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Classic Beer of the Month September 2017: Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby


Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby, 6%

Strong, dark mild remains a rare find these days.

Sarah Hughes Dark RubyFor much of the twentieth century, mild was the UK’s most popular beer style, comfortably outselling bitter and stout, with lager not even troubling the scale.

After losing its pre-eminence, it just about survived – mostly in former industrial pockets of Britain like the Midlands and the North – and has now picked up a little in the hands of the new generation of brewers.

Today, mild is commonly seen as a rather weak brew, rarely climbing above 3.5% ABV, somewhat lower than in its pre-First World War heyday, when a typical example would have poured at in excess of 5% ABV.

For a blast of this heady past, we have relatively few options today. I could suggest Teignworthy’s Martha’s Mild from Devon, or perhaps Beowulf’s Strong Mild from Walsall, but the most celebrated is Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby from deeper within the Black Country.

Flagship Beer

The Sarah Hughes Brewery is based at the Beacon Hotel in Sedgley, near Dudley. I featured it on these pages as long ago as 2010, recalling how the said Mrs Hughes bought the pub in 1921 with insurance money after her husband’s tragic death in the coal mines.

The pub already had a brewery and she ran the brewhouse herself. She died in 1951 and the brewery closed six years later, only to be revived by her grandson, John Hughes, in the 1980s.

John immediately made Dark Ruby his flagship beer, recalling the style of beer that – although by the 1980s rather forgotten – had been hugely popular during his grandmother’s days.

The name Dark Ruby implies a rich red colour but the beer is more of deep garnet-brown in the glass, courtesy of the crystal malt that joins pale malt in the mash tun. It presents an aroma with hints of chocolate and lots of winey fruit that gives an indication of the strength to follow.

Abundant Malt

The first sip is sweet as the abundant malt washes over the tongue, bringing also a tinge of tartness. Despite the lushness of the grain, this is not a thick, cloying beer. There’s more subtlety to the body than you often credit to a beer of this strength.

Again that winey fruit pushes through and esters created during fermentation start to show their colours. I detect a mellow sultana note, perhaps a touch of melon and certainly a very pleasant hint of peardrop.

Overall, it’s a very smooth, softly warming and satisfying drink, helped along by a little leafy dryness from the Fuggle and Golding hops that continues alongside the lingering malt and sultana in the finish.

The remarkably unspoilt Beacon Hotel is a wonderful tribute to the best pubs of old. The beer most associated with it does the same job for the now sadly neglected style of strong, dark mild.

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