Pretty Things, Once Upon a Time XXXX Mild Ale

Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project
Grade: B

Saturday, February 27th, 2010 was the 178th anniversary of the brewing of a very special beer by the Truman, Hanbury, Buxton and Co. brewery in London, England. Dann Paquette, owner/brewer of Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project worked with brewing historian Ron Pattinson to reproduce this "mild" ale (meaning "sold young") exactly as it was brewed back then. The result nearly destroyed the brewery, took three days to clean up, and generally was considered to be "a complete and utter disaster."

"Despite this we had a wort worth fermenting..." Dann said. The release party was held at Deep Ellum in Allston, Massachusetts, with Dickensian period costumes mixing with the hipster clothing of the younger crowd. The beer was served by gravity from an oak cask, as well as hand pumped from a stainless firkin. You can see video of Dann's speech and the tapping of the cask here. As for the beer itself, the oak cask was tapped in less than twenty minutes, with the firkin following about a half hour later. Needless to say, the line of people wrapped around the building were disappointed. Thankfully this intrepid beer seeker was there an hour early, and got some of the last of the oak cask XXXX Mild to try. Oh, and did I mention this beer is over 10% ABV? It's over 10% ABV.
Dann, looking smashing in his wonderful hat and pipe

Appearance is nicely clear, with a little bit of haze, but not much. The gravity cask doesn't produce much head, but what little there was came out white and foamy. The color is a very nice red, with light auburn tints at the edges. The aroma has a lot of fruit in it, which isn't unusual from an English style ale. In his speech, Dann mentioned that there was no refrigeration done on this beer. It fermented naturally at ambient, February temperatures, which leads the yeast to give off more of that fruity quality. There is a slight note of alcohol in the nose, but its hidden behind some candy-like sweetness.

The mouthfeel is understandably full bodied, the cask conditioning lends only a minimal amount of carbonation to the beer. Because there was no refrigeration used, even when storing the beer in the cask, the serving temperature is much warmer than most American beers, which allows a lot of the flavors and esters to come out. The flavor has fruit, banana, plums, burnt sugar, and some candy sweetness. There are some slight oxidative notes as well, but that's understandable since the oak cask "breathes," letting small amounts of oxygen into the beer over time. The sweetness is countered by an earthy, woody, slightly vanilla flavor from the wood. The wood itself is nicely mellow, not like the bourbon or whiskey barrels some other breweries use. Despite the massive amount of Kent Golding hops used (4.5 lbs per barrel!) the bitterness isn't very present. It seems like some of the tannins from the oak are drying out the beer in the aftertaste, instead of the hop bitterness balancing the sweetness of the malt.

The mass of people eager for a taste

The beer is unusual, certainly interesting, and generally something that beer geeks like myself would crawl over broken glass to try (driving two hours and trying to find parking isn't quite broken glass, but whatever). However, despite the fact that the 10% ABV isn't noticeable, the beer certainly isn't a sessionable ale. Some of my less beer geeky drinking companions were interested in the beer, but when it came right down to it, they wouldn't order a second. And I reluctantly have to say I agree with them. It might be the warm serving temperature, the sweetness, or the lack of carbonation, but the American palate isn't quite ready for traditional English beers. Yet. We're slowly coming around, and I have a feeling that future beers from the Once Upon a Time series from Pretty Things will show us the way.