suggestion!

  2. thanks for the try though, we had a right bunch of stinkers in the brewery though, such things as Rye Vita, Rye Bina, Rye Rye Ryesputin, Rye-di-Hi, I think by then I was getting sun stroke…

  3. Maybe just the fumes? ;)

    Just read that old article. I'm now on CAMRAs "endangered styles working group" I think more needs to be done to show that historically milds were neither low ABV or low bitterness brews. Perhaps they need to split judging cateogries into "high mild" and "low mild"

  4. thing is about endangered styles do you just stick to historical accuracy or do you let contemporary more take over, before a beer emerged that was called mild, what was there? Space and an endless void or a similar beer, though differently made cause of technology and a different perspective on brewing?

  5. likewise, are beer styles restrictive to new innovations? Should CAMRA have less rigid criteria for example? Once the discussion group gets going I'll ask for feedback on blog. At the moment we're just talking about mild month.

    I'm just thinking stuff like sara hughes exists now and is lumped alongside old ales at NWAF when its the complete opposite!

    I also don't like the term "endangered styles" but that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish

  6. I'm veering towards the idea that mild is in fact a "type" that comes in different "styles". That might be a better way to get a handle on what we mean by "mild". But the most important thing is to have labels that are understood by the ordinary pub drinker, not relevant only to nerds and homebrew judges.