Next week we head to the Great British Beer Festival in London and I was reminded of a little rant I produced months ago about what BJCP calls “bitters” and the divergence between their statements and what the true authentic version of the styles tend to be. http://www.zymurology.org/Blog/?p=283 In addition to questioning their overall methodology, I also reflected on the misinformation provided within their own guidelines that seem to suggest the best examples of the styles in their lofty opinions seem to be ones that actually fall well outside of confines they themselves set. With that in mind I perused another BJCP category today, that of “English Brown Ales”. The BJCP subdivides this into Mild, Southern English Brown and Northern English Brown. Once again, there are very few commercial examples of any of these styles in the US and in the case of Milds it seems there are zero continental versions in my particular part of the US. As is the case with many British styles I think the BJCP and other craft beer “organizations” haven’t been able to decide on how they define these styles. Should they represent what the beer used to be or what it turned into within the last few decades? In the case of “Milds” historical records suggest beers so classified were simply young brown ales lacking the prized acidity associated with aged “stale” ales, which were more expensive by comparison. In the late 1800s historians tell us milds had starting gravities of roughly 1.070 which equates to well over 6% ABV. Originally milds made from the predominant brown malt at the time would have also been smoky until the widespread adoption of Daniel Wheeler’s malt roasting invention in 1817 finally caught on. By the middle of the 1900s though austerity measures led to widespread recipe reformulations across the UK and the original gravity of milds gradually dipped into the 1.050s and then solidly into a range below 1.040. The resulting beers prevalent in England throughout the latter part of the 20th century through present day normally range from 3 to 4% ABV. In recent visits to the UK I was able to try one as low as 2.9% during GABF, but I can remember none above the 4% mark (most are 3.1 to 3.4%).
So if American “authorities” expect to define the style as one representative of milds existing in the last half century it would seem there are some clear guidelines to look at. So let’s see what the BJCP guidelines say once again. Milds they conclude have original gravities between 1.030 and 1.038 – I can live with that although it seems a bit narrow. Final gravities of 1.008 to 1.013 also seem just slightly confining, but not by much. A suggested IBU range (bitterness) between 10 and 25 also seems somewhat appropriate, although many milds like the excellent Dark Ruby Mild made by the Sarah Hughes Brewery comes in at 30 IBUs which makes me think the upper limit is too low. After judging milds at homebrew events I can testify many entries do not conform to BJCP guidelines in this respect and that includes a version that won first in the Bluebonnet Homebrew competition this year. Unfortunately the BJCP does a severe disservice to everyone by limiting SRM (color) to between 12 and 25, but once again fortunately for most homebrewers entering competitions at least some judges don’t pay attention to the top of that range. The bottom of the BJCP range at 12 SRM is justified as there are still some light colored milds being brewed, although to be honest I have never seen one in the US and only rarely encountered them in the UK (if ever in St. Albans, the home of CAMRA, you can find the excellent McMullen AK in many pubs). Most US judges would dock a perfectly legitimate pale mild due to its lighter color despite the style guidelines simply because it’s unlike anything they know. While I applaud including 12 SRM as a bottom, the BJCP should reconsider posting the top of the range at 25 SRM. (Update – I was dead wrong in the last few sentences and stand corrected, according to www.barclayperkins.blogspot.com AK being classified as a mild is wrong, its it actually a bitter – which I think brings into question setting the bottom range for SRM as low as 12) One of the BJCP’s own commercial examples listed is Gales Festival Mild at…71 SRM!(it is actually brewed as a historical beer and falls outside of other parameters so it shouldn’t be listed at all) Most of the others also fall outside of the 25 SRM cap as do many mainstream mild examples like Bateman’s Mild at 63 SRM. The last parameter set by the BJCP is also highly suspect despite being rather wide, as it requires ABV between 2.8% and 4.5%. As noted there are examples of beers at the lower end of the range, but few above 4%. Even so the commercial example given by the BJCP of Gale’s Festival Mild, which again should be classified as a historical beer (unless they want to retroactively make milds a historical antecedent style) clocks in at 5.6% ABV…almost a full 1% above their cap (or roughly 20% higher). Of the lone North American mild example they list “Motor City Brewing’s Ghettoblaster”, which I am sure all beer judges are familiar with since it is so widely distributed, it clocks in at 5.2% ABV, again well outside of their own guidelines. In conclusion it appears there is much work to be done by the BJCP in order to correct misinformation represented in their guidelines that appear increasingly pervasive at this point. Just do a web search for “mild beer” and any technical parameter like SRM and one of the first links will be to the BJCP guidelines.