Although I’m an enthusiast for brown bitters, old ales, porters and what have you, I’ve got to admit that I’m not a big mild drinker – particularly not at this time of year. Historically, ‘mild ale’ simply meant ale (as distinct from beer) served young rather than after ageing; ‘mild’ isn’t the alternative to ‘bitter’, it’s the alternative to ‘old’. (Mild ale could be bitter, although it generally wasn’t as bitter as beer – whatever that meant.) These days ‘mild’ generally means dark mild – black, sweet, low in alcohol. Although there are some excellent examples of the style (e.g. Robinson’s Dark Hatters) it strikes me as a style with narrower boundaries than bitter or even porter. Some of the best milds I’ve had in this year’s Mild Magic have been boundary-pushers: Moorhouse’s Black Panther (see what they did there?), which has the depth and complexity of a good stout, or Stringers’ Dark Country, which I’m not sure can even be called a mild – the brewery very sensibly describe it as a ‘dark ale’ and leave it at that. ‘Dark beer’ is alive and well, but I’m not convinced mild has a bright future. Particularly not as a summer drink, an idea which reminds me of that folk belief that the best thing to drink to cool down on a hot day is actually a nice hot cup of tea. (My mother believed that one implicitly, but she was a big tea drinker.)
So I’m not convinced Mild Magic is a great idea – particularly not in a warm May. I definitely think this year’s Stockport and Manchester (sic) contest needs a bit of a rethink. The 94 participating pubs (mostly in south and central Manchester, with a strong south-easterly bias; I counted 3 postcodes beginning WA and 34 beginning with M, the remainder all beginning SK) are divided into 69 small ‘areas’, many of them fairly artificial – Hyde is divided into three, for example. There are prizes for (in ascending order) visiting 12 pubs; visiting 12 pubs in 12 different areas; visiting 24 different pubs in 24 different areas; visiting 48 different pubs in 36 different areas; visiting all 94 pubs. (This would involve making trips to Hyde, Altrincham, Whaley Bridge and Stalybridge, as well as seeking out a variety of pubs stuck out on country roads and in the middle of housing estates. Not for the fainthearted – not for me, anyway.) 18 areas include two or three pubs, accounting for 43 between them; the remaining 51 have one each. While I appreciate that five prize tiers is ample, I think it’s a shame that there’s no incentive to hit more than one pub per area until you get to the heights of 36 areas; I’m fairly confident of hitting 12 in 12 areas, but I could have managed 24 in 12 without too much extra effort. The Stockport bias – or should I say, the Stockport East, Stockport South, Stockport West, Edgeley, Heaton Norris East, Heaton Norris West (etc, etc) bias – is also a bit unfortunate. Fine as Hatters mild is, there’s a limit to how many different pubs it can lure me into.
Having said all of that, it’s a fun thing to do, and I’d recommend anyone in the area to have a go – it’ll take you to some great pubs. I’m determined to nail this 12-pubs-in-12-areas thing, and I might even take a crack at 24-in-24; I’ve got a theory involving a bus journey down the A6, although I’ll have to check the map to see if it’s doable. Ah, the map – I was coming to that. The other problem with this ‘area’ system is that it gives you no idea where anywhere is, or (not to put too fine a point on it) which areas have been got out of mothballs for this competition. (I mean, there is such a district as ‘All Saints’, but no one would actually say that’s where Sand Bar is if they were giving directions.) For route-planning, and particularly bus-route-planning, purposes, I give you:
Update Now, that’s annoying. I spent quite a while getting that map finished last night, but Google Maps seems to have decided to revert it to an earlier version. If you’ve seen this post already, please forget that URL for the time being, unless you want directions to pubs called things like “Lancs” and “Mystery Pub”. Updated version coming soon!
Updated update All fixed – URL restored.