tkitching (tkitching) wrote,

A Fond Farewell to Robinsons Mild

Robinsons brewery have stopped brewing their mild beer, after an uninterrupted 123 years. The drink, known over the years as 'Best Mild', 'Hatters' and latterly '1892', has been axed after years of declining sales.

It's a weak, 3.3% brown beer, and many of my beer drinking friends struggle to see the attraction of such a brew. Allow me a few minutes to explain why this is personally such an important cultural icon, and why I'm going to miss it so very much.

Let's start with context. No beer can make complete sense removed from its natural setting. As even pissy French lager somehow seems passable when sat overlooking a vineyard or an alpine terrace, the natural home of mild needs to be understood.

It's an unconverted, un-modernised street boozer. The upholstery is so hard wearing it'd have a train seat in a fight without breaking sweat. The landlord probably has a large dog that lives entirely on dropped pork scratchings. The jukebox hasn't been updated in 18 years, and is all the better for it. Old men are playing crib and whilst there's not exactly a silence when you walk in, under the light of the one remaining bulb, you're checked out quietly, and then allowed to pass.

Or it's a rural pub, off the main road. The clientele are farmers. Some of them go home in the bucket of an excavator after the pub finally gives up for the night. The landlady has a moustache and forearms like giant hams from 60 years devoted service at the mild pump. The beer thrives in damp, gloomy conditions and is drawn to formica bars and tobacco stained artex ceilings.

Who is the drinker of mild? He, (For it usually is a he) is an old man, who was wearing a flat cap before that cultural icon was appropriated by the hipster. He wears items of clothing from another century, and calls his scarf a muffler. Robinsons used to give their employees an allowance of 4 pints of mild a day. This is the drink of the working man.

And then there's the beer itself. It resents being disturbed. The sound of the first pull into the glass is one of pure indignation. Then the glass is full. Brown, but still transparent. It's a strong, physical presence in the glass. Dominating the bar, it is muscular, and mutters profanities to itself, despairing of the lesser drinks strutting their show-feathers alongside. The foam on the top was probably cut by hand in crude blocks from the windblown edges of the industrial Mersey as it passes through the bowels of Stockport. I usually allow my pint a couple of minutes to itself before I start to drink. There's an utter completion to it that should not be lightly disturbed.

To the modern drinker of pale ale, who expects a zingy, citrus, hopped hit from their beer, the mild is an immediate disappointment, in the same way that a lover of Bruce Willis films would probably struggle with the lack of explosions in a French movie night at an art-house cinema. But dig in, settle down for a session. Find a dark corner away from the dartboard, get some crisps. You're going to need time to get to know this old gaffer. The warm, malty, yeasty flavour takes a grip, and although it's weak, it's not a beer to be rushed. You can't interrupt the stories it tells you. You won't hear them again.

This was the first beer I drank. My father, taking the resigned view that I'd likely end up a drinker, decided I might as well start on the proper stuff, and would buy me halves from quite an early age. I remember it when it was unfamiliar. Nutty, bitter, strange, watery yet full of flavour. I remember waiting for the magic effects to kick in. I can't recall if they did.

When I first started to play music, the pub I jammed in every Friday sold mild, and we all drank it, until it was midnight and time to go home. It was the taste of finding myself, working out who I am and what I wanted to do.
Robinsons mild was like a sprightly old relative. Ignorant of their age, bounding around, full of energy. As a youngster you imagine nothing changes. Then one day, they're not there anymore. Didn't make it out of bed. Not coming back. It's a hole you weren't expecting, and don't know how to fill.

But in retrospect, the writing was on the wall. At the Nag's head in Macclesfield, they sold mild for years. One by one, the old men who drank it passed away, until it was no longer economical to have it on the bar. New drinkers were moving onto pale ales. Mild represented the old working class man. It wasn't aspirational enough. It wasn't strong enough. It wasn't made out of bee stings, and ginger, and apricots, and squid, and all the other stupid things that gimmick beer is made out of.

Even as the hipsters adopted the flat caps, the handle glasses, the real ale, they left behind the beers themselves. Brown bitter is dying, and mild is dead.

And the habitat was lost. Robinsons have invested millions bringing their pubs up to date. Out went the gloom and snail ravaged carpets, and in came bright, open spaces, good dining, and modern decor. Mild shrank back into the pockets of grimness, and eventually the population was too small to breed.

It never even occurred to me that mild would go. I thought that Robinsons mild was as permanent as night and day. I hoped to one day introduce a new generation to mild. I should have been wiser. You don't appreciate what you've got till you've lost it.

I don't blame Robinsons for this. They have a business to run, and they will have looked very hard at the figures before making this decision. I just ask this one question of them.

Would you consider making it as a seasonal once a year? I promise not to take it for granted. I'll take all my friends on a mild drinking party. I'm only 31. There's hope yet!

R.I.P. Robinsons mild. 1892-2015

Sadly pissed.
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