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Monday, February 21, 2011

Why Can't Milds Be Wild?

On Thursday evening, I stopped into Alameda Brewing, mainly for their blood orange saison. (It was beautiful and very close to exceptional, except that there was a slight overabundance of citrus peel, which left an astringent coating on the inside of the mouth. I hope to see version 2.0 next year.) The beer I ended up wanting to write home about, however (or blog as the case turned out to be) was a little number called Maupin Mild.*

Those of you who are sticklers for style would have found yourselves scandalized. Maupin was by no definition mild. It was 4.5% alcohol (almost permissible, given the gravity gigantism that afflicts all of our native beers), pale (also permissible, but a possible surprise to those expecting a mahogany pour), and quite aggressively hoppy. Cue that turntable-needle-across-the-LP sound. Hoppy??? Apostasy! It was not served on cask.

Look. There are a lot of things about British beers that will just never fly here. I have given up the idea that low-gravity, malt-forward session beers will ever find more than the nichiest of niche followings. I haven't given up on the idea of a popular session ale, though. There's absolutely no reason we can't see beers in the 4-5% range that are as bold and saturated in flavor as IPAs--sans that warming booze note, of course.

For reasons historical and cultural, low-gravity beers are almost all quite tame. Irish ales, Scottish ales, bitters, milds, light lagers, etc.--these are beers marked by balance and approachability. (There are a few offbeat styles, like Bavarian weizens, Berliner Weisses, and some sour ales that are quite flavorful. These are, however, fairly obscure styles.) American palates--especially West Coast palates--love them some tangy, sharp, green, vivid hoppiness. For these folks, the gentle low-gravity styles will always seem too tame to be interesting.

But why not milds like Maupin? There's no reason to keep replicating the traditional styles just to brew lighter ales. Let them be "over-hopped." This is how regional tastes develop, and how styles emerge. West Coasters won't drink mild milds?--soup them up. I have no idea how well Maupin Mild sells (though the name might be a barrier), but I'd love to see breweries run experiments with aggressive, low-gravity beers. We have escalated up the gravity chain; why not down? Consider this a request to run the experiment: will drinkers drink low-gravity beers that in all other ways meet their standards for hoppiness?

Just a thought.
*Since I couldn't figure a way to work it into the text without a parenthetical, and since this post was wheezing under the nearly fatal weight of parenthetical digressions already, I will mention, here in a footnote, that Maupin is a town on the eastern side of Mount Hood, south of The Dalles.


  1. You seem to have left out an important point: Is the Maupin Mild any good?

  2. I think the issue here is how far you can diverge from style before it becomes something else, at what point does a hoppy porter become a black ipa?

    I think if a mild is light coloured, hoppy, high abv and not malt forward, is it really a mild? It's like a korma with loads of chillies added and no coconut milk, is it really still a korma? I'd be inclined to say no...

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  4. Anon--yes! It was initially confusing to me because I brought a bunch of expectations. But once I put them aside, it was a great beer. Listed at 20 IBUs, but it was quite a bit stiffer than that--definitely in the yellow zone on bitterness for my palate, but I know that my palate is set a bit low for Oregon standards. The hops were fresh and vivid, though, and the beer was definitely not tame--or mild.

    Neil, I'm happy to abandon the label here. It wasn't brewed to style, but I think that's the point: brewing to style means West Coasters just won't be interested. I think the term would confuse people who have no idea what a traditional mild is, too, because as I say, that term, in its adjectival form, just doesn't work.

    Still, I think it's a perfect low-gravity beer for Oregonians.

  5. Kevin, the name is the next thing. I'm taking nominations. Mine: hoppy smalls or little bitters.

  6. Jeff,

    I think the idea of hoppy session ales is already catching on.

    21st Amendment recently released Bitter American, a 4.6% ABV bitter, dry-hopped with Simcoe and Centennial.

    And last summer's Stone/Ballast Point/Kelsey McNair collab, San Diego County Session Ale was 4.2% and both finished and dry-hopped with Simcoe, Amarillo, CTZ, Centennial and Citra.

    Now the question is whether we can them "West Coast Session Ales" or snub Cali and forward with "Cascadian Bitter."

    Beer and Coding

  7. How do these session beers differ from the American pale ales that were popular among craft beer drinkers prior to the ubiquity of the IPA?

  8. Aside from the general point of the post: now I will have to go crack open my bottle of My Bloody Valentine, just to figure out what astringency in a beer is like. I've been staring at that line in the 33 Bottles flavor wheel being puzzled because I don't know that I've ever had a beer which was astringent in the way that wines are described as such.

  9. I think the bigger issue is that most people aren't demanding lower alcohol craft beers. If anything the reverse is true.

    People seem to prefer bigger beers and breweries are making what people want. I don't think it's a case of not brewing the right type of kind of small beer,or of brewing an "improper" mild. I think that in general pub goers just don't want lower alcohol beers. Maybe I'm wrong (I hope I'm wrong since I love real session beers), but I don't hear a lot of complaints from pub goers about how strong the average beer is these days.

  10. Sounds like Jeff needs to take a homework assignment -- a trip to Utah!

    With their draconian LDS booze laws, the beers you'll find on tap in a Utah brewpub all must hew below 4% ABV (3.2% ABW). It's surprising what they can do flavor-wise with such restrictions.

  11. Brad, I had the misfortune to spend 2 1/2 years in SLC during my high school years. I was compelled to visit to see family over the following years and am therefore pretty well aware of the virtuosity of the breweries there.

    I hope never to visit again.

  12. The Little Dog beers at HotD are great 3.5% experimental beers. Both versions were great when I had them a couple weeks ago. One light, but very hoppy beer that was delicious and sessionable. The other was a maltier base with some smoked malt in it. This was also very good.

  13. Bill, that's a testable hypothesis. You could be right, but we have nested variables: since low-gravity beers are usually not very hoppy and people like hoppy beers, it's hard to say what the success of hoppy milds might be.

    Also, price could be a factor. It would be a fascinating experiment if a brewpub had a hoppy mild on tap for a buck cheaper than their regular beers. Then we'd see very nice separation of factors.

    KeAloha, I gotta get down to HotD stat.

  14. I'd also like to see belgian-esque "small" beers in the line of Taras Boulba. *cough* upright *cough*

  15. I was just at Upright, and by coincidence, they're testing the De La Senne yeast. So they'd be set to do a Smierlap!

  16. Jeff, HotD has you covered on the price point too. They were priced at $2.50 for 12oz. Much cheaper than their much higher alcohol counterparts.

  17. the Alchemist Brewery in Vermont has been making and outstanding American Mild " their coinage" for years now. 3.5% ABV but tastes like a pliny, it's called "shut the hell up" check it out if you ever get out that way.