Into The Mild: Brewdog v Tetley’s v Leeds Brewery
I’ve just started reading Martyn Cornell’s fascinating book Amber, Gold & Black: The History Of England’s Great Beers. So far I’ve learned an lot about each of the styles covered and their history, which seems inseparable from the beer itself.
A style which has always confused me is mild. I simply didn’t know what it was. This wasn’t helped at all when I tried a bottle of Banks Mild recently, which is a light chestnut colour, and tasted completely different to the predominantly dark milds I’d tried before. Even in relation to dark milds I’m not sure where the dividing line is with porter.
I now realise, from Cornell’s book, that this variation comes from mild’s historical definition as simply a beer meant to be drunk young. Mild is not monolithic, although many modern examples are dark. It seems that modern milds are either a persistence through history of variations on a style that wasn’t rigidly defined to start with, or a retrospective recreation of something mostly lost.
I decided to put theory into practice and compare a few different cask milds. It was an ideal time to do this as Brewdog have released their own take on a weak mild, Edge. It’s available in many JD Wetherspoons now as part of their ale festival, but I tried it in Nation Of Shopkeepers on Great George Street, where for some reason it monopolised three of the four handpumps.
Brewdog Edge is a 3.2% dark mild, which made it easier to excuse a whole pint at lunchtime. It was a lively pour with a creamy head, but one that soon disappeared. It tasted quite… er, mild; and thin the point of watery. There was a hint of cola as it tingled on my tongue and left a roasted bitter aftertaste.
Compared to Brewdog’s core range and expensive specials – and indeed their recent press releases – Edge is completely contrary. It’s a weak cask beer, that lends itself to drinking in considerable volume. It’s a pleasant enough drink but I can’t imagine anyone getting too excited about it. But how does it compare to the local competition?
I went to Leeds Brewery’s Brewery Tap near the train station after work, as I knew it would do both Leeds’ own Midnight Bell and Tetley’s Mild, the latter of which may or may not currently brewed by Marstons for Carlsberg (according to Wikipedia it is, but there seems to be some debate).
I confess to confusing myself over the similar looking halves on the way to the table, but when I tried them it was easy to tell them apart. Tetley’s Mild has the same dominant taste as Tetley’s Cask Bitter, that almost chemical sulphur taste that I presume comes from the “Burtonising” salts, albeit in a pair of beers traditionally from West Yorkshire.
Beyond that taste, there wasn’t much to the beer at all. It was similarly thin, and perhaps even more watery than Edge. It was refreshing enough and there were some puny roast flavours struggling to compete with the sulphur in the aftertaste, but failing.
I’m not completely sold on Leeds Brewery. They have nice branding and some good pubs, but their beers tend not to be particularly exciting (relative to the local competition such as Roosters and Saltaire) and I’ve been left quite disappointed by a few dodgy pints recently. That said, the Midnight Bell was by far the best of the three milds for my tastes.
It had more of a smell than either of the others, mostly cocoa. That came through in the taste, which was a nice balance of chocolate and mildly roasted coffee. More than anything, it had a much creamier feel in the mouth, and seemed much more satisfying than the others.
However, it’s worth noting that the Midnight Bell is described by Leeds Brewery as a 4.8% “premium dark mild”. This is 1.5% above the Tetleys and 1.6% above the Brewdog. I suspect any comparison should not be regarded as like-for-like.
However, Cornell makes it clear that, at least just before WW1, there were some very strong milds. Moreover, former “Champion Beer Of Britain” Rudgate’s Ruby Mild (which I’ve previously tried and liked) is 4.4%. So, with the qualification that my tastes probably tend towards stronger milds, I’m happy to declare that on this occasion I enjoyed a Leeds Brewery beer more than a Brewdog one.
(Rigorous experimentation over, we stayed for some dinner. The Midnight Bell also tastes very good in the Brewery Tap’s steak and ale pie. However, I ordered a stout and Kate a pale ale, both from Abbeydale.)