On tap at Venture Café is the delicious Blue Hills 3 Peak Holiday Stout. Brewed in the milk stout style, it boasts strong flavors of vanilla, oak, and sweet lactose. A few months ago, we served Opa Opa Milk Stout, which tasted of roasted malts, coffee, and chocolate. Whenever the Café pours a milk stout, the most common question at the bar is: “Hey – got any milk in that stout?”
It turns out that the “milk stout” style is a modern day misnomer. Drinkers in the UK in the 1800s did indeed pour whole milk into their porters and stouts, and brewers at the time added milk to their fermentation processes. However, the modern recipe does not call for milk, but instead requires lactose sugar, which is the sugar that is found in milk and gives it that creamy texture and taste.
Lactose sugar differs from other sugars in how it is affected by yeast. In normal “non-milk” brewing, the yeast ferments most of the sugar in the brew into alcohol. The leftover sugar that the yeast does not process imparts a sweet flavor to the beer, so brewmasters control this fermentation process to manage the sweetness of the final product. Unlike other sugars, however, lactose sugar cannot be fermented by the yeast, so it all remains in the beer to create a fuller-bodied product with more rounded mouthfeel and added sweetness. It also can balance the hoppiness and bitterness of some drier stouts.
These qualities make the milk stout an excellent introduction to darker beer styles – a gateway stout, if you will. So, the next time you get the chance, try a milk stout. I hear it does a body good.