It’s not uncommon for false claims to abound where beer is concerned, but milk stout is a particularly curious brew with a history of misleading the public. You won’t find too many brewers today with milk stout on their repertoire, but we’ve got our hands on the finest in the land, courtesy of honest brewers Bristol Beer Factory.
The first thing to note about modern milk stouts is they contain no milk. Bristol Beer Factory’s offering does have a slightly sweet and creamy taste to it but this comes from the addition of lactose (or milk sugar), which is of little interest to the sugar munching yeasts, allowing it to retain a natural sweetness after fermentation.
Although adding lactose is now the milk stout norm, when the style first arrived on the drinking scene, in the mid 19th century, it was a blend of beer and milk. The crazy plan was to provide labourers with bit of extra nutritional value to their lunchtime pint, topping them up with some extra energy before returning to work. Rather than serve them a bag of nuts, milk was considered the best bet, and this new dairy brew was even marketed as a drink with restorative qualities (ignoring the obvious lunchtime drinking side effects of an afternoon slump in the office chair whilst pretending to update a particularly bothersome spreadsheet).
Unsurprisingly, the drink became hugely popular (any perceived health benefits to drinking beer are always latched on to) and the beneficial claims became more outlandish. Doctors began suggesting that drinking the stuff could even help young mothers increase the quality of their own milk which, allied to its natural sweetness, made it a popular choice with many previously beer-shy women (the only beer my Gran ever stocked was Mackeson’s milk stout – and she was still drinking it in moderation over 40 years after she stopped feeding my dad).
In 1946 the government poured cold water on the marketers milky claims and banned the word ‘milk’ from bottle labels (Mackeson’s delved deep into the creative well, replacing it with ‘XXX’) and the style’s popularity faded.
Despite this, it’s still a drink worth investigating. Bristol Beers Factory’s effort is so good that it won SIBA’s prestigious national champion stout award just last year, beating a host of milkless dark beers to the title. Like all good stouts it has robust roasted flavours, but the lactose softens them, taking away the bitter edges while providing a bit more body to the brew. It’s not an overly sweet drink, but any dryness usually associated with stouts has been smoothed out, giving it a creamy texture that’s well worth lapping up. Despite all its qualities, I wouldn’t rely on it for any extra nutritional value – so I’ll continue to drink mine with a bag of nuts instead.
Brewery: Bristol Beer Factory, Ashton, Bristol
Beer name: Milk Stout