Beer innovations of couple hundred years ago were much more practical. It was things like making beer able to withstand long sea journeys or putting it into a cask in such a way that prevents infection the brewers were concerned with way back then. But one motive that provided endless fascination to us is that many great beer innovations were just trying to make beer more nutritious as well as delicious.
Here in the modern era, we recognized beer as a vice meant to be enjoyed in moderation. That wasn’t always the case. Back before things like refrigeration and water treatment systems beer was seen as a safe source of calories and water. Thanks to its slight alcohol content and antiseptic hops. So it’s no surprise that many beer innovators were trying to make this safe source of water as nutritious as possible.
To understand the big picture check our previous article The Storied History of the Stout.
Making beer more nutritious
Stouts are descendants of porters and those beers burst onto the London beer scene in the early 1700s. As brewers were trying to differentiate themselves from all the sweet brown ales that were all the rage at the time. The style was named after its loyal blue-collar customers.
Like every popular beer style, it wasn’t too long before a new challenger emerged to try to take that top spot. Porters and stouts weren’t just popular with Londons working men and pubs. After a long day on the job their wives and mothers also enjoyed having the cheap brews.
Whether it was to cut through some of the bitterness or make beer drinking just a little bit healthier. It was fairly common practice for women and even kids to mix porter with a little bit of milk for a delicious and relatively nutritious treat.
Brewers began to experiment with integrating these two common elements and put milk into the fermentation process of their stouts. In the mid-1800s most notable of these experiments was done by a nutritious version of the milk beer mixture. A product was brewed using barley, hops and lactose to make some sort of fermented milk hybrid.
The idea was later taken up by two brothers in 1907. They brewed a stout with just lactose this time and released it in 1909. Little did they know that this stout would probably become the most important brewing accomplishment of the time. This creamy and sweet stout was an instant hit with the drinking public.
The licensing strategy proved quite lucrative and allowed the new style of beer to spread incredibly quickly across the British Isles and over into North America. Milk stouts are referred to a little more broadly as sweet, full-bodied, and slightly roasted. Aromas should have a mild roasted grain, sometimes with coffee or chocolate notes.
An impression of creamy sweetness is often present. Low to no hop aromas is there. Obviously, these beers are very dark in appearance and have a medium to full body mouthfeel that is often described as creamy with 4 to 6% ABV. These stouts are much sweeter and less bitter than any other beer. Most of the lactose added by the brewer makes it into the final beer allowing the sweet taste to shine through. And lending extra body and creaminess to the beer. Cheers.