Each year in May, the Campaign for Real Ale coordinates a monthlong celebration of Mild. At one time Britain’s bestselling style, only to be driven to near-extinction, Mild Ale certainly has a story to tell…

Mild rose to favour over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as pubs offered Mild Ale alongside Stale Beer at the bar front. The terms ‘Mild’ and ‘Stale’ originated from the 1500s, when hops were first imported for use in British brewing. Brews without hops were known as ale, while those that included them were recognised as beer.

Though interchangeable today, drinkers of the past understood that ale was best served mild (fresh), whereas beer such as Porter could be enjoyed stale (aged), thanks to its’ inclusion of hops which are anti-microbial in nature.

As the 1700’s most popular beer style, Porter was as a luscious dark brew that enjoyed extended maturation in sizeable oak vats, imparting a complex, vinous flavour to the drink. Although porter could be served fresh, aged or even blended, many pubs sold stale porter alongside mild ale as part of a varied offering.

Despite the modern idea that Mild should be low-strength and dark in aesthetic, ales that were served ‘mild’ before the twentieth century could be any strength, and actually lightened in colour as they grew in favour. This surprising trend for the Milds of yesteryear can be attributed to advancements in brewing technology, as well as increased taxes on malted barley.

The brewer’s hydrometer came into commercial use in the late 1800s, measuring the diastatic efficiency of fermentable grains. This equipment led to the observation that pale malt was more fermentable than its’ darker counterparts, which had been kilned at higher temperatures for longer durations. This revelation saw many brewers switch to more efficient pale malts only, in an attempt to regain margin lost through increased taxation during the Napoleonic wars.

Although Mild was now at its’ lightest, many iterations would be blended with London water, high enough in minerals that maximum colour would be extracted from the malt. This colour would have been further deepened by the iron brewing vessels that were industry standard at the time. Both of these factors meant that pale mild was most probably a ruddy copper colour to start – though definitely not dark.

The darkening of Mild most likely began in the early 1900s, helped in part by the Free Mash Tun Act passed in 1880. The Free Mash Tun Act repealed previous rulings that stated only malt could be used in brewing to obtain fermentable sugars. Free of these Reinheitsgebot-style restrictions, brewers could now use ingredients such as maize, rice and sugar to bolster their beers.

The newly permitted invert sugars would have added flavour, colour and effervescence to many brews, including a great number of Milds. As a malt-forward ale, Mild’s luscious notes of biscuit and caramel would have been boosted by these sugars, incidentally darkening the beer.

Tastes were changing as a new century beckoned and porter drinkers began to warm to these newer, more exciting Milds. The 1900s had dawned and porter was dethroned, thousands raised a glass to Mild – the new people’s champion!

“Nothing golden lasts forever” is apt when talking of Mild Ale. As the 1900s drove on, two world wars would prove woeful for the beer industry, with brewers forced to reduced malt usage (a valuable foodstuff) and raise prices in line with huge duty bills – taxes levied by the government to bolster the war chest. Though Mild remained king, brewers were forced to darken the style in order to induce more flavour into brews that were now restricted in strength. It was only at this relatively modern point in history that our notion of a low-strength, dark beer became standard for Mild Ale.

As the second world war came to pass, rumours of dishonest publicans were rife, taking advantage of Mild’s dark aesthetic to pour slops back into the barrel for resale. With a generation of post-war drinkers now at the bar, relics of darker days were set aside to make way for the exoticisms of bitter, bright-gold bottled beers and eventually, lager.

As a weak and low-hopped beer, modern Mild had little defence to spoiling and therein began a viscous cycle. Mild was prepared by the dedicated brewer, only to go to waste at the pump before publicans could turn a profit. Mild was soon dropped from beer pumps across the nation, sounding the death knell for a once-glorious style.

Some kept a candle for the style, knowing in their heart-of-hearts that Mild had more to offer than a suspicious, lifeless tipple. The flame continued to flicker as impassioned brewers produced Mild as a one-off or even seasonal special.

In 1971 the Campaign for Real Ale was formed as a counter-culture organisation to promote cask-conditioned beer, a reaction to the unprecedented industry consolidation that had led to a swathe of mass-produced filtered lager.

Seeing in its’ 50th year in 2021, the Campaign for Real Ale celebrates Mild year-round and most especially in May. Thanks in part to CAMRA’s efforts, many independent microbreweries were established in the Nineties and Noughties, brewing a Mild Ale as part of their well-curated portfolios. New outfits such as Tring Brewery were proud to take up the mantle – leading a charge for the rebirth of a historic style.

The team at Tring Brewery are proud to produce Mansion Mild, a popular offering that has been entrenched in our core range for well over fifteen years. A smooth, delicious beer with notes of biscuit and sweet caramel, Mansion Mild is based on the dark ales of days-gone-by; a proud nod to our brewing heritage.

Mild Ale is alive once more, in all its’ gluggable glory – there’s something we can all raise a glass to!