I last dipped my toe into The Session when the blog was in its infancy, and since then I simply haven't had the timing or discipline to keep it up. It's only now that I've remembered that it's something I want to do in order to stimulate some beer contemplation that I otherwise wouldn't have entertained.
I couldn't have picked a better month to join in either, as this month's Session hosted by Fuggled asks us to consider what a localised mild would be in our respective locations, May being CAMRA's 'Mild Month', with American breweries getting in the act too, brewing their own versions of the ubiquitous British style. I know nothing of milds, and I don't believe there are any Irish breweries churning out something they've labelled 'mild', but I'm open to correction on that one.
So, where to start? Michael Jackson's Beer (Ultimate Beer in some online listings, the 1998 DK release) has a mild as a lightly hopped, often low alcohol English ale, intrinsically linked to industry with its superior thirst-quenching drinkability and inexpensiveness (p.100). It's an old style of beer, somewhat out of fashion, so it comes as no surprise that CAMRA would seek to promote and preserve it. In the admittedly dated The Big Book of Brewing (Argus, 1985), Dave Line's description is pretty much in line with this, though he more actively asserts its unsuitability to keg and the importance of a low ABV to the style (p.231).
On the face of it, though, it doesn't seem to have gone away. Any cask ale of, say, less than 5% that isn't billed as a stout, blonde or, my nemesis, golden ale should fit the bill of an easy-drinking session beer that one could surely call a mild. Malt-forward red ale of around 4.3%? Mild. Wait, you're calling it a ruby, or dark ale? Still malt-forward and still less than 5%? F*ck it, Mild.
If it sounds like I don't know what I'm talking about you're not far wrong; I don't recall drinking anything in the past couple of years that was called, unequivocally, a mild, but my point is that, at least from where I'm sitting, mild hasn't really gone away, only it may have morphed into something else.
As an outsider to mild's existence at large (it thriving in England 50 or 60 years before I was born) I would imagine that an Irish mild would be a red or dark red ale that is malt forward (but not thick and sweet), of a sessionable strength (approx. 4.3%) and ultimately easy to find and drink. That beer can also be found under the rough moniker of Irish red ale. If Irish brewers really wanted to push a 'mild' or 'Irish mild' as a thing, all they'd need to do is knock a single percentile off the Irish red ale and be done with, assuming in turn that the the lower ABV coincides with a lower gravity and less opportunity for the chewy toffee sweetness of the 'current' style. What we'd get then would be a sessionable, lightly-hopped, 3.3% red ale, and that surely can't be far off the mark. Veering into the dark red or brown territory wouldn't do any harm either.
The bigger question is, do we want or need a 3-4% ABV red/brown ale with little hop character and low gravity?
To link this up with a beer, I'm going to push forward something I certainly want and need; Via Maris.
Irish beer folk will already be familiar with Galway Bay Brewery's 3.5% table beer, and those who aren't should familiarise themselves as soon as they can. A sackful of mango, grapefruit and mandarin skin greets the nose, far more than it should from such a light beer. Lightly treads the palate too, being soft and easy without going limp or watery. It's still punchy, fruity and properly juicy too, approaching 'juicy banger' status. A soft bitterness shines through all and lingers, again, longer than you'd expect.
This is the only kind of 'mild' I'd campaign to see more of; not because it's hoppy - hops do not rule all - but because it's easily drinkable, low in alcohol (leading to supreme session possibilities) and has plenty of flavour. A malty 'mild' would do me well too, but if the reds of this land and the next are anything to go by, I don't think I'll be queueing for Mildfest 2016.
Remember to head over to Fuggled to read the compilation of entries for this Session. Cheers!