Among the different homebrewer groups that exist in the Basque Country, one of them organized a calendar with several meetings in which, among other things, there were going to be tastings of not very well known beer styles. The idea behind these tastings was to drink some beers brewed by members of this group as well as some commercial examples of the same style. It is something similar to the Style Meetings of the homebrewers from Madrid that, if I’m not mistaken, were the first to do this kind of meetings. For the first meeting the chosen style was Dark Mild, and we offered to be brew it. I’ll talk about it in this entry, but before that, I want to give you some insight as how the meeting was because it was spectacular.
The meeting was hold in a gastronomic club (thanks Miguel Angel!) and we were approximately 20 homebrewers. The idea was to taste Dark Milds and then we were going to have lunch with 5 dishes paired with 5 different beers. While we were arriving, several corni kegs made the waiting more pleasant as we got to know each other. At the same time, food was cooked (thanks Paul for designing and cooking the menu, and also thanks to the ones who helped him while the rest of us were talking with a glass of beer in our hands). Once everybody was there, the ones who had brewed a Dark Mild explained some characteristics of the style (see below for our version) and then we tasted three homebrewed Dark Milds and a commercial reference. Although it is not a very complicated style to brew, the three homebrewed examples were different and each of them had its own character. After some talking about our personal tastes on these beers, we sat down for lunch.
In picture below you can see the menu: raw leek, cheese and Iberian ham salad, Dupont mussels with green onions, prawn brochette with red curry and Thai rice, flank steak cooked at low temperature with mashed sweet potatoes and Imperial Stout ice cream with pistachio and tarragon. All of these dishes were paired, respectively, with an APA, a Saison, an IPA, a Porter and an Imperial Stout. Simply amazing. Good talk, laughs, more beers after lunch (among them our Vossaøl fermented with Kveik yeast, which was received with mixed feelings). It was a pity that I had to leave early, but I know that the meeting lasted a few hours more. Definitely a great day, good people, good beers,… waiting eagerly for the next one.
Time for the style we are going to review in this entry, Dark Mild. After being a popular drink its popularity decreased drastically in the 1960s after Bitters appeared, all of this in England, where the style was born. Besides that, because of its low alcohol content (its strength decreased through the twentieth century because of the scarcity caused by the Wars) it doesn’t stand well with time and it is difficult to find it bottled. It is found almost exclusively in English pubs served from tap, where it is poured fresh with a low carbonation.
Dark Milds can go from cooper to mahogany in color. Malt has the leading role in aroma where touches of grain, toffee, toasted, chocolate, nutty or caramel are all possible. As previously mentioned, carbonation is low with low/medium body. Finally, for flavor, it is malt again the ingredient that shines with flavors similar to the aromas described before, depending on the grain bill used. They can finish dry or a little sweet and yeast can contribute some esters with hints of fruit, raisins or plum. Hop flavor is low to none, since hops are only used to balance the sweetness from malt.
Turning to specific ingredients and processes about the style, to brew a Dark Mild first is highly advisable to use a good English base malt. The rest of the grains are usually crystal malts (preferable on the dark side) on a 10%-15% depending if they are used in conjunction or not with other darker malts as chocolate malt or black malt (4%-6%). Hops, of course, should be of English origin (Fuggles, Northern Brewer or Goldings) and only to get a bitterness:gravity ratio of about 0.5. Mash temperature should be about 67ºC (152.6ºF) and to ferment we should use an English yeast. Fermentation temperature should be about 17ºC (62.6ºF) at the beginning of the fermentation, increasing until 20ºC (68ºF) at the end. Finally, carbonation should be low, around 2 volumes of CO2. With all of this in mind we planned the following recipe for our Dark Mild:
EXPLORING DARK MILD
0.80 Kg (1.83 lbs) (83.3%) Maris Otter (Crisp) (5.0 EBC)
0.15 Kg (0.33 lbs) (15.6%) Crystal DRC® (Simpsons) (300 EBC)
10 g (0.35 oz) (1.0%) chocolate malt (900 EBC)
7.00 g (0.25 oz) East Kent Goldings (5.00% AA) leaf (boil 60 minutes, 19.1 IBUs)
Safale English Ale S-04 (1 pack, previously rehydrated)
Volume: 5.25 L OG: 1.037 FG: 1.011 ABV: 3.3% IBUs: 19.1 Color: 41.1 EBC BU/GU: 0.520 Efficiency: 65.00%
Ca: 38.5 pm; Mg: 3.4 ppm; Na: 7.4 ppm; SO4: 12.4 ppm; Cl: 12.6 ppm
68.9ºC (156ºF) for 60 minutes (base malt and crystal malt), mash out 75.6ºC (168ºF) for 10 minutes
Chocolate malt steeped in water at 60ºC (140ºF) for 30 minutes
As you can see above, Maris Otter, one of the most characteristics Enlglish base malts was our base malt, with a pinch of chocolate malt (we are not very fond on toasted malts) and approximately 15% of a new Simpsons malt we hadn’t tried before and that looks very promising, Crystal DRC. According to Simpsons website, this malt has been created to substitute darker roasted malts that could impart some astringency and bitterness when these are not the attributes you are shooting for in your beer. Besides, it can be used in higher percentages than these other roasted malts to impart notes of dried fruits and caramel. For the rest of the ingredients, English hops and yeast, as it should be. We only brewed 5.25 liters (1.39 gallons) this time, since this beer must be drink fresh and we didn’t want to end with a lot of bottles in our fridge.
Talking about the process we followed this time, the only thing we changed from our normal brewing schedule was to left chocolate malt out of the mash. A lot of homebrewers steep roasted malts in cold water, in order to avoid the astringency and the bitterness these malt could contribute after a long exposition in hot water. Although we left chocolate malt in water that was not cold (about 55ºC,111.2ºF), it was colder than the mash and the exposition time was also shorter.
For the mash with the base malt and the crystal malt, we added approximately 4 liters (1.1 gallons) of hot water and the grains in an 11 liters (2.9 gallons) cooler to start the mash at about 69ºC (156.2ºF). After 1 hour, the temperature had dropped to 66ºC (150.8ºF). We added a little more than 1 liter (0.26 gallons) of boiling water to increase the temperature for the mash out and, finally, we removed the grains and mix this wort with the water in which we had steeped the chocolate malt in order to boil the full volume. Pre-boil gravity was a little bit higher than expected (1.034 vs 1.027). We added East Kent Goldings hops at the beginning of the boil, and after one hour we had about 5 liters (1.32 gallons) of wort with an original gravity of 1.045. Since this OG was too high for the style, we calculate the volume of water we had to add in order to get the theoretical OG, 1.037. Finally, we obtained 6 liters (1.59 gallons) of wort with the desired original gravity. We cooled the wort to a temperature as low as we could using our tap water and then placed the 6.25 liters (1.7 gallons) PET bottle where we were going to ferment the wort in our little fridge to lower the temperature of the wort to the one we had planned before pitching Safale S-04 yeast, that we had previously rehydrated while boiling was finishing. After some cleaning, we pitched the yeast setting the fridge at 18ºC (64.4ºF), so this way fermentation would be about 19ºC-20ºC (66.2ºF-68.0ºF).
The next day, barely 9-10 hours after pitching yeast, there were rests of a formed and disappeared krausen. The beer was quite hazy, the yeast was probably in suspension still fermenting. At the end of the same day we increased our fridge temperature to 19ºC (66.2ºF). After another day the beer had started to get clear and there were no signs of fermentation. We left the beer undisturbed another three days (five in total) at the same temperature to make sure the fermentation was finished and also to let the yeast settle in the bottom of the PET bottle.
Five days after brewday we bottled about 5.5 liters ( gallons) of beer with a final gravity of 1.012, for 3.3% ABV. As this is a beer style with low carbonation, we added table sugar dissolved in water (boiled and cooled) to obtain about 2 volumes of CO2. We were happy with the aspect of the beer and, after tasting some of the beer before bottling, it seems the flavor is according to style too. Malty, with hints of caramel and a little bit of toasted.
Two weeks carbonating in bottle and it was ready for the day of the meeting. With the beer carbonated, the characteristics we had noted in bottling day were confirmed. Malt is the only star of the show, with a little toasted touch, possibly for the combination of chocolate malt and crystal DRC. It is very drinkable, with low body but full of flavor and, being only 3.3% ABV, you can drink quite a few pints and maintain your balance. I think it is a good example of Dark Mild for all of you who want to brew this style. It is a relatively easy (and fast) style to brew, so if some of you decide to give it a try, you can tell us your results in the comment section.