If you have ever encountered a beer menu offering a milk stout, and wondered what makes it a “milk stout,” you are not alone. Also called “sweet stout” or “cream stout,” this dark ale is brewed with additions of milk sugar or lactose. These creamy, smooth, roasty stouts with a touch of sweetness are big on chocolate and coffee notes; and since most are brewed at lower gravity they also make for a great winter beer session.
According to beer writers Jeff Mendel and Keith Villa, the addition of milk sugar contributes a creamy body and mouthfeel plus mild sweetness to the beer; unlike other sugars, the lactose is unfermentable by brewing yeasts. The modestly hopped brew typically offers robust chocolate and coffee flavors imparted by the roasted malt. Villa and Mendel add that the category of dark ales known as “stouts” grew out of a porter style very popular in the UK during the 18th and 19th centuries, but that the sweet milk stouts did not appear until the late 19th century. The style did not achieve maximum popularity until post World War II, followed by a period of waning interest in the late 20th century with the push toward light pale lagers. As with many other historical beers, much of the renewed interest has been a direct result of U.S. craft breweries or American consumer demand.
Around this time last year I sang the praises of Mackeson’s “Triple XXX Stout,” a fantastic example of the style still brewed in the UK, but rarely seen in the states. A bit creamier than Mackeson’s with perhaps even more of a focus on the chocolate malt character is Young’s Double Chocolate Stout — if you find this one in a can or on nitro draft don’t hesitate to take the plunge.
For yet another version, a bit more available — at least in Upstate NY — and just as delicious, there is “Mother’s Milk.” Hailing from just a couple hours south on route 87, Keegan Ales of Kingston has been brewing this flagship beer for over a decade now. It is easily one of the best dark and creamy milk stouts in the U.S. And, with hints of oatmeal, chocolate and milk, this 6 percent ABV, silky, smooth brew is far too easy to drink. If you get the chance to sample “Mother’s” on draft — or visit the brewery itself for some — you will be hard-pressed to find a better time for sipping this treat than a cold day in February.
This week’s recommendation: Keegan Ales “Mother’s Milk,” a creamy, subtly sweet milk stout with notes of oatmeal and chocolate. 6 percent ABV. Kingston, New York.
— Colin Hubbell is co-owner of the Green Onion Pub and The Beer Hub in south Utica, New York.