Milk stout beer, known for being a dark, velvety beverage, is a variety of stout that has gained popularity in the beer world in recent years. This very unique brew is made by incorporating lactose into the recipe. Lactose is a milk sugar, which imparts a characteristic creaminess and slight sweetness to the beer, which sets it apart from traditional stouts.
Lactose is also unique in that it does not ferment when exposed to beer yeast, which as a result, leaves a subtle sweetness that complements the deep, roasted flavors typically found in dark beers. Milk stout beers often showcase notes of chocolate, coffee, and even dark fruits, making them an enjoyable tasting beer for those who enjoy rich and complex flavor profiles.
With a full-bodied texture and low carbonation, they offer a smooth drinking experience that caters to a large audience. As a result, this brew has, over time, slowly established a significant fan base in the craft beer scene. It continues to capture new fans with its perfect balance of sweetness and depth.
History of Milk Stout
Milk or cream stout is a variation of traditional stout beer. The first known use of the word stout for beer dates back to a document from 1677 found in the Egerton Manuscripts, where the word stout referred to the strength of the beer, meaning a stout beer was considered a strong beer. The term porter was later introduced in 1721 to describe a dark brown beer. This post will help if you’re curious about the difference between a stout and a porter.
The history of this beer style goes back to the early 20th century when it was originally promoted as a nourishing and energy-boosting beverage in Great Britain. It was particularly marketed to nursing mothers, as it was thought to have health benefits for them and their babies. However, it was only a short time before this thought process was disproven, and milk stout’s popularity waned.
However, in recent years, as a result of the craft beer movement, interest in them has made a recent resurgence among craft brewers who have experimented with exciting twists on this classic beer style. Modern versions of milk stouts often feature-rich, complex flavors of espresso, chocolate, and caramel.
This beer’s distinguishing ingredient is lactose, a type of milk sugar that distinguishes this beer style from others. Lactose does not ferment like other sugars during the fermentation phase, which results in the beer having a slightly sweet and creamy flavor. Due to the unfermented lactose, they are also sometimes called “cream” stouts.
The primary malted barley in a milk stout recipe is typically Maris Otter, which is an English 2-row barley and provides the beer with more of a rich flavor and smooth texture than other 2-rows. Additional specialty grains, such as pale chocolate and roasted barley, provide the signature dark color and roasted flavors associated with all stouts.
Other grains, like flaked oats, can be incorporated into the recipe to increase the body and mouth feel.
Bittering hops are an essential ingredient used to balance the sweetness of lactose. Fuggles is a common hop variety in these beers as it contributes earthy and mildly floral notes. In addition to Fuggles, brewers will typically choose other hop varieties with low alpha acid levels, ensuring the bitterness complements rather than overwhelms the lactose sweetness.
A low attenuating yeast strain is vital when brewing a milk stout, as it preserves the desired sweetness and mouthfeel. English-style yeast strains, such as Wyeast 1187 Ringwood Ale Yeast, are often used in most recipes. These strains contribute the fruity esters and help to create the desired flavor and complexity these beers are known for.
Like any beer, mashing is the first step in brewing this beer style. Mashing is where the grains are mixed with hot water to create a porridge-like mixture. This process lasts for about one hour and results in sugars and flavors being extracted from the grains that will later be fermented into alcohol.
After mashing, the wort (unfermented beer) is collected and brought to a boil. This is when the hops are added to provide bitterness, flavor, and aroma to the beer. Most recipes generally have low amounts of hops, allowing the malt sweetness and chocolatey flavors to shine through. The boil is also when you add the lactose sugar.
Once the boil is over, the wort is cooled, and the yeast is pitched into the fermentation vessel or carboy. On average, fermentation will take 1-3 weeks, depending on the conditions and the type of yeast used. Monitoring the temperature and maintaining a stable environment during this process is essential.
Bottling or Kegging
After fermentation, the beer is racked into either bottles or kegs for carbonation and conditioning. Both methods have pros and cons: Bottling makes it easier to transport your beer while kegging beer provides more control over carbonation levels and typically requires much less work. Regardless of your chosen method, proper sanitation and cleaning are crucial to preserving the beer’s quality and ensuring it does not become infected.
Flavor Profile and Characteristics
This section will explore the flavor profile and characteristics of milk stout beer.
The color typically ranges from dark brown to black, with a Standard Reference Method (SRM) of 30-60. This visually contrasts the creamy, off-white head that often forms atop the beer during pouring.
Flavor-wise, they are known for having a nice balance of sweetness from the lactose sugars and bitterness from the hops and barley. The resulting taste profile is complex, as the sweet notes nicely complement the bitter flavors of the beer. They also often feature subtle hints of chocolate and roasted coffee, depending on the brewing process and additional ingredients used.
As for the mouthfeel, like most stouts, they are known for their full-bodied, creamy texture. However have a slightly more creamy feel to them as a result of the presence of lactose sugar, which, as discussed, contributes to the beer’s overall smoothness, resulting in a rich, velvety smooth drinking experience.
While milk stouts may vary in terms of specific flavor characteristics and notes, they do share many of the following common traits:
Color: Dark brown to black
Sweetness: Smooth, creamy sweetness
Bitterness: Balanced hop and barley bitterness
Additional flavors: Possible notes of chocolate, coffee
Mouthfeel: Full-bodied and creamy with low carbonation
Popular Milk Stout Brands and Varieties
Popular Milk Stout Beer Brands
Several notable breweries have brewed their own versions of this beer style, each offering different features that make them stand out in the market from each other.
Left Hand Brewing Company is well-known for its Left Hand Milk Stout. This flagship beer blends coffee, chocolate, and caramel flavors. Left Hand Brewing has also experimented with different variations, including a nitro version and a peanut butter variant, which adds to the brewing company’s appeal.
Another favorite milk stout is the Moo-Hoo Chocolate by Terrapin Beer Co., which features enticing milk chocolate and medium-roast coffee aromas. This beer showcases a mildly bitter profile with a hint of spice and cream on the palate.
Maine Beer Company’s Mean Old Tom Stout is a jet-black beer aged with vanilla beans and brewed with roasted barley, chocolate malt, flaked oats, and Centennial hops.
When pairing food with milk stout beers, several options exist to enhance and complement the beer’s flavors.
Due to their bold flavors, roasted and smoked foods pair very well with them. The smoky and rich taste of barbecued and grilled dishes goes nicely with this stout’s robust and sweet notes. For example, pairing them with slow-smoked brisket or char-grilled vegetables reveals the food’s and beer’s depth and complexity.
Strong cheeses are an excellent choice for cheese lovers to pair with milk stouts. Cheeses such as pepper jack or blue cheese contrast the sweetness and creaminess of the beer with their solid and sharp flavors.
Oysters make for an unexpectedly enjoyable pairing with this beer style. The briny, salty taste of the oysters enhances the sweetness of the stout, resulting in a complementary flavor combination. Additionally, the creamy texture of the beer balances the oysters’ saltiness, creating a balanced mouthfeel.
Desserts and chocolate obviously make for natural pairings also, as this beer’s chocolate and coffee notes complement perfectly most sweet treats. For instance, pairing a pint of milk stout with a rich chocolate cake or a silky pot de crème highlights the beer’s natural sweetness while simultaneously augmenting the dessert’s flavors.
Health Benefits and Concerns
Like any beer, when consumed in moderation, milk stout beers may offer some health benefits; however, as always, some concerns should be considered.
Like other beer types, they contain antioxidants, B vitamins, soluble fiber, and prebiotics, which can promote the growth of “good” bacteria in your gut. These components contribute to general health, helping to lower the risk of heart diseases, maintain blood sugar control, and support bone health. Additionally, moderate beer consumption may even contribute to a reduced risk of dementia.
However, it is essential to remember that these health benefits are associated with light to moderate beer intake. On the other hand, heavy and binge drinking can lead to severe health concerns like liver damage, addiction, and an increased risk of some cancers. Therefore, individuals should always drink responsibly and be aware of their limits and the recommendations for alcohol consumption in their region.
And, of course, the lactose (milk sugar) used in brewing them could cause issues with people with lactose intolerance or dairy allergies, and as such, they should avoid this beer style, as they may experience adverse reactions.
P.S. If you brew your own beer, be sure to check out our gift on the side of the blog or at the bottom if you are on your phone. Grab Big Robb’s top 5 favorite beer recipes from his brew pub.