History is Sweet: Milk Stouts Were Designed to Save The World

History is Sweet: Milk Stouts Were Designed to Save The World

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

Stouts arose from the porters in the middle 1700s, but there were already stout porters around in the 1600s – “stout” at that time just meant strong. Then, the style known as stout separated for good from the porter in the mid-1800s. OK, so we have the stout as a style of beer – but heaven knows that the evolution didn’t stop there. We have talked before about several of the variations on the stout (history and English stouts here, export and American stouts here, and imperial stouts here), but that’s just the beginning.

Today let’s talk about the stout that was invented to save lives. It was a noble cause, no doubt, and while the result was tasty, it wasn’t on the level of penicillin or even fluoridated toothpaste. It all started in the last half of the 19th century, when a French scientist put forth the following theory: beer is good for you and milk is good for you, so beer with milk in it must be great for you.

Don’t laugh, this didn’t come from some kook, it was published in a French scientific journal by Jean Baptiste Alphonse Chevallier, one of the great scientists of the day, and perhaps the top most authority on public health when it came to foodstuffs. In the course of his work on designing methods that people could use to test milk for falsification (basically, having things added to it to dilute the milk so sellers could make more money – like water and other chemicals), he came up with ways to look at the different sugars, proteins, and fats in milk.

It occurred to him that with milk being an emulsion of various good things, and beer being a mixture of DIFFERENT good things, the two together could be a….well, a health food! About that time time, the same idea was occurring to people in England, where they mixed milk and beer to make a pick-me-up for the big laborers who drank beer for their lunch. Remember, porters were originally developed for the workers moving crates around on boats, trains, and carts.

For those that were pale and sickly, both beer and milk had been prescribed as a source of good calories to build them up. Heck, beer + milk was even suggested for pregnant women to build up their strength for the delivery. It seemed like Chevallier (not to be confused with John Chevallier of Suffolk who developed the Chevallier malt), might be on to something. Unfortunately, milk + beer didn’t taste great, and attempts to make it better didn’t turn out well.

Even older than the addition of milk to beer was the addition of sugar to beer. Overly sour or bitter beers were mitigated by adding sugar to them, and many recipes existed for different beer concoctions with other alcohols and sugars added. Adding sugar to beer became a good way to increase the caloric content of beer (this was a time when getting enough calories was a challenge, not like today’s plethora of high calorie foods and food in general).

So adding milk to beer was considered a good idea but tasted bad, and adding sugar to beer was a good idea and tasted swell – so how about taking some of the parts of milk and adding them to beer? Lactose (milk sugar)! That was the ticket! John Henry Johnson in London patented a recipe for beer made with lactose and whey (byproducts of cheese making), but he never commercialized it. Then, just after the turn of the century, the first milk stout was sold.

The Mackeson family brewery (Hythe, Kent) did make the first milk stout, and still makes them to this day (now owned by Whitbread Beer). Heck, Walter and used to own Mack the cat, named for Mackeson XXX Stout (the milk stout). The name, milk stout, came from the idea of making this a nutritious beer + milk beverage, but of course it was just the milk sugar (lactose) that was being used.

Lactose is a non-fermentable sugar which adds a sweetness and body to the beer, so milk stouts are also called sweet stouts or cream stouts. Despite the lack of milk in the product, Mackeson put a milk can on the label, and stated that it had the equivalent of 10 oz of wholesome milk in every pint. The drink was advertised as a restorative and even as a great tonic for nursing mothers (and was prescribed by doctors as such right up to the 1950s).

Many breweries began making these milk stouts (also called sweet stouts or cream stouts), and each touted the nutritious aspects of the drink. England was agog for the sweet version of the stout and became its home turf, while other places, like Ireland, tended toward the drier stouts and porters (like Guinness).

Advertising claims notwithstanding, milk stouts certainly don’t have all the nutritiousness of milk – lactose alone doesn’t carry the benefits of the fats, proteins, and vitamins in the milk. But it was a good claim and they hated to have it go to waste. Finally in 1946, the British government passed a law stating that it was illegal to use “milk” on the label because it gave an erroneous impression of the nutritive value of the product.

I think the craft movement has caused a relaxation of this law, because I personally know of several sweet stouts from England with “milk “ on their label. However, never put anything past a government. The FDA is currently investigating whether almond, soy, and cashew milks can legally be called “milk.” Regardless of the milk argument, milk stouts don’t even have to use milk sugar. There are milk stouts that use lots more crystal or caramel malts to achieve the same sweetness and smoothness (more likely to be called sweet stouts), while oatmeal stouts (we’ll talk about them soon) have many of the same characteristics as milk stouts.

So what are you buying into with a milk stout? Creaminess and sweetness cut the roastiness of the malts by a little or a lot, depending on the stout, but the malt aroma should still be present. There are often hints if chocolate and even coffee as well that show through and are less likely to be hidden by the added sweetness, but hop bitterness is one thing that will move to the deep background. They don’t really look like milk has been added; the color remains black as night for most versions (not like the blonde or white stouts we’ll talk about soon).

The body/mouthfeel of sweet stouts are full and creamy, and can be turned up to 11  by putting them on beer gas/nitrogen. Despite this big beer feel, ABVs in Europe and England usually fall in the 4-6% range, while American versions are often produced as Imperial milk stouts, between 7 and 11%.

Some great Indiana milk stouts: Frozen Assets from Taxman Brewing, Bark Side of the Moo from Burn ‘Em Brewing, Umbra Chocostout from Flix Brewhouse, His Dark Materials from Monnik Beer, How Now from HopLore Brewing, Saturday Morning Cartoons from Black Circle Brewing, Mocha Frap Galactose from Windmill Brewing, Milk the Stonks from Studebaker Brewing, and Sloth Love Chunk from Four Fathers Brewing. As for a couple of great Imperial milk stouts – Hunter from 18th Street Brewery and Double Uddercut (now called Sweet Science) from Indiana City Brewing  – anyone want to buy a brewery?.

Some great national/international milk stouts: Left Hand Milk Stout (nitro), Mackeson XXX Stout, Watney’s Cream Stout, Saugatuck Neapolitan Stout, Firestone Walker Mole Merkin, Brink Brewing’s Moozie, and Viva La Beaver from Belching Beaver. For imperial milks stouts, I love Xocoveza from Stone and the Rocky Road from Angry Chair.

Let’s keep the smooth going next time and talk about oatmeal stouts.

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