Bristol Beer Factory

South-west powerhouse champions mild


Bristol Beer Factory was one of the very first UK modern era craft breweries, and served as the cornerstone to Bristol’s now-thriving local beer scene. Starting out with a focus on traditional English brewing, cask ale and its local market, its roots remain in these timeless values, even as it has spread its wings in terms of more modern styles, clocking up around 60 beers each year, ranging from IPA to ESB to Hopfenweisse. This arguably makes it more forward-looking than some of its more glamorous peers; the brewery works to a rolling five-year plan, meaning its brewing and business decisions always come out of a more strategic view of where things might be heading.

For the past five years, this has meant focusing on building and retaining talent, including one of the best young brewers in the country, backed by one of the best brewing teams, as well as really nailing its customer service. The result is a line-up of core beers, with an emphasis on hoppy pales and IPAs, that are better and more diverse today than they have been in the brewery’s history.

Tom Clermont, the brewery’s head of sales, explains: “Our key words as a brewery are quality and balance. Whatever we brew, it has to be world-class, that’s a given. We also want it to be tasty enough that you’ll be satisfied by a half-pint, but also sessionable enough that you could have two or three pints without feeling overwhelmed. We think that pretty much any style, if brewed properly, can do those two things.”

In the process of putting this Beer52 box together, we were keen to get Bristol Beer Factory’s interpretation of what a ‘future’ beer might look like. Rather than looking to the latest advances in hop development or lactose-heavy IPAs, the brewing team settled on the decidedly counter-fashionable mild. We were delighted, of course; we love the style, and share the view of many brewers that it’s due for a reappraisal among the craft crowd. 

“We're not naive enough to think that mild is about to topple IPA – nor would we want it to – but it really embodies a trend that we wanted to highlight, which is the return to balanced, classic beer styles,” continues Tom. “We could just as easily have done a well brewed or German lager or a best bitter, but we just felt the mild is the quintessential example of the sort of balanced, impeccably crafted beer that more people are reaching for now.

“To get a full picture of the future, you have to acknowledge that a lot of people's craft beer journey has been a huge upward curve of excitement. That’s followed by a downward curve of being disappointed with changeable quality, and a bit jaded by beers that are attention-grabbing but ultimately unbalanced. It's not about settling or going backwards, it's about rediscovering styles that have stood the test of time because they’re satisfying and moreish. And I think a lot of us are at that point now, whether it’s a mild or a best bitter or a good brown ale.”

Future Proof, the mild in this month’s box, first appeared on cask two years ago, as part of a series called Future Cask, alongside other more exotic and experimental interpretations. But it was the 3.3% mild that wowed the crowds. So why don’t we see more of it on the bar? Tom agrees that the style definitely has an image problem, even alongside other traditional British ales; the very name ‘mild’ clangs discordantly in craft ears, evoking the insipid and characterless beers that we all turned our back on. But he also finds this misconception tragic, and argues a good mild is uniquely deserving of a seat at the craft table.

“For us, a mild is a really good test of the brewer’s craft, because there’s nowhere to hide,” he says. “If you don't get the balance right, then it will be too malty, in which case it will taste like a best bitter rather than a mild. And you can’t have too much hop content, because a mild’s got to have really low bitterness. And it's got to have good mouthfeel even though it's low ABV, so it needs body. 

“So done right, it’s perfectly designed to be the thing that it is. To me, it’s the polar opposite of something like a black IPA, which is too hoppy for porter lovers, but too dark for IPA lovers, so it’s completely impossible to tell whether what you’re drinking is a good one.”

Bristol Beer Factory is definitely viewing the future through the lens of beers that are brewed to be simply enjoyed rather than tasted as a challenge. But following a decade in which the majority of craft brewers have been locked into a mad pursuit of the novel and extreme, perhaps 2022 really will see more of us drawn in by the moreish lure of balanced beer, and present opportunities to breweries offering a more refined experience.

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