Posted on February 16th, 2010
To those unfamiliar with the style, milk stout may sound pretty gross. Pouring milk into a glass of IPA seems like a terrible, terrible idea. Fortunately that’s not what milk stout is at all. It’s actually a tasty and delicious form of stout that is a great way to introduce someone to the world of heavier beers. Let’s take a look at what this style has to offer.
Although the style is known as ‘milk stout’ the name is a bit of a misnomer. There really is no milk in the beer, but rather lactose sugar. This is the type of sugar found in milk and one of the main things that gives it its creamy goodness. During the brewing process most sugar in the wort (pre-beer) is fermented into alcohol by yeast. However, there is always some sugar that the yeast is unable to process. This unfermented sugar remains in the beer and is what imparts a sweet taste to the brew. The sweeter the beer the more unfermented sugar there is in it. During the mashing process a brewmaster is able to control how much sugar will be fermented and how much will remain unfermented. Through this process wildly differing beers can be crafted from similar ingredients.
Lactose sugar simply can’t be fermented by most brewing yeast, so all of it will remain in the beer, giving it a creamy and smooth taste. This makes for a wonderfully delightful brew that’s great in the winter months, or any time of year really. The lactose sugar takes off much of the dry bitterness that many stouts and porters can have, which means that can be good way of introducing someone to the world of stouts and porters if they haven’t enjoyed them in the past.
Although it’s impossible to say for sure, milk stouts seem to be of British origin, having roots somewhere in the sweet stouts and cream ales of old. Mackeson Triple XXX Milk Stout was for many years the most popular version of the stout. With its sweet and smooth flavors it’s a must try for anyone. Sadly it appears Mackeson has been retired by its parent company Whitbread. But fret not, American craft brewers Left Hand also make a delicious milk stout, which is a bit less sweet than Mackeson, but still wonderful. Duck-Rabbit, an up and coming brewing based in Farmville, NC also make a great milk stout, be sure to give them a taste as well.