How To Brew Dark Mild Beer | Homebrew Challenge

by Steve Thanos | Last Updated: October 2, 2020

Dark Mild as a beer is considered by some as the first session ale, which is a beer that is below the 5 percent alcohol by volume mark. The comparison of a dark mild to a stout starts and stops by both beers being named as a descriptor to a beer as opposed to a beer style.

British Beer History

In the 18th Century there were two types of malt liquor: Beer and Ale. Beer was first brewed in the 1500s when hops were first being imported. Conversely, Ale had been brewed since Saxon times. Ales were originally unhopped, but in 1700 there were a small number of hops made their way into ales.

So as a review: Ale=lightly hopped, Beer=heavily hopped.

Low – Hopped Beer

Milds date back to the late 18th Century. The name “mild” derived from the beer being low in hop bitterness. Most beers in English pubs at this time were actually called bitter. Dark milds grew in popularity with the industrial laborers. The Midlands, which was an industrial area in England, had many miners and factory workers grabbing milds after a hard day’s work.

Changes

This beer would go through several changes and eventually became the beer it is today. Milds decreased in strength through the 1900s largely due to restrictions on barley during war time and with an increased beer tax.

By the end of World War II, mild ales became darker in color changing from usually an amber color to a mahogany color. This was thanks to the common use of darker grains.

Changing tastes largely caused dark milds to become less popular by the 1950s. A decline in industrialization was partly the cause of this decline. Bitter grew in popularity at this time.

Style Profile for Dark Mild

Appearance

Color ranges from copper to mahogany. Head will range from off-white to tan with poor retention. Beer is usually unfiltered, but is clear.

Aroma

Malt character can offer up different aromas, usually consisting of low to moderate aromas such as: grainy, toffee, chocolate, light roast, nutty, or caramel. Hop aroma is low and will contribute hints of floral or earthiness. Very light diacetyl is detected.

Mouthfeel

Low to low-moderate carbonation. Light to medium bodied beer. Some light astringency is present in versions using roasted malts. Fuller mouthfeel is usually present with sweeter versions of this beer.

Taste

Usually a malt forward beer with flavors such as: sweet toffee, toast, roast, caramel, nutty, and chocolate. Yeast can give flavors of fruit, raisin, and plum. The hop bitterness and malt is balanced.

May finish sweet or dry; while roast forward beers finishing with a drying roast character. Hop and diacetyl flavors are low to none. Fruity esters may be moderate.

Food Pairing

Dark milds generally pair well with beef stew, smoked sausage, and bacon. This beer also does well alongside some Asiago cheese and mild cheddar. If you are looking to pair a Dark Mild with dessert, look no further than fruit cobbler or a blueberry tart.

Tips for Brewing your own Dark Mild

Grain

The base malt for this beer is really important. As many people have expressed in the past, the base malt is the canvas that a brewer starts with when brewing a beer. American palt malts are usually one or two Lovibond lighter than British malt. The darker British pale malts bring out more of the biscuit characteristics this beer is known for. If British pale malt is hard to come by, American 2-Row can be a substitute. Just be sure to add up to 10% Biscuit or Victory malt to achieve that biscuit flavor.

Darker crystal malts will give you the sweet caramel notes you are looking for with this beer. This is where experimenting with different crystal malts can really pay off. Maybe do a smaller batch and play around with combinations of darker crystal malts such as 60,75, or 80. Keep the crystal malts at around 10% if adding other specialty grains and 15% if not.

If using dark roast grain, keep it at 4-6% of the total grist. Chocolate or black patent is a common choice. Again, experimenting a little can really pay off. Some brewers do not add any crystal malts and a little roast grain to achieve the color associated with a dark mild.

Hops

Traditional British hops are a good choice. Hops such as Fuggles, Northern Brewer, Goldings, Challenger, and Northdown are a few to choose from for this style.

There is very little hop flavor and aroma in a dark mild. Bittering hops at 60 minutes will be where you start. If you are interested in adding a little flavor, a small hop addition at the 20-15 minute mark before flameout would do the trick. A half an ounce will be what you need.

Yeast

A British yeast with moderate attenuation and low to moderate esters is what you are looking for with this style.Both Wyeast 1998 London ESB Ale and White Labs WLP002 English Ale are both good choices.

Safale S-04 or Danstar Winsor are the dry yeast choices.

Dark Mild By the Numbers

  • Color Range: 12 – 25 SRM
  • Original Gravity: 1.030 – 1.038 OG
  • Final Gravity: 1.008 – 1.013 FG
  • IBU Range: 10 – 25
  • ABV Range: 3.0 – 3.8%

Martin Keen’s Dark Mild Recipe

Grain

80% 6 lbs Maris Otter Malt

7% 8oz Amber Ale

7% 8oz Brown Malt

6% 8oz Pale Chocolate Malt

Hops

1 oz East Kent Goldings – Boil 60 min

Yeast

1.0 pkg Wyeast London ESB 1098

Mash at 152°F (66°C) for 60 mins

Boil for 60 mins

English dark mild, or just English mild is by every category, a light beer. It’s light on the palate, light in bitterness and light in alcohol. Every category except color that is. This is effectively an easy drinking session beer that happens to be dark. And that makes it an interesting beer to brew up.

And while I’m brewing it, we’re going to take a look at measuring gravity.

How To Brew Dark Mild Beer Homebrwe Challenge

Transcript: I’m Martin Keen. I’m taking the Homebrew Challenge to brew 99 beers in 99 weeks. Today is Dark Mild. This is a beer that you can just drink a ton of because it’s nice and low in alcohol. And it’s also something that is ready fast. You can go from grain to glass in a couple of weeks with this one, and that’s because of its low gravity. So this beer is going to have an original gravity of 1.037. That’s probably about the lowest that I have done on my Homebrew Challenge.

So as far as ingredients go, it’s an English beer. So we do want that slight toasty flavor to it, which we’ll get from our old friend Maris Otter. 79% of the grist is going to be made up of Maris Otter. Now for the specialty grains here, we want to add some of that dark color that we’re expecting from a dark mild, but we really want to be careful not to go overboard with roasted malts and really blow this out and make it like a Porter or something.

So what we’re going to do is we’re going to use 7% each of Amber malt, Brown malt and pale chocolate malts. That should give us an SRM of around 17. You could go a bit darker as well. If you like the style guidelines allow you to go all the way up to an SRM of 25.

Now a long time ago, when I first started making these Homebrew challenge videos, I would occasionally meet with professional brewers and taste some of their beers so I could get an idea for what a particular style should tastes like.

Well, I met Wit Baker from Bond Brothers many months ago, and we were tasting some beers that I was doing at the start of the challenge, but Whit had a dark mild that he was really excited for me to try. So even though it was months away from me getting as far as brewing that beer, we still had a little taste.

No, this one’s going to go out like in three months. Oh, it’s fine. I didn’t know. We have a good mild. And I was like, Hey, you should do this. It’s like, Oh, I’m back here at Bond Brothers again. Hello. Yeah. So here I am back at Bond Brothers with Wit Baker and we are drinking, uh, an English mild. What is this one called?

So this is called small malty. Um, it’s literally a small and that low alcohol, a three and a half percent, uh, and malty. And that there’s like basically 10 IBU’s in this beer.

It’s a very British tasting beer, brewed in a very non British way.

Totally. Yeah. So this beer, what we did was we wanted to make a full flavored session beer, um, which requires kind of different tactics than like, uh, a high alcohol beer. So one thing we did was we mashed up at 170. Um, if you kind of look at brewing textbooks, they say like 154-156 is kind of the highest. So imagine 170 we’re cutting those enzyme or the enzyme potential of the barley short, uh, leaving more dextrins behind. This is very English. It’s very crazy way that you brew it, right?

A lot of people have asked me what water filter I use on my brew day. And honestly, I can never remember it’s something I bought years ago, but I figured because it was years ago, it was probably time to get a new one. So I looked it up and this is what I got. So this is just little gadget called a Tilt. And the reason I use it is obviously just to filter the tap water that I’m using. So I don’t have to use distilled water or something like that.

And specifically it gets rid of chlorine, which is really something you don’t want in your beer. And just to test this filter, I filled out this glass of water with the old filter and then this one with the new one. And, uh, I’ve got a TDS meter here, a total dissolved solids meter. Actually, they ended up reading about the same.

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In fact, the newer filter had a slightly higher reading, but anything under 200 is better than tap water. And I think the real test is in the taste. And when I taste this one, there’s definitely a bit of a plasticky off taste to it just, just a little bit. Whereas this new filter tastes much cleaner and it really does make sense that if the water tastes better than surely, that’s going to translate into the beer too.

Going to mash this guy at 152 Fahrenheit. My usual mash temperature for about 60 minutes. So let’s talk then about gravity. And the first stage that I start to care about the gravity of my beer is during the mash.

And I’m going to take a gravity reading during the mash using an old favorite. This is a hydrometer. And, uh, I also went out and purchased a new test jar for the occasion today, cause my old ones all cracked.

Now why take a gravity reading during the mash?

Well, it’s known as the pre-boil gravity reading and it’s a number that effectively helps, you know, when the mash is done. So instead of blindly mashing for 60 minutes, because one hour is a nice round number, we can actually apply a bit more science to it than that and take a gravity reading and cut the mash off once we know that we’ve reached that preboil gravity amount.

Now I know in Beersmith that I’m expecting a pre boil gravity for my batch size of 1.025. I’ve taken a sample of the wort just from out of the kettle here and now I need to see what the gravity rating is. Now. I can’t just drop my hydrometer in here and get a accurate rating because this thing is calibrated at 68 Fahrenheit. So any warmer or colder than that, then you actually need to do a calculation to figure out what your real gravity actually is.

So the way I’m going to do that is I’m going to take my thermometer and take the reading of how warm this is. It’s 146F. Then I’m going to put my hydrometer in here to get a unadjusted uncalibrated gravity reading. And that looks to be about 10. How to read a hydrometer here.

Now I’m going to use BeerSmith to figure out what my actual preboil gravity is at this point.

So in BeerSmith under tools. There is this hydrometer setting here and we enter in our measured gravity and our temperature. So I measure gravity was 10. Temperature was 146, and that will tell us that our corrected gravity is 1.027.

Now 1.027 is actually slightly above my pre boil expected gravity of 10 25. So basically that’s telling me the mash is done and I’m only 30 minutes in. So really I’ve got all of the sugars that I’m going to extract out of this grain at this point, no point continuing to mash, I can move on to the next stage and get an early start on the boil.

Hops

The hops for this beer come exclusively from bittering hops. So we’re only going to put something in right at the start of the boil. I am using East Kent Golding hops, and I’m adding enough of these in to get me to 22 IBU.

With the boil done and the beer transferred into the fermenter, I can now take a gravity sample again. This will be my original gravity number. Now the final gravity reading has come out around 1.042. There’s no adjustments needed this time because the beer is at 68 Fahrenheit, 10 42 is a few points over what I was aiming for.

I was only for 10 37, but I have noticed that when you brew beers that are of a lower gravity, then the beer system tends to be a little bit more efficient. So perhaps I should have accounted for that in my recipe, either way. I’m sure this is going to turn out fine.

Yeast

Now as for the yeast, that’s going to go in this beer. That is WLP002 English ale yeast/ Now this is a flocculent yeast and just take a look at how a lumpy and flocculant this thing looks.

Another way I keep track of gravity is when the beer is in the fermenter, I can track it as it’s fermenting. And to do that, I use a little gadget called a Tilt. This is what one of these tilts looks like. Now I’ve talked about these on the channel before I do use them pretty much with every brew.

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So how this works is you drop this in your beer and then it sends a Bluetooth signal out with a gravity reading and a temperature reading, which you can receive on the tilt app on your phone. So that allows you to see the gravity drop as the beers fermenting. And it can tell you when the beer has finished fermenting, cause that gravity number is not dropping anymore. So it’s just another cool data point to have. Now, one of the things to be aware of when you’re using a tilt is first of all, to make sure that it’s calibrated properly.

So I’ve put two of my tilts in a jar of water. Why water? Well, water has a gravity of one. So this is a great way to calibrate these guys. Now, if I launched the app, we can see the gravity readings that we’re getting from these two tilts. There’s an uncalibrated gravity reading and a calibrated gravity reading, and also a temperature.

Now I recommend putting the tilts in the water and leaving them there for a little while because the temperature adjustment does take a while. So if you put this in really cold water, like in a lager, it’s going to take a while for that temperature to drop down to that lager temperature.

So put it in some water, leave it there for a little while and then come back and perform the calibration. To perform the calibration, you click on the little gear icon up here, pick the tilt that you want to calibrate that, say the red one and then move down and select calibrate in water, that will set the gravity then to 1.0, so you can see here, the, both of my tilts now have a calibrated gravity of 1.0, and that means there good to go.

Now I’ve sanitized my tilt and I’m going to drop that into. So the beer is now in the fermentation chamber, 68 Fahrenheit, and I will be tracking its fermentation down to final gravity using the tilt.

That gravity came out as 1.012, that is a 4% Beer. So quite a light one. I have Lauren here to taste it with me. If you’re interested in bringing this one yourself, the recipe kit for this in both all grain and, um, in extract form is available at Atlantic brew supply.

Okay. Now Lauren, I, uh, have to admit, I did take a sneaky taste of this one already. Yes, but okay. Let’s see what we think about the, the look, the color of this one.

Okay. So it’s a bit dark on the dark side. Um, it’s quite a, like a mahogany looking color. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. If you hold it right up to the light it’s not as dark as it initially looks. Um, quite a nice dark mahogany color. That’s a good descriptor. Yup.

Okay. I’m for smell now, without even putting my nose to the glass, I can already get a bit of, of the aroma.

It smells like yeasty. Yeah. And I think, uh, quite a strong malty profile on this beer, malty that’s the word I was looking for. Yeah.

But it also, um, to me it smells quite sweet as well. Yes. Yep. Yeah. It definitely a bit of a British pub kind of smell to it. Very multi, but sweet. You can sort of smell some of those darker malts in the, yeah. I’m looking forward to trying some more of this one. Okay.

Let’s go for the taste. So what do you think? Well, I think, um, I think it’s actually pretty damn good. It’s it’s uh, the, the taste for this is supposed to be, it looks like a dark beer kind of tastes a bit like a light beer or a sort of a more English style bitter or something like that. I think it nails it. What do you think?

I would agree with that. Like the looks like it would taste a lot more heavy than it actually does taste. Yeah. And at 4%, this is actually a really sessionable beer. This is something that you can drink in quantity. Yeah. You can drink and proper 20 ounce English Pints. Yeah.

This is certainly something worth trying. And I think if you’re looking for a nice, kind of easy drinking beer with a bit of real malt character, it’s a good choice. Right? Yeah. I agree. I agree. I like it. It’s very good. You look like you’re about to burp….. Nope.

Cheers. Cheers!

I am the former President of my homebrew club, Plainfield Ale and Lager Enthusiasts (PALE) in the western suburbs of Chicago, IL. I brew on my BIAB system with my incredibly patient and understanding wife, adorable 9 year old daughter, and 12 year old brew dog.