Andy Astor has great memories of growing up in England, where old-school pub culture meant chain smoking, day-drinking cask ale and playing snooker, darts and skittles.
One style in particular, mild ale, was a favorite. Dark in color but malty and light on the palate, milds are easy to drink and low in alcohol, which means you can have more than a few.
So years later, after he and his family had moved back to the United States and were living in Colorado Springs, Astor got a job at Phantom Canyon Brewing. Astor’s go-to beers there were the English cask ales that the brewery poured from a pair of hand-pull taps — or beer engines — that are the typical dispensing method for English-style ales. Then in 2013, Astor, who spent eight years at Wynkoop Brewing after leaving Phantom Canyon, was hired by Elevation Beer Company in Poncha Springs. He's now the brewery's brand manager.
“We brewed a one-barrel batch of mild to put on our new beer engine," Astor recalls, noting that it was the only beer engine in Chaffee County. “It was super-good and got consumed rapidly — as it should. I spent the next six years ‘suggesting’ that we brew that style again...but classic English styles aren’t what consumers are chasing these days.”
To “shut him up,” Elevation finally made a second batch of mild last month, this time on its full fifteen-barrel system, and canned it for distribution. The 3.4 percent ABV beer, called Beauty and Justice, was designed “to provide balance to the lawless consumption of fermented dextrose and flavor extract” popular in more trendy beers, Astor says with a laugh.
And Elevation isn’t the only brewery that is taking a walk on the mild side. Finkel & Garf Brewing in Boulder is also releasing a mild in cans this week. Popping off at just 3.9 percent ABV, And the Crowd Goes Mild "was brewed with 100 percent English hops, malt and yeast,” says brewery owner Dan Garfinkel.
“It won’t sell anywhere near as well as our IPAs, but for us it was about having a little variety,” Garfinkel adds. “We were hearing from our liquor stores that there is another kind of customer out there, one that is asking for something that is dark and malty for this time of year, but lighter than a stout, smooth and easy to drink.”
For Finkel & Garf, which makes several New England-style IPAs, adjunct stouts and “sorbet” sours, the beer represents a nod toward tradition and a classical approach.
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“There has been a shift in what motivates a brewery production calendar in recent years,” he explains. “Back in the day, brewers made what they were proud of or wanted to drink, and in the process often introduced the consumer to something new or outside of their usual buys. Lately it feels like consumers are leading that dance, which isn’t a bad thing to respond to for the sake of selling liquid, especially if you can play to it without compromising your identity as a brewery. It has, in my opinion, though, led the industry to a glut of haze, purée bombs, high-gravity pastry stouts, and now fucking hard seltzers.”
The only way to bring back some balance is to brew a few beers that aren’t high on people’s radar right now. “People aren’t going to drink them if they aren’t being produced,” Astor points out. “We have been ripping through it in the tasting room, and my hope is that it gets consumed with the same voracity in the market.”
Both Elevation’s and Finkel & Garf’s mild ales should hit liquor stores in the metro area this week and next, and both are available on draft at their respective breweries. Elevation’s is on cask in its taproom, while Finkel & Garf is serving its mild from standard taps.
A few other Colorado breweries that make English-style mild ales (though typically not for packaging or distribution) include Hogshead Brewery, Our Mutual Friend, Copper Kettle Brewing, Butcherknife Brewing, Pikes Peak Brewing and Epic Brewing.