No marketing professional was consulted in the naming of mild ale. Who wants “mild?” It doesn’t tell you anything at all about the beer (unlike, say, “bitter” or “pale”), except the suggestion that you will be bored by it. It’s almost like a warning: nothing to see here, move along.
The only people who want anything mild are those who have seen too much excitment, like for example soldiers following a world war or survivors of overhead bombings. And indeed, these were exactly the people who took to mild back in postwar England. You can’t blame them for seeking refuge in a cozy pub and trying to soothe their jangled nerves with something soft and comforting, something mild.
Americans are the opposite of those people. We want thrills and excitement, maybe even a bit of danger. We want novelty, variety, and intensity. We want wild, not mild. And so it is that the little 3.5% dark ales, seasoned with almost no hops and just a hint of nutty or roasty malt, have never found much of an audience here.* I think the main reason is alcohol content, though. You look at the taplist and see a 3.5% beer will cost you five bucks, same as the 7.1% IPA, and you shake your head sadly and order the strong one. It’s difficult to argue the math.
But some people reject mild for other reasons–they aren’t thrilled by the name, or have found milds to be as boring as their name. To these complaints I offer the finest American mild ale I have ever tasted: Ex Novo’s Where the Mild Things Are. It has it all, from a rich, biscuity/nutty malt profile to a sturdy body to a creamy mouthfeel (despite being served on regular draft). And wonder above wonders, it doesn’t taste like a low-alcohol beer. You wouldn’t mistake it for a double IPA, but neither does it have that hollow spot so often found in weaker beers. It is hearty and satisfying, rich and flavorful, and of course, wonderfully sessionable. A perfect conversation beer, keeping your palate interested and your brain in the game.
Ex Novo is doing some absolutely wonderful beers, so use this as an excuse to hop on down if you haven’t visited yet. (The brisket sandwich is excellent.) They’re celebrating their 2nd Anniversary this weekend, so if you wanted to stop by the celebration, you could have that mild then. Or just drop by at your convenience. But do stop by and, despite the name and ABV, try that mild. You’ll thank me.
*I hear all you lovely pedants out there scrambling to get to a keyboard and explain to me that milds don’t have to be dark nor weak. True. But since strong milds haven’t been brewed in decades and pale milds are rare and confusing, let’s leave all that to the side for the moment, what say?
“Beer Sherpa Recommends” is an irregular feature. In this fallen world, when the number of beers outnumber your woeful stomach capacity by several orders of magnitude, you risk exposing yourself to substandard beer. Worse, you risk selecting substandard beer when there are tasty alternatives at hand. In this terrible jungle of overabundance, wouldn’t it be nice to have a neon sign pointing to the few beers among the crowd that really stand out? A beer sherpa, if you will, to guide you to the beery mountaintop. I don’t profess to drink all the beers out there, but from time to time I stumble across a winner and when I do, I’ll pass it along to you.