Monday, February 23, 2009

Surly Mild

Had this on tap at the Blue Nile Saturday afternoon, the bridge between a weekend binge cleaning session and an extended family birthday gathering at the Mall of America. If you ask me, a beer or two is the least you can do to prepare for the megamall, as they say. Actually, it's probably not enough.

This was the first mild I'd had, though I can't quite be sure, because the style, from what I've gathered, is varied and the flavors many. I may have just broken an English language comma rule in that sentence. Anyway, this type of mild, the English Dark Mild variety, according to beeradvocate, is a British session beer characterized by low hops and low alcohol content. Well, if those are the conditions, Surly Mild qualifies.

To be fair, I dove into this one just after my first taste of a Surly Three, the third anniversary offering from the brewery. Three is classified as a braggot, brewed with 50% honey and 50% Munich malt, and let me be the whateverth person to say that the flavor is potent and delicious. In comparison, Surly Mild didn't stand much of a chance.

Maybe it was too early in the day (4:30ish), or maybe I was a bit too sick (stuffy nose), but I didn't get much aroma at all. Mild indeed. There certainly weren't a great deal of hops to wet my lips.

As for the taste, well, I can't much compare it to any other beer I've had, as it was markedly different. As a beer with 4.2% ABV, it lacked punch, but there was more taste than your average mass appeal 4.2% lager or ale. This is the part of the review where I'm reaching. I don't yet know enough about specific malts or how they taste, but what taste there was, I would surmise was due to the malts used. Al, when you read this, you can correct me. I got a very earthy vibe, not just the grassy hop flavor I get from many Euro beers, but soil and mineral flavors that give it a bit of depth without density.

Did I love this beer? No, certainly not. It's an easy drink, much easier than the palate-challenging beers we all love so dearly. And it doesn't make your face cringe like many low content beers would. It just doesn't have much to write home about. It's a bit plain.

So why does Surly make a beer like this? None of Surly's beers are mass appeal beers, I would argue, so they don't need to worry about pleasing a large sect of people. Mild isn't canned, and thus is available only to those diehards who seek it out. It certainly isn't a beer that would blow the diehards away. And frankly, it's not a beer I see the talented brewers at Surly finding enjoyment in pint after pint. I have one of these and think, OK, now I'd like to have any other Surly beer I've ever had.

Maybe it was a failed attempt. Maybe they wanted to show the Surly fans that they could make a simple, subtle beer. Certainly, not every beer a brewer tries can be better than the previous. And Surly has sort of dug their own grave on this one: why shouldn't a brewery be entitled to a couple duds? Mild isn't even a dud, but by their standards, it's pretty pedestrian. That doesn't change the fact that they've given us more than a handful of amazing beers.

Even so, there's a chance that Mild is a complete success. It's hard to imagine a beer more tightly fitting the name. I couldn't think of a better word for it, and by that standard, Surly Mild is a raging success.

1 comment:

al said...

Hey nils.
You're right that Surly wanted to make a beer that would show they can do simple and subtle.
Todd first told me he was going to brew a mildback in December of 2007,at the first Darkness Day, I think, and it's announcement was almost as a challenge. "I'm making a mild, what do you think of that?" American brewers don't make milds, much, and American beer drinkers don't quite understand them, and I've been as guilty of that as anyone.
Around this same time, there were some internet flare-ups about Surly, and certain critics repeated the charge that Surly is all about hops, and so in-your-face that they appeal to drinkers who don't understand sublety. Mild was Todd'sway to answer that charge, and he even joked to me about naming it after the username of one of these persistent webtrolls. Some of these same critics, many of whom are homebrewers, have since gone on to praise Mild and urge Surly to brew it again.

So, did he make Mild for Furious fanatics, or Bender lovers?No, not at all, unless they want to take a break from flavor. Did he just make it for the hop-weary homebrewers?No, he also made it for himself.Todd's a session beer lover, and even admitted to me once that Furious is too much for him sometimes.He and his wife love PBR, as a matter of fact. But you're not going to see Surly do a PBR-clone, so he went to England, but not literally.
Looking on BeerAdvocate, I've had 5 Milds, Surly's, Weyerbacher's, one from Town Hall, and two English versions,Moorhouse's Black Cat, and one from Gales.They were all good, but I don't think I really liked any of them. They clearly weren't meant for me in mind, but it's a legitimate style, that is still popular in England.
Think of it, England didn't create the "lite"beer style, America did. And so often American beer drinkers are prejudiced against dark beers. "They're all like Guinness, aren't they?" Etc, etc...I hear it all the time.
So,marketed correctly, Surly Mild might make a nice stepping stone for a light lager drinker not quite ready for a pale ale or a porter.
Mild isn't going to replace Furious in the hearts of Surly Nation, but, like the Hell lager, it's another way to shush the critics, prove they're not hop & high alcohol obsessed,and provide a nice, flavorful way to drink 5 in a row, without getting too drunk or overwhelmed.