Sunday, 24 April 2016

Why I Won't Be Supporting CAMRA's Mild in May Campaign

We’re fast approaching the month of May, and as many CAMRA members, particularly the older ones, will know “May is a Mild Month”. I’m not talking about the weather here, especially as temperatures are below the seasonal average for the time of year; instead I’m talking about CAMRA’s longest running campaign, “Mild in May”.

According to the Campaign’s own website - “CAMRA promotes Mild throughout May. This year we are asking the active CAMRA branches to encourage at least one pub in their area to stock at least one Mild during May for the local pub-goers to try. We would also encourage non-active members to speak to their local licensees to see if they would be willing to try some Milds during May”. Well, that’s going to make a huge impact, or not as the case may be!

The idea behind “Make May a Mild Month”, is to draw attention to a style of beer which went into terminal decline during the latter half of the last century, and which despite the successful revival of other once popular styles, such as porter and milk stout continues to be shunned by beer drinkers and enthusiasts. This is despite over 30 years of effort by the Campaign for Real Ale to try and raise the beer’s profile.

I wrote a lengthy article on this very subject, around this time last year, and my views on mild, and CAMRA’s almost obsessional efforts to save it, have not changed. If anything my stance against this ineffective campaign has hardened. The message is not getting through to St Albans and CAMRA blindly churns out the same failed campaign, year after year, without pausing to consider that perhaps the drinking public don’t actually LIKE mild. “Mild in May” is now a totally superfluous campaign which continues more due to habit than anything else.

Whilst not denying that, in their day, some UK milds were very good, many were not, and this is undoubtedly the reason for their decline. Back in the 1970’s quite a few independent family brewers openly admitted that their mild was little more than their ordinary bitter with added caramel. It was also common practice, and one of the brewing trade’s worst kept secrets, that in many pubs, slops from the drip-trays, and other left-over beer were filtered back into the mild barrel! Ugh, no wonder drinkers began deserting the drink in their droves.

Fortunately such sharp practices have ceased and the majority of the surviving milds are brewed to carefully-crafted individual recipes designed to showcase the best aspects of the style. So really these beers should be standing on their own merits and not needing a special campaign to promote them. 
Are images, such as this, really going to persuade drinkers to try mild?

CAMRA of course thinks otherwise, yet is in denial that they are “flogging a dead horse”. Part of the problem, of course, is the poor keeping qualities of mild ale which, given its low ABV and equally low hopping rates, is not really surprising. A cask of mild really needs to be shifted in around three days; otherwise the quality starts to really suffer. This isn’t a problem where a pub puts a cask on specifically for a CAMRA event, but at other times of the year the interest in mild ale just isn’t there.

However noble these local campaigns by individual CAMRA branches might be in raising the profile of mild ale, they are only having a temporary effect, and as soon as the promotion ends, sales slump back down to their previous levels. This is why campaigns such as “Mild in May” are, in the end, doomed to failure. It is not possible to create a demand for a product if the demand isn’t there all year round. CAMRA really would be better off dropping this long-running, out-dated campaign and concentrating its efforts elsewhere. It really is time to recognise that the drinking public has voted with its feet and deserted mild in its droves. Why then should it be worthy of special promotion?

Needless to say, I shan’t be imbibing much mild this May or indeed any other month. Not that there’s much chance of stumbling upon the beer in these parts. Local revered independent Harvey’s do produce small volumes of their Dark Mild throughout the year, and also brew a seasonal 3.0% ABV Light Mild, called Knots of May during this month. However, I find Knots of May pretty insipid, and I am sure I am not alone here. One of two smaller independents also produce the odd drop of mild, but that’s about it, as this part of the country has never been mild territory; at least not since the Second World War.

To me “Mild in May” is nothing more than a habitual and irritating campaign, attempting to revive a style of beer which the drinking public have lost interest in. But then CAMRA loves these sorts of campaigns because it looks as though the organisation is doing something.  Surely it’s time for the penny to drop and realise that over three decades of running a yearly campaign for this beer, which nobody but the most diehard of members wish to drink, have failed to arrest its decline. Talk about the Emperor’s new clothes?

Final word; if a campaign of this nature IS going to be run, why confine it to a specific month? If it wasn’t for the alliteration of “Make May a Mild Month”, then it could be run at other times. March has the same alliteration, of course, but perhaps not the mild weather, but if past years are anything to go by, neither has May!


Anonymous said...

I'd agree with that Paul. Some branches organise Mild passports which encourage a few folk to visit pubs and drink Mild put on especially, presumably at the expense of a another local beer. No harm in it though.

I find it sadder that some great Milds have been discontinued and now make occasional returns for special occasions like, er, May. Adnams Mild was my favourite beer but I rarely saw it bought, and likewise Robbies Hatters had low volumes when scrapped. Batemans Dark Mild is a rare find these days.

Plenty of dark beers available in good pubs, despite the sea of pale.

Neville Grundy said...

As you may recall, I wrote something similar last year. There is more mild drunk here in the North West than in your part of the country, but even so it isn't particularly common. In the past, dumping all the beer slops in the mild seriously damaged its reputation, as did the impression that it was preferred by old men in flat caps and whippets.

Ed said...

I very seldom see mild, and drink it even less, so I don't really mind trying to find it in May. I don't put much effort in though, but if I see it on a bar I'll have a pint.

Alan Winfield said...

I do like drinking mild though not a first choice when visiting a pub,i have had some really nice mild's while doing the Nottingham mild trail and i have never been a Camra member,so it was my choice to drink these.
Over the years i have had Shepherd Neame Mild,Boddingtons Mild,Joseph Holts mild plus my ex local brewery mild's HOme Ales,Shipstones and Kimberley,also had many more on our travels in doing pubs around the country.
I do admit my main choice of drink is bitter but me and the wife will drink Mild Stouts and Porters.
I dont really see any problem with Mild in May,but i am not a member so others may want to do other more important things than promote Mild.

Curmudgeon said...

My local branch organises a well-supported annual Mild Magic trail.

However, having said that, I do tend to agree that the whole thing is a bit of an exercise in flogging a dead horse. Mild once prospered because of particular social conditions that have now largely disappeared. Any drinkers now who want a bland, undemanding beer will go for cooking lager or smooth bitter.

Paul Bailey said...

Martin, Batemans Mild is certainly one of the better milds, and one I am happy to drink if I see it on sale. I didn’t realise Adnams had discontinued theirs – again, this was quite a tasty beer. I never cared much for Robinson’s mild though; it was a light mild, which to me tasted like a rather insipid bitter.

Mild still has an image problem Nev, despite CAMRA’s best efforts. I can understand the appeal of it, back in the day when it quenched the thirst of armies of manual workers and agricultural labourers, but those days have long gone. As Mudge points out, drinkers who want something undemanding to slake their thirst, are far more likely to go for lager; especially as it’s served chilled. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to drink smooth bitter though; an oxymoron if ever there was one.

Many of the milds you mention Alan, are no longer brewed, and breweries such as Home Ales, Shipstones, Boddingtons and Kimberley are sadly no longer around. I have drunk mild in the past, and like Ed, I will occasionally still try a pint – if I come across it.

Running a campaign which focuses on just one month of the year is worse than useless, especially if brewers are pre-empting this and making mild available just for May. The fact that “Mild in May” has been running for over 30 years, yet mild sales are still in decline, speaks volumes about the futility of this campaign. A shame perhaps, but there’s no room for sentimentality in business.

Kieran Lyons said...

We have a Mild Trail organised by the Leicester branch that is pretty successful. Get a sticker in each pub and claim a T-shirt. Pubs contribute to the cost to get their name on the back. Members gt out to pubs they wouldn't otherwise do and pubs sell something they wouldn't otherwise sell much of. Seems like harmless fun. But I can see how efforts and resources would be better directed elsewhere.

There are some really decent milds out there, especially the stronger ones (Sarah Hughes Ruby Mild at 6% springs to mind) and if I had space on the bar i'd stock one all year. As it happens I have a mild on maybe bi-monthly and it always sells well.

Interestingly, i've come across a couple where the brewery has rebadged a mild as something else because sales were not great, and sales got a lot better. Still a bit of prejudice about the style I think. But as you say, promoting for on month a year has not changed this. It won't go extinct, it will just get more specialist, and that's fine I think.

jocko said...

Hang on a minute.I have started to enjoy milds so I am looking forward to mild month.Yes the black and pretty old style milds from Batemans and Robinsons are dying out and rightly so but there are lots of new ones every year.Had Brightside -Manchester magic mild last night.Superb

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

I was at Adnams with the then head brewer Mike Powell-Evans in 2000 and he told me that he was going to discontinue the mild because no one was drinking it even though he had had the local CAMRA branch in; that’s the problem, if it doesn’t sell what’s the point. Not a mild fan me, we called Ansells Mild skinflint’s beer in the Kings Head Llandudno when I was in school, though I am partial to Sarah Hughes’.

Paul Bailey said...

I haven’t come across any “new-style” milds yet jocko, but I’ll certainly give then a try if I do. I agree about Sarah Hughes, Adrian. Perhaps that’s the answer; up the strength!