Saturday, 27 December 2014

1892-2015

It was sad, but not entirely surprising, news that Robinson’s Brewery are planning to phase out their 1892 cask mild from the end of April next year. Going through various incarnations as Best Mild and Hatters before the current name, this was once their staple beer and must still be the biggest-selling light mild in the country. It featured in a series of classic adverts from the 1930s, often featuring a cheeky-looking mustachioed hiker. Unfortunately the graphic shown below is the only example I can find.

Over the years, while I’ve always been primarily a Bitter man, I’ve drunk a fair bit of it. It’s a pleasant, well-made beer, but to be honest not really one you would go out of your way to sample. But surely that is the point of mild – it is intended to be an undemanding beer that is consumed more for refreshment than intoxication, and deliberately avoids strong and potentially offputting flavours. That may explain why it has not enjoyed any kind of “ironic hipster” revitalisation. The same role in the beer market is now performed by the standard “cooking lagers” – Carling, Carlsberg and Foster’s.

Robinson’s claim that sales of 1892 have slumped by 32% during 2014, so it seems to be a product in steep decline. However, it still enjoys healthy sales in some Robinson’s pubs such as the Armoury in Edgeley, and it has to be said that its demise may have more to do with the fact that the brewery – despite a recent refitting that supposedly made it more “flexible” – has a minimum brew length of 60 barrels, which is rather too much for the current level of sales.

The other local family brewers, Holt’s, Hyde’s and Lees, all still produce cask milds at presumably even smaller volumes, so obviously don’t suffer from the same restrictions. Indeed Sam Smith’s produce both dark and light milds in keg form and appear to shift large quantities of them, helped no doubt by the bargain price. So perhaps if there remains some demand for mild in Robinson’s pubs, they could consider allowing other brewers’ milds to be sold, or even having 1892 contract-brewed by a smaller, more flexible brewery.

They also say that, when 1892 is withdrawn, they will introduce a 3.7% amber bitter as part of their core range, something that has been lacking since the demise of Old Stockport. As I generally like Robinson’s house character, I can see it being something that I will enjoy, but in many people’s eyes it is likely to become a watchword for blandness.

17 comments:

  1. As a mild drinker, the cynic in me says that they are trying to free up capacity for the next faddy brew, and of course sales will fall without a shot in the arm from the marketing department.
    Must count myself lucky that I live in a part of the country where mild is still available in a vast majority of houses in some form or another.

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  2. Perhaps they should have left the name as "Best Mild", rather than trying to be clever and calling it something else.

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  3. In the book amber gold & black, Robbies mild gets a mention in so far that it was the biggest output of the brewery up to 1979.

    I guess as a weak brew it would have a shorter shelf life and prone to a vicious circle once a tipping point of low turnover starts.

    One of the first things my Dad told when he found out aged 16 I'd been in a pub to celebrate passing exams was not to touch mild as they throw the slops in it.

    Something the aforementioned book confirms used to happen. That and the fact that come the 60's people wanted a more aspirational drink. I guess bitter gave way to lager and now the aspiration is all in "craft"

    You wanna ask how long boring brown bitter can survive. The last rites will be when the beard club dedicate a boring brown bitter month.

    There's always craft saison.

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  4. Craft saison is so old hat. Craft Gose is the new working man's pint.

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  5. would that be both Milds to go? or is the 1892 dark also going to suffer the same fate?
    Not many light milds left now?? Tim Taylors golden best is a splendid drink.

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  6. Yes, includes 1892 Dark as well, which is only the light with added caramel anyway.

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  7. I gather they were both the same product, but with the addition or exclusion of caramel, Dimpled.

    Pity it's a beer for old codgers, otherwise you could start up a faux social media outrage that serves as free advertising. Like what Heinz did with salad cream.

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  8. Martin, Cambridge27 December 2014 at 19:55

    If its not selling they're entitled to drop it, but I've also had dull pints as well as wonderful ones (Grapes in Hazel Grove and Oddfellows in Ashton stand out).

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  9. Of course they're entitled to drop it if it's a slow seller, but I think the minimum brew length is the key problem. It wouldn't surprise me if, after Banks's, it's actually the second best selling cask mild in the country.

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  10. You may find this of interest:-

    http://www.retrowow.co.uk/retro_britain/keg_bitter/60s_and_70s_beer.html

    All the best for 2015, Peter

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  11. I tend to also suspect that brew length is the deciding factor here. Lees Mild is very hard to find and Holts only produce a very small amount now. So it's hard to draw any other conclusion.

    A shame, anyway, as I used to drink quite a bit of Hatters and Light Mild really is an endangered species.

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  12. Even with a shorter brew length, why take up space on the bar for a slowly shifting product few want because few drink weak dishwater these days? Why ruin your brand with grog that goes bad before it's sold? Why not put on a tap of something that sells?

    You know, why not accept commercial reality and make a quid? Or is that too much like rampant greedy capitalism for leftie beards?

    They are on a loser with 3.7% boring brown bitter, mind. They wanna get some craft keg on. Summat crafted and kegged to the point that it shrinks the trouser of the drinker into skinny jeans. Crafted and kegged to the point an ironic beard spouts from the drinkers chin and his orange sainsburys carrier bag with a gregs pasty, festival glass and train timetable transmutes into a leather satchel full of vinyl LPs.

    Tell you what's craft and out there and would rock the world. A pre-WW1 5-6% Mild.

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  13. Putting the mild in every Robbies pub and dropping the price to £1.50 a pint would work.

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  14. When I went on the Robinsons brewery tour (about a year ago) they told me that mild sales had increased greatly as a result of re-naming it "1892". Previously, they said, sales were steadily declining, and that the previous name change (to "Hatters") hadn't worked.

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  15. Perhaps the previous name change to Hatters didn't work because the customer just goes on asking for a pint of mild, whatever the silly name change. When are brewers going to learn to be honest, instead of being ashamed of a perfectly respectable beer. Why not be courageous and boldly market the beer as 'traditional' telling young people that drinking mild is something to be proud of.

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  16. It would be interesting to see the decline on a graph with the name changes highlighted to see whether the name changes arrested the decline in anyway or increased it. Whether new punters where attracted or existing ones put off the change in branding.

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  17. Perhaps Robinsons could flog it as Craft Mild, using pictures of pints being sunk by check-shirted twats with hillbilly beards and silly plain glass specs. On the other hand, market forces could have just spelled the end for another old favourite.

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