Scarce Beers

Just like animals, certain beers can become rare, and then even extinct. One example is West Country White Ale. It was last seen in 1875. One of the oldest beer styles known, it was a naturally fermented ale dating from the Medieval era and was last found in Devon and Cornwall.

CAMRA campaigns to preserve endangered beer styles, such as Mild, and each spring we always feature a large range of Mild beers at Skipton Beer Festival as part of our seasonal campaign for this beer style. But Britain‘s endangered beers go far beyond mild. This article lists other styles that need protection, as well as some others that have already gone the same way as the Dodo.

You can help! Go out and, where you can, sample some of the endangered beer styles. A list of outlets in Keighley and Craven which sell a “Scarce Beer” on a permanent basis is on a separate page. You can also follow @ScarceBeer on Twitter. If you find a scarce beer on sale in the Keighley and Craven area, let us know by using the Twitter address above or the Contact page of this web-site (send to Branch Contact) or by email to (replace '-AT-' with @). Last but not least, persuade your local licensee to try selling a scarce beer, if they don‘t already. And let us know if you succeed, and when it will be available, so that we can give it some publicity!

Light Mild

This is the descendent of strong pale light milds brewed in the 18th and 19th centuries. At that time, although lightly hopped, they were significantly stronger in alcohol than today‘s version. A drastic lowering of gravity took place during the First World War in response to a big rise in taxes on beer. Despite this, together with the Dark versions, Mild was the most popular style of draught beer right up to the end of the 1940s. Since then it has suffered a catastrophic decline in sales, and many brewers have ceased to produce it. One or two Light Milds remain and Timothy Taylor in Keighley still brew an excellent example, Golden Best. It‘s widely available in Keighley, and all around the region.

Dark Mild

These pretty much evolved from Light Mild around the turn of the last century and became the darker versions that many people associate with Mild beers today. They‘ve suffered the same fate as their pale forebears with the same sharp decline in sales and production. There are still some around, but mostly on an occasional basis in many pubs. Tetley Dark Mild, Copper Dragon Black Gold, Thwaites Nutty Black, Naylors Velvet/Pinnacle Mild and Moorhouses Black Cat are perhaps the most often found examples in the Keighley and Craven area.

(An older, more detailed, article extolling the virtues of Milds is available by clicking here.)

Light Bitter

There is some overlap between these and light milds, the term AK being used for both styles in the 19th Century. They were “light” in alcohol terms at around 4.5% compared to other beers of that time. Today the remaining examples are lower still in alcohol by volume at around 3.0% to 3.5%. The so called “boy‘s bitters” of the West Country are the best known survivors, such as Arkells 2B and St. Austell IPA. One of our local breweries, Ilkley, recently introduced a Victorian Dinner ale. During Victorian times, wine started to be associated with wealth, and beer was found on the tables of working families. Dinner Ales were the affordable option and in contrast to the heavy milds and porters of the time, were generally lower in alcohol, and light and crisp so as to be a good accompaniment to food.

Old Ale

The boundary between Old Ale and Mild is vague and interwoven since Old Ale is an “aged” Mild. The latter were often young fresh beers drunk as such or blended with older aged beers. Old Ales were in the main stronger than Mild, but that strays into “barley wine” territory, a term for all varieties of strong old ale. Complicated isn‘t it? Theakston’s Old Peculier is by far the best known beer of this style in the local area.

Imperial Stout

These are amongst the finest strong beers in the world. So called due to their originally being supplied to the court of the Royal Tsars in Russia. When Courage stopped brewing their bottle-conditioned Russian Imperial Stout in the mid 1990s, the style effectively became extinct in Britain as a main-stream product. Samuel Smith still produce a version in bottles, and Harvey of Lewes, Sussex with their Imperial Extra Double Stout in bottled conditioned format is the sole British survivor that keeps the true style alive. In the USA, however, a number of craft breweries have recreated the style in typically enthusiastic fashion, and this has inspired some of our own emerging microbrewers to do the same. Look out for occasional draught versions from the likes of Black Sheep and Hawkshead breweries, among others.

Now for the critically endangered styles....

Burton Ale

This was a dark beer style, with a degree of sweetness, very popular in the winter months. As a draught beer, it was in the top three most popular tipples right up to the 1950s, particularly in London. It then all but vanished. Youngs of London changed the name of theirs to Winter Warmer. This is still seen on occasions as a seasonal ale in their range. Bass No.1 is still brewed by Molson Coors at their brewery in Burton-on-Trent, the former Bass site. The other big brewer in that town, Marstons, have Owd Roger as their example. Both these beers are strong varieties of the style. Fullers of London have revived a 1930s recipe for their “Past Masters” limited-edition bottlings, called Old Burton Extra. Greene King blend BPA (Burton Pale Ale) with a stock beer called 5X to make their Strong Suffolk. Oddly the new wave of microbrewers in this land have yet to get enthusiastic about this style.

Scotch Ale

This is a version of Burton Ale from north of the border. Originating in Edinburgh, Scotch Ales were strong in alcohol, and tended to be dark through the use of long copper boiling times, which caramelises the pale malt content. Together with the use of darker malts, this gives rise to a bittersweet taste with a burnt toffee tang. Bitterness levels are generally low, so the accent is on a sweeter malt character. The wonderful little brewery at Traquair House at Innerleithen, near Peebles in the Scottish borders, still produces bottle-conditioned specimens in the shape of Traquair House Ale, and Jacobite Ale. The style has also survived in Belgium, where the brand Gordons Scotch Ale is still sold. This beer is brewed for the export market by Caledonian Brewery in Edinburgh, and goes under different brand names such as McEwans Scotch Ale. Whilst most of the focus on this style is centred in the USA Craft Brewing industry, some of the Scottish micros have recently started brewing Scotch ales again.

Milk Stout/Sweet Stout

A taste for these arose as a counterpoint to the drier, sharp Irish style stouts. In the early 20th century brewers perfected the process of producing stouts with added lactose (milk sugar), which is not fermentable. Hence the finished article is sweeter and creamier. Just after the last war it was forbidden to refer to milk in association with beer and so Milk Stouts became labelled and known as Sweet Stout. Like other styles, sweet stout has fallen out of fashion over the last 50 years and most brewers stopped producing sweet stouts. Mackeson is the best known surviving example in cans only. For the real stuff, seek out Bristol Beer Factory‘s example.

Vatted Old Ale

These are basically strong beers, left to mature in large oak vats for at least a year. It is unlikely they will ever have a viable future because of their long storage times, and the cost of maintining the large wooden vessels use to mature them. Greene King with their 5X remain as the sole producer, albeit only for use in blending with other beers as described above. They add a dash of 5X to their Abbot Ale.

Sour Aged Ale

This is a style of vatted old ale in which a proportion is held back in casks to blend with ale from the following year‘s production. This is similar to the process used in Spain and Portugal to produce fortified wines. Gales Prize Old Ale, a bottle-conditioned beer occasionally brewed by Fullers in London, is the last surviving example.

And those…extinct?

Gale Ale

Ales flavoured with herbs were common right up until the early eighteenth century, when hops were taxed and a ban was imposed on adding any other bittering components. Williams Brothers of Alloa in Central Scotland brew a number of different examples including Fraoch (pronounced frew-och, as in loch). So perhaps this style has come back from the dead, after all!

Strong Pale Mild

This was a speciality of some London brewers in the nineteenth century. Pale ales of around 8% alcohol were brewed and sold unaged or “mild”. These evolved into the weaker beers like the light milds of today.

CAMRA is actively campaigning for the preservation of all these threatened styles of British beer. They are part of our cultural heritage just like the pubs in which they are sold and deserve our protection.

Graham Cundall

Campaigning links

Campaigning home

LocAle - Promoting locally brewed beers

Promoting real ale pubs

National Beer Scoring System

Supporting community pubs

List a pub as a community asset

Beer Festivals

Cider and Perry

Promoting “endangered” traditional beer styles

Where to drink Mild and other “endangered” beer styles in Keighley and Craven

Local pub guides


Fred Baker presents the Pub of the Season Summer 2017 plaque to the staff at the Boat House, Skipton, July 2017

Fred Baker presents the Pub of the Season Summer 2017 plaque to the staff at the Boat House, Skipton, July 2017

Disclaimer and Privacy Policy | Contact Keighley and Craven CAMRA | Copyright © Keighley and Craven CAMRA 1998-2023