Sweet stout and milk stouts are increasingly popular beers that form a counterpoint to Dry Irish Stouts. This week we take a look at the history of Sweet Stout, how to brew it and recipes for making it.
History of Sweet and Milk Stout
Milk Stout (also called Cream or Sweet Stout) traces its origins back to Porters. Strong Porters which were widely popular in the 1700’s were often labeled as Stout Porter. Eventually the Porter name was dropped in the 1800’s to become simply Stout. A number of variations of stout emerged. Dry Irish stouts (like Guinness) pushed the limits of using heavily roasted malts to create a dry coffee-like flavor. Other stout variations such as Russian Imperial Stout pushed the limits on the malty or sweet end. Still others, like Oatmeal stout pushed in other directions.
Milk stout and Sweet stouts push the sweet end of the spectrum by using lactose – which is unfermentable. The iconic example of milk stout, Makeson’s stout, was first brewed in 1801 in the Southern United Kingdom. Milk stouts were widely marketed in the 1800’s as nutritious – even to nursing mothers. After World War II, the UK outlawed the use of the word and imagery for milk in association with beer, so many modern examples are labeled as Sweet stouts.
The Sweet Stout Style
Sweet stouts use dark roasted malts to create the dominant flavor which is a malty, dark, roasted chocolate character. Like Dry Irish Stout, they may have roast coffee-like flavors. Unlike Dry Stout, Sweet stouts have a medium to high sweetness (malt or lactose) that provides a counterpoint to the bitterness of hops and roast malt. Some (though not all) sweet stouts include lactose, an unfermentable sugar that enhances sweetness and body.
These stouts are full bodied and creamy, and have low levels of carbonation. Original gravity starts at 1.044-1.060 and finishes at 1.012-1.024 for a 4-6% alcohol by volume. Many English examples use a relatively low starting gravity, while US examples tend to be brewed at a higher starting gravity. They have low to medium esters and little to no diacytl.
They are moderatly hopped at 20-40 IBUs for a bitterness ratio of around 0.6. The hops should balance the malt, but hops is not a major flavor in this style. The color should be dark brown to black (30-40 SRM).
Brewing a Sweet Stout
Sweet stouts start with an English Pale Malt base which makes up 60-80% of the grain bill. To that, we add a mix of crystal/caramel malts (roughly 10-15%), and chocolate, black and roasted malts (10% or more in total) to provide color and flavor. Corn, treacle, wheat or other off-beat malts are sometimes (though rarely) used.
For a true milk stout, lactose is often added. Since Lactose is unfermentable it provides a distinctive sweetness as well as body for the finished beer.
Sweet stouts traditionally use Southern English ale yeast as this is where the beer was originally brewed. A relatively low attenuation English ale yeast with moderate esters such as White Labs WLP002 or Wyeast 1092 would be appropriate.
English hop varieties such as Fuggles, East Kent Goldings, or Columbia are appropriate, though many US variations also use popular American hops. The hops should primarily be added as bitterness hops since hop aroma and flavor is not dominant. Hops should balance the sweetness of the beer.
Mashing an all grain sweet stout should be done at the higher end of the temperature range to enhance body and residual sweetness. I will typically mash this style in the 153-156 F range. Fermentation is done at normal ale temperatures and the beer is conditioned as any other English Porter or Stout.
Sweet Stout and Milk Stout Recipes
Here are some recipes from the BeerSmith recipe archive:
- Big Daddy Sweet Stout – All Grain
- It Smells Like Coffee – All Grain
- Jay’s Mandy Milk Stout – All Grain
- Rusty Red Kilkenny Draught – Partial Mash
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