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Classic Beer of the Month December 2013: Moorhouse's Black Cat

Moorhouse's Black Cat, 3.4%

The story of mild has been a mostly dreary one in recent decades. Until 1960, it was Britain's most popular beer style but it suffered a dramatic decline in the years that followed.

Moorhouse's Black CatIn 1980, Thwaites Dark Mild – one of the few surviving examples at the time – was named CAMRA's Champion Beer of Britain but that seemed to be a last hurrah, as mild continued to be phased out in breweries through the subsequent decade.

One of the few breweries to add a mild during that period was Moorhouse's, but Black Cat Mild was very much a minor brand that struggled to survive. Sales at one point plumetted to just three barrels a week, prompting the management of the time into a radical rethink.

Rather than scrap the beer, they decided to give it the kiss of life. The brew was reformulated, to make it darker and a touch stronger, and the result was dramatic.

In 1998, the beer was presented with a gold medal in the Brewing Industry International Awards and followed this two years later by winning CAMRA's Champion Beer of Britain title – the first mild to do so for twenty years. The phone started ringing with orders and the beer has never looked back.

Important Flagbearer

Black Cat (the mild word absent since that 1990s rethink) remains an important flagbearer for the style in Britain. No doubt its big championship wins prompted other breweries into reconsidering their mild position.

These triumphs also proved that the style was still capable of being judged on its own terms, in a world turning increasingly hoppy and golden. Three other milds have claimed CAMRA's prestigious trophy since.

Pale malt, mixed with chocolate malt and some invert sugar, now provides the cereal base. Fuggle hops supply the gentle bitterness and the result is a beautifully-balanced, light-bodied beer that, with its rich ruby colour, looks stunning in the glass and is equally appealing on the nose and tongue.

Caramel, biscuit and chocolate waft through the aroma, before chocolate toffees and coffee fill the palate, and roasted grain surges through in the dry, bittersweet finish. For a 3.4% beer, it stands up well to bottling although my preference is for the cask version.
Black Cat is still by no means Moorhouse's biggest selling beer, but it's an important part of the portfolio, nominally tied into the witching theme of the company's beers, which are now exported widely around the world.

More importantly, easy on the alcohol but loaded with flavour, it proves that there really is a place for mild in today's increasingly complex beer world.

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