As winter draws in we at the Beer Emporium are tending to find more and more people opting for the darker end of the beer spectrum. Stouts, Porters and Dark Milds are increasingly the tipple of choice for the discerning ale drinker. And here in Bristol we are lucky enough to be overrun with some excellent examples of these dark hued styles.

This week in the cellar we have three superlative modern examples of a specific type of stout that Bristol seems to have nailed down and claimed as its own; step forward the humble Milk Stout.

  • Bristol Beer Factory Milk Stout (4.5%)
  • Wiper & True Milkshake (5.1%)
  • Crane Milk Stout (4.6%).

All Bristolian, all delicious. All available at the Beer Emporium this week.

For the uninitiated, milk stouts are stouts brewed with the addition of lactose, or more simply milk sugar. As this milk sugar is unfermentable by brewing yeasts, the finished beer has a mild sweetness not ordinarily seen in other stout variations. Add in a full body and creamy moreish flavour, and these brews are true winter warmers.

Aside from being mouth-wateringly tasty, there is an interesting story behind this unusual style. Milk stouts (sometimes called “cream stouts” or “sweet stouts”) first appeared in the UK in the late 19th century, the most famous example being Mackeson’s, still available today in your local off licence. Originally these beers would have been brewed with the addition of whole milk, hence the name. During the Second World War milk stouts increased in popularity due to some breweries’ clever marketing of milk stout as being a nutritious, healthy alternative to other beer styles. After all, this was a period where rationing was still very much in evidence, and if milk stouts contained milk then it stands to reason they’re going to be better for you than other beers, right? Or not perhaps.

Apparently, shortly after the war the UK government banned the use of the word “milk” from appearing on any labels of so-called milk stouts or advertisements related to them. The reason? The beers more often than not didn’t actually contain any milk! By this point the practice of using whole milk in the brew had died out, with lactose or milk sugar acting as a replacement. Lactose itself is not actually the same thing as milk, and the purported restorative qualities and health benefits were unproven, so the authorities put a stop to the breweries use of milk as a method of selling their wares. An early example of false advertisement then.

But don’t let this fascinating tale stop you from embracing the resurgence of this deliciously dark, opulent ale. Mines a pint of the black stuff. See you at the bar…