We’ve gushed effusively about the myriad quirky pleasures of Dann Paquette’s Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project in the past. ALL THE PRETTY THINGS. Yet Baroness Brue, an inquiring mind noble, nimble, and subject to a contract intended in its origin to endure till the death of her daft counterpart, desires further explication: Is Paquette’s bid for Ale-verse domination Dr. Evil-esque in its pop culture reference (see, e.g., The Alan Parsons Project) or does Pretty Things, indeed, transcend the temporal plane of malt and barley into a transcendental omnisphere of esoteric brewing bliss? (n.b. she may have phrased the question differently). To address this quandary, I sampled Once Upon A Time… London XXXX Mild Ale, a faithful reincarnation of a beer originally brewed on Brick Lane, London, on February 27th, 1832 and the first historical recreation by Pretty Things. Mild ales are surprisingly rare in the contemporary beer space. Defined by a predominately malty palate, the brews originated in 17th century Britain. The term “mild” designated the unaged nature of the brew as opposed to a specific style of beer, and young “mild” brews were often blended with aged “stale” suds to add complexity to their flavor profiles. In the 19th century breweries designated mild ales in terms of gravity, which generally ranged from 5.5%-10%: X denoting the weakest; XXXX advising that consumers hold tight to their bowlers. Traditional mild was relegated to the shifting sands of time when, during the First World War, breweries were forced to limit the average gravity of their offerings. Modern milds endured with great popularity until the 1960s, when a severe tumble in popularity drove the beloved mild nearly into extinction. In these heady, halcyon days of the craft beer renaissance, however, mild is making a comeback. The excellent Campaign for Real Ale has even designated May “Mild Month.”
Against that fascinating historical backdrop, Pretty Things introduced a 10.5%ABV XXXX London Mild based on nothing less than a brewday recipe collected by brewing historian Ron Pattinson. Brewed without refrigeration with Kent Golding leaf hops, Pretty Things endeavored to present a confounding
tapestry of flavor “from the reign of William IV, before Big Ben and Tower Bridge where built… from a London of great wealth and poverty, where beer was brewed in huge quantities as an alternative to the untreated and filthy waters of the Thames.” It did not disappoint.
The mild poured a hazy copper orange with an aggressive taupe head that faded elegantly as I drank. On the nose was malt. Lots of malt. Sugar cane, maple, and yeast with a subtle undertone of bananas foster. On the palate danced balanced flavors of caramel, sun-dried fruit, barleywine, and a host of notes that I couldn’t begin to place all against a strong-spined backdrop of ethanol and oak leaves. My winter-weary bones absorbed the warm, crisp goodness and all was right in the world.
I put it to you, Baroness: when a brewing outfit combines primary research with unorthodox brewing methods to create a wonderful, pleasing libation whose flavors are nearly impossible to articulate… does that brewery a project make? I think so. A 3.5 hop offering from a terrific brewery pursuing, yes, a worthy project.
Paquette dedicates his mild to the unknown brewer who first made it. Little doubt that the mystery man behind this mild is smiling somewhere and toasting the return of a great brewing tradition.