As my loyal readers may have noticed, I have a bit of a soft spot for obscure beer styles. One beer that many of you have experienced, although few knew that they were drinking at the time, is the English mild. This style, while largely extinct in Europe, has begun to crop up in America with the local example being Yard’s Brawler.
Milds are the low alcohol session beer version of the brown ale family. These beers are typically very malt focused compared to bitters, utilizing only enough hops to offset the sweetness of the malt. This non-hop focus should not be mistaken for blandness, however, as they can exhibit a huge range in flavor from a lightly toasted character to deep caramel or chocolate notes. The mild style originally developed in the 1800’s as public demand moved from aged beer to a more fresh tasting beer. By the time of the first World War, many breweries sold multiple strengths of mild ranging up to 7 percent ABV, but the rationing measures instituted by the government forced each brewery to reduce its average original gravity to 1.030, or approximately 3 percent alcohol. Most breweries reduced their most popular beers, such as milds and bitters, to even below 3 percent so that they could brew limited quantities of high gravity beer. Unfortunately, the rise of light lagers in the 1950s all but destroyed this style, although recently it has capitalized on the American microbrewery revolution.
Yards Brewing Company is a small craft brewery located right here in Philadelphia, in the Northern Liberties neighborhood. The owners, Tome Kehoe and Jon Bovit, began brewing in college and soon fell in love with the process. After working at a brewery in Western Maryland, they founded their first brewery in 1994 in a garage in Manayunk. As the demand for their brews increased, they moved to a new facility Roxborough after which Jon Bovit left to pursue other interests. New investors Bill and Nancy Barton moved the brewery again in 2001, this time to Kensington, but by 2007 they had again outgrown their facilities and moved to the Northern Liberties. At this location they now offer tours every Saturday, and their tasting room is open 7 days a week.
Brawler poured with one finger of off-white, medium fine head, which dissipated in under a minute, leaving no lacing behind. The beer itself was a light brownish copper color but had some red highlights when held up to the light. The aroma was nutty and malty, with virtually no hop aroma at all. Carbonation was fairly high, giving a sharp, sparkly sensation, and overall the body was moderately thin. The taste was very malt focused, with both an underlying sweetness and some hints of roasted character, but the finish had a slightly astringent quality. Overall, I thought it was a little bit thin, but this is to style, given that my base of comparison is mostly big American and Belgian beers.
I found this beer to be both flavorful and drinkable, and I recommend giving it a shot. The style itself isn’t very common anymore, which is unfortunate as it provides an excellent malt focused alternative to the ubiquitous IPAs and APAs that have flooded the market and mouth puckering hop bitterness often found in them.