As part of a general interest in brewing session beers, I recently tried my hand at a dark mild. Thanks to Ron Pattinson’s excellent work on historic English brewing, I’ve learned that the original dark milds were in fact beyond session strength, and have evolved to be low alcohol. Either way, the modern take is supposed to be a style that is full of flavor and light on ethanol.
My particular version was formulated after looking at a few other recipes, with consideration of what supplies I had on hand. Conveniently, I had some Maris Otter to finish out, and a few other English malts. I had planned on using a packet of English ale yeast from Cellar Science, but it just so happened that I kegged an oatmeal stout right before brewing the mild. Because the stout used Nottingham yeast, I decided to pitch the mild directly onto the yeast cake (after removing a cup or two, to reduce the potential effects of overpitching). I’ll admit this strategy also served my laziness, because then I didn’t have to completely clean and sanitize a new fermenter right in the midst of the brewing process.
To go for a more “authentic” cask-like serving style, I carbonated the beer to only 2.0 volumes. My keezer is set a bit cooler than ideal (~40°), so flavors don’t really start to pop until the beer warms.
Dark Mild 2021
6.75 lb. Finest Maris Otter ale malt (Crisp)
0.5 lb. crystal 75 (Bairds)
0.25 lb. Carafa Special I (Weyermann)
0.25 lb. coffee malt (Simpsons)
2 oz. black malt (Briess)
0.75 oz. East Kent Goldings hop pellets (5.0% alpha), 60 minute boil
1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
Nottingham ale yeast (Lallemand), pitched onto partial yeast cake from previous batch
1.036 o.g., 1.010 f.g., 3.3% abv, 20 IBU, 20 SRM
Mash held at 156° for 60 minutes, and 10 minute mash-out at 168°
Claremont tap water, treated with Campden tablet
I heated 6.75 gallons of water to 161°, and mashed in with the grains to hit a temperature of 156°. I added 5 mL of 88% lactic acid to hit ~5.35 pH (estimated), and held at 156° with recirculation for 60 minutes.
After 60 minutes, I raised the mash temperature to 168° for 10 minutes, and then removed the grains.
In total, I collected 6.1 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.035, for 73% mash efficiency.
I boiled for 60 minutes, adding hops and finings per the recipe. After 60 minutes, I turned off the heat and chilled down to pitching temperature (~68°).
Starting gravity was 1.040, a bit higher than targeted.
I transferred the beer onto the yeast cake from my previous batch of Eagle Face Oatmeal Stout. Prior to transfer, I removed ~2 cups of yeast in order to avoid overpitching.
Once the yeast was pitched, I sealed up the fermenter and moved it indoors to ferment at ambient of around 65°.
I brewed the beer on 11 December 2021, and kegged it on 26 December 2021
Final gravity was 1.020, for 2.6% abv. I carbonated to around 2.0 volumes. Within about a week of kegging, the beer had dropped completely clear.
Pours with a light tan head that rapidly disperses; the beer itself is pretty clear and a deep mahogany in color.
Light chocolate and coffee on the nose, and no major yeast character.
Coffee and dark chocolate and some faint roasted notes, and a bit of biscuit character in the malt. There is faint dried stone fruit quality in the yeast. Bitterness is low, and the finish very much tips towards the malt.
Light body, low carbonation, off-dry finish with very slight astringency.
Would I brew this again?
I really like this beer! For such a low alcohol brew, it packs a really punch of malt character. It is eminently drinkable, but also very interesting in flavor. I wouldn’t mind a little more yeast character, perhaps some extra fruity notes, but that is a fairly minor critique. I may well try this recipe again, and will certainly brew a dark mild again. It is a style with a fair bit of latitude, which is worth exploring.
Once again, it’s time to look ahead to the new year of brewing. What would I like to achieve in 2022?
I’ve always had session-strength beers as a regular part of my brewing rotation, and have had some really great successes. I’ve done well with IPAs and stouts, and would now like to branch out a bit. I recently made a session strength dark mild, which I just put on tap and am really enjoying. A Scottish 70-/Heavy is on the schedule, and I might even aim for a patersbier soon.
I recently had the 1903 Lager from Craftsman Brewing Company (Pasadena), and this beer was amazing as a pre-Prohibition style lager that clocks in at 5.2% abv. The malt character was fantastic, against some really nice hop qualities. It’s hard to find much information on this beer, so I’m going to need to look around a bit in the world of pre-Prohibition lagers to figure out a comparable recipe. In any case, this is a beer style I want to make!
I’ve made some good IPAs, and even some great ones, but I’ve not yet settled on a “house” recipe. I need to change that. I have found that “traditional” West Coast IPAs with a heft measure of Centennial and Cascade are most to my taste, so I want to revisit previoussuccesses and see if I can’t replicate those. I might even return to a session rye IPA, to hit the session beer goal again.
I set a goal to brew more with kveik, and did get two batches in with this family of yeast cultures, both IPAs. They turned out OK, but not great. I’ll probably play around more with kveik in the future, but I feel that the trend has perhaps run its course for my brewing tastes and needs.
Final Score: 5/10
I set out to perfect a German pils, and came close. I’ve figured out my general grain bill and bitterness regimes, and now it’s just a matter of continued iteration. The Pilsnerpeton batch is perhaps the best from 2020/2021, and Farke’s Best Pils also came out pretty great. I just need a little more practice, and I’ll get there.
Final Score: 7/10
Big Beers in Small Batches.
I’m feeling really great about this one. I ended up with three small-batch beers higher than 7% abv, including the excellent Winter Dream Ale. Although I could have brewed more of these, I am actually pretty satisfied with where I landed on this goal. Each of the beers turned out fairly well, and it was about the perfect quantity for what I had energy to drink (or share).
Final Score: 8/10
I didn’t do great on this one, probably because I got distracted by other brewing projects. Alongside the aforementioned Winter Dream Ale, I fermented three other beers with Belgian yeast. Two of these were old favorites (Raspberry Belgian and Pannotia White IPA), and another was a big quad for a homebrew club barrel project. So…I really have work to do here next year. Maybe a patersbier for Lent?
Final Score: 4/10
Overall Assessment of 2021: 6/10 for brewing goals — not great, but not awful. I still had fun, though!
Winter Dream Ale. High-alcohol beers are not the sort of thing I do all the time, but this particular recipe was really enjoyable in the Christmas to New Year’s stretch. It had a nice mix of flavor and body, making an interesting beer without addition of spices or strange adjuncts.
Most Fun New Style/Recipe to Try
I had fun putting together an amber kellerbier, in Dimorphos Kellerbier. I really freestyled it in the recipe, and achieved a tasty result.
Upcoming Beer With Most Potential
I have another Pliny the Elder clone fermenting right now, and I’m crossing my fingers that it turns out well!
Best Technique Added to Repertoire
I’ve been using a Hochkurz mash semi-regularly, and like the results in terms of extract yield as well as fermentability and flavor.
Best Ingredient Added to Repertoire
The HOPBOX was a lot of fun to play with, and gave me a nice IPA as a result. I’ll be enjoying the next iterations as they arrive this year.
For Christmas, I received a copy of Dark Lagers: History, Mystery, Brewing Techniques, Recipes (by Thomas Kraus-Weyermann and Horst Dornbusch)…it has been a fun one to browse! The historical information is interesting, the recipes seem solid, and the food recipes are also something I’ll look forward to trying.
I had some fun with other fermentables this year, including creation of miso paste as well as injera bread. I’ve continued with sauerkraut and homemade mustard, all of which are fantastic accompaniments for beer and sausage.
I brewed 31 batches of beer this past year, totalling around 150 gallons of beer produced.
No particular beer style dominated 2021, although I had three batches of German pils and two batches of American IPA as the most frequently brewed styles. Expanding into IPAs as a general category, I brewed seven recipes in the IPA world (including American, English, white, and double IPAs).
I often make a special, small-batch beer for Christmas, something that’s rich and high alcohol and perfect for cold (southern California) evenings next to the fire. For the 2021 edition, I threw together a Belgian-style winter warmer. I wanted a rich, sumptuous malt backbone, and to let the fermentation add any spice, rather than using actual species. I used up a few ingredients on-hand, which just happened to be perfect for my vision of the beer.
Winter Dream Ale
8 lb. Vienna malt (Weyermann)
1.25 lb. Munich light malt (Chateau)
11 oz. Special B malt (Dingemans)
4 oz. Crystal 120 malt (Great Western)
0.75 oz. Magnum hop pellets (10.1% alpha), 60 minute boil
1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
1.5 g yeast nutrient (WLN1000, White Labs)
8 oz. honey, add to flameout
2 pkg. Abbay Belgian ale yeast (Lallemand)
1.086 o.g., 1.018 f.g., 9.2% abv, 22 IBU, 22 SRM
Mash held at 150° for 60 minutes, and 10 minute mash-out at 168°, with ~0.75 gallon sparge
Claremont tap water
I heated 4.5 gallons of water to 159°, and added the grains to hit a mash temperature of 150°. I held here (with recirculation) for 60 minutes, before raising the temperature to 168° and holding there for 10 minutes. Then, I removed the grain basket and sparged with 0.75 gallons of hot water.
I collected 4.5 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.060, for 71% mash efficiency.This was a good efficiency but too high of a volume. So, I boiled for an extra 30 minutes before adding hops.
After 30 minutes of boiling, I added the hops, honey, and finings per the recipe, boiling for an addition 60 minutes.
Starting gravity was 1.076; this was a bit short of the recipe, but I didn’t worry about it too much.
I chilled to 80°, transferred to the fermenter, and let the wort chill overnight before pitching the yeast.
I brewed the beer on 12 October 2021, and pitched the yeast on 13 October 2021.
I fermented at 65°, and raised the beer to 70° (free rise) on 20 October 2021, to help the yeast ferment out.
I kegged the beer on 5 November 2021. Final gravity was 1.020, for 7.5% abv.
Deep reddish amber and very clear; there is a persistent and creamy ivory head.
Spicy aroma, with a bit of caramel and dried dark fruit.
Wonderfully rich! There is a caramel and toffee malt character with a bit of dried fruit and sweet candy. A bready malt quality sneaks up behind that. Bitterness is moderate, and the yeast character has a slightly spicy quality. Fermentation quality is really nice, and I dodged any hot alcohol character.
Medium body, with medium-high carbonation and a smooth finish. The body is maybe a little thinner than I had envisioned.
Would I brew this again?
I am really, really happy with the results in this recipe. It absolutely hit the rich, complex qualities I wanted, and is highly drinkable. The fermentation quality is perfect too! The only minor ding is that starting gravity was a touch low, which decreases the body a little, but I think that worked out okay in the end. I would rather the body be somewhat thin, than the beer be too sweet and cloying.