Missing mild

The bar at the Punch Bowl Old Market St Bristol has a framed copy this entry from the 1893 trade directory for the amusement of drinkers, I asked for the mild and the barmaid blanked me: mild? what’s that? Rogers’ brewery are still advertised in glazed tile work on the street front, in 1893 no less than five varieties of mild are listed, something that no bar in the present age can offer. What happened?

Mild ale has a history extending back to before the introduction of hops to beer in the 15th cent. Milds are still light on hops as the preservative effect is provided by a relatively high ABV, burnt malt and barley, with, historically, the benefit of being sold as fresh beer. ‘Mild’ means young, older ales being known as stale beer. The boom in the 19th cent seems to be down to the ABV, the historic strength with a light hop taste was a winner in the industrial Midlands and North as brewers expanded to meet the new urban market. By 1914 mild was the best selling beer in England and fell foul of wartime restrictions, the ABV was clipped and mild became second to the Burton on Trent bitters family, it held its place in the interwar years but its subtle flavour lost out to keg bitter and the now ubiquitous yellow beer by the 1960s.

The Black Dog. The North Brink Brewery is one of the last to maintain a permanent 1877 keg and bottled mild.


Mild, Stout and Porter. I have been confused by the types of burnt malt beers for years, it seems they are almost 3 versions of the same dark brew:

  • Mild is a young, lightly hopped dark beer with a low (since 1914) ABV
  • Porter, dating from the 1720’s is an aged, dark style of beer developed in London from well-hopped beers made from brown malt. The name was first recorded in the 18th century, and is thought to come from its popularity with street and river porters.
  • Stout is a dark, strong, heavily hopped porter (sold as extra stout porter in the 18th and 19th century) .

Image result for Dockers ale

The health benefits (for ‘nourishment’, ‘for invalids’ etc) of the stronger stouts seem to come from the known high iron content in the dark malt, presumably a restorative for anemia.

Milk stout stands a little apart from the mild-stout spectrum as it is a sweet beer achieved by the addition of an unfermentable lactose sugar. Milk stout emerged as a way of keeping the light hop taste of a mild in a ‘long life’ stout. The sweet taste, easy on the palette was a boon for those in need of ‘building up’ without the taste for bitter.

Image result for mackeson milk stout

After a hard days work they find a fresh flow of life in every glass:

Image result for mackeson milk stout

Guinness made a great deal out of this restorative benefit in advertising their Dublin stout (of which I shall say little here as it has another story to tell). Porter, correctly London Porter and stout are stronger aged versions of the English mild, being longer in the cask they are more heavily hopped.

Image result for Dublin Porter

Porters are having a something of a revival as the strong flavour can carry the brewers choice of added tones: coffee, plum and chocolate are favourites. I spent a joyous weekend on Roosters Londinium at the wonderful Grassnere Guzzler, despite is Yorkshire origin.


When mild was a mainstream beer it was available in a variety of stregnths ( X, XX, XXX, and XXXX) today Elgoods stand alone as brewing a ‘permanent’ bottled mild, it carries the water of the Nene from Wisbech and the wind in the grain of the fen. It retains the balance of falvour so popular in the Victorian age. It is not a powerful bitter, not a toasty stout, it’s in between with the best of both.


Long may the dog run with St Peter’s key…


About billboyheritagesurvey

Heritage worker
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