Because it’s 5 o’clock somewhere, but it’s 9 a.m. somewhere else
It’s rare that distinctions in alcoholic beverages can be relative to the brewer’s discretion, but such is the case between stouts and porters. The two brews form a continuum with such nebulous nuance that one style or sub-style may be virtually indistinguishable from another. Even rarer, however, is a drink that rises above this spectrum, making itself known through an unorthodox brewing process and instantly recognizable taste. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the milk stout.
The practice of adding whole milk to already-brewed beer was common practice in the UK during the 1800s. Milk beers were served during lunchtime to laborers, in hopes that the brews would give them added strength to make it through their day.
Eventually brewers began experimenting with adding milk to the fermentation process. Most notable of these experimenters was John Henry Johnson, who envisioned the potentially nutritious beer in 1875. He patented his idea, which remained unfinished, by proposing a milk beer made with barley, hops, whey and lactose.
Unfortunately, Johnson never saw his dream come to fruition, but fortunately for us, his idea was picked up by others who saw its potential. In 1907, Mackeson of Kent brewed the first lactose stout in 1907, and sent it off to market in 1910, boasting that “each pint contained the energizing carbohydrates of ten ounces of dairy milk.”
Soon Mackeson licensed the beer-making to others, and within a couple years, a rough dozen of milk stouts became available, each making similar claims. Milk stout was believed to be so nutritious, doctors prescribed it as the cure for various ailments, even offering it to nursing mothers to increase their milk production.
The promise of milk stout’s nutritional benefits was the early 20th century version of Don Draper’s branding of toasted cigarettes: nevertheless, it was effective, but 100% false. Eventually, the health claims of milk stouts fell under the scrutiny of British authorities, and by 1946, any mention of milk was deemed misleading.
Especially worrisome was the concern that children might believe the milky beverage was safe for their consumption. As a precaution, breweries were required to remove any mention of milk from their products. Comparatively, breweries outside of England don’t fall under this jurisdiction, and lactose-enhanced brews may still be referred to as milk stouts.
Besides the brewing process, what separates milk stouts from regular stouts? The lactose used in the brewing process of milk stouts is actually unfermentable, resulting in a creamy, full-bodied product, with heightened mouthfeel and a burnt-sugar flavor. In addition, lactose knocks of some of the bitter edge associated with stouts, making the end result strikingly similar to your friendly neighborhood latte.
Lancaster Brewing Company brewmaster Christian Heim explains, “Do you drink coffee? Then think of this as a new coffee flavor sensation. I mean, if you like coffee, you’d like stout, and if you put milk or sugar in your coffee you’re going to really like milk stout.”
So who knows? Maybe a nightly milk stout will become as irreplaceable as your morning cup of joe.