New brew! New brew!
The Sweet Stout (or “Milk Stout”) is back. Like our usual Stout, the Milk Stout is wonderfully rich and dark, but don’t let the colour fool you. You might not be able to see through it, but it’s a mellow beer with a rounded, creamy body. It’s very smooth on the way down, and rings in at around 4.5% ABV.
As the name suggests, there’s sweetness from the lactose (I picked up a little bitterness after swallowing, but it’s far silkier than a dry stout). Lactose is a sugar derived from milk. However, it can’t be broken down by the yeast – since it never gets fermented, it hangs around to lend sweetness and body to the beer.
The Milk Stout was first envisioned by 1875 by John Henry Johnson, who sought a patent for a lactose-containing beer in London. He proposed a beer that was both mild-tasting and nutritious. The Milk Stout gained popularity in England through the early twentieth century as brewers touted it as a beer containing all the wholesome benefits of milk. When Mackeson’s began brewing their Milk Stout in 1907, and sent it to market by 1910, they claimed, “…each pint contains the energizing carbohydrates of ten ounces of dairy milk.” This was meant to appeal to thirsty, hard-working labourers – many early advertisements for Milk Stouts even used images of milk cans and cows to cement the connection between Milk Stouts and the benefits of dairy.
This is where the history gets a bit murky. Traditional wisdom has it that the British government forbade the use of the term “milk stout” following World War II rationing. However, it’s nigh impossible to pin down a precise date or ordinance. There is a mention of misleading advertising in Volume 46 of The British Food Journal (January, 1944).
Milk Stout. Misleading Label.
At the Newcastle Borough Court, on December 22nd [1943, I’m assuming – KT] , James Calder & Co. (Brewers) Ltd. were summoned for selling a bottle of stout labelled “Milk Stout ” andbearing the design of a dairy cow. The prosecution submitted that the picture on the label was misleading. Pleading guilty for the firm, Colonel A. D. S. Rogers said the labels had now been withdrawn. Before the war ingredients for the stout came from New Zealand, but shipment had now stopped. There was no attempt to mislead the public.—Defendants were convicted and find £5 and ordered to pay £4 19s. costs. (British Food Journal, Vol. 46, Issue 1)
Other issues of the British Food Journal published around the end of the war reveal a persistent preoccupation with adulterated/falsely advertised milk – perhaps brewers were overly-cautious about not advertising a “milk” product with no milk in it, a view also suggested here. Mackeson’s, at least, seems to have dropped “milk” from their adverts by the 1950s.
And this is where being a beer journalist/historian can be challenging, occasionally frustrating, and also really fun. In any case, stop on by the Black Creek Historic Brewery to try our Sweet Stout!
PS. The lactose-averse may be wondering: can I drink this? To which I say: Ed used 1 kg of lactose to make this brew (remember, we make about 60-70 litres at a time). I sampled some and seem unaffected thus far, but it’s entirely your call!