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Tuesday, January 27, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 27.0° F  Overcast
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Beer Here: Milk Stout from Lake Louie Brewing

Credit:Robin Shepard

The English sweet stout has been called the "mother's milk" of beer. The style has evolved over more than a century, and much of its character comes from the addition of milk sugar (lactose). Lake Louie Brewing first introduced its Milk Stout in 2006 as a winter seasonal. The brewery's demand for regular beers kept it from being offered last year, but it's back again this year, just in time for Christmas.

What is it? Milk Stout from Lake Louie Brewing in Arena, Wisconsin.

Style: Lake Louie Milk Stout is an English sweet stout. The style emphasizes a malty sweetness with hints of chocolate and caramel. Because they are full-bodied with a soft mouthfeel, these beers are sometimes called cream stouts. The addition of lactose adds fullness and softness. The sweet stout is not a hoppy beer, but is just bitter enough to subdue some of the malty sweetness. Roasted flavors from the malts should also be low. Milk stouts were commonly marketed as nutritious in the 1800s, even promoted as something nursing mothers should consider. By the mid-1900s, the United Kingdom had outlawed use of the word "milk" in association with beer. English sweet stouts range in alcohol from 3%-6 % ABV.

Background: A distinctive sweet stout is one that offers smooth sweetness accentuated by a soft and silky, not slick, mouthfeel. Lake Louie Milk Stout achieves that wonderful balance in flavor and body with additions of lactose. Despite being a sugar, lactose is not fermentable into alcohol by yeast, so its contribution is in added body. This is not the beer of choice for the lactose-intolerant, but for stout lovers, it's difficult to pass up.

Lake Louie owner and brewmaster Tom Porter adds lactose at about 10%-20% of the total malt bill to achieve the body he's seeking. He gets the lactose from Meister Cheese of Muscoda. Porter says the secret to a good milk stout is to not go overboard with the lactose.

Porter developed his milk stout with assistant brewer Tim Wauters. Before he was hired at Lake Louie, Wauters worked as a historian for the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Wauters' appreciation for history led him to research the style during recipe development. In addition to lactose, Lake Louie Milk Stout is also made with roasted barley and black, chocolate and crystal malts, with just a touch of wheat malt for additional body. It's only lightly hopped with English Fuggles. The alcohol content is around 5.5% ABV.

Lake Louie Milk Stout sells in six-packs for around $9. It should be in Madison beer stores through February.

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: Light malty.
  • Appearance: Dark, ruby bronze highlights. A thick, soft, brown head.
  • Texture: Medium- to full-bodied and soft mouthfeel.
  • Taste: Firm chocolate maltiness up front. Becomes softer and smoother over the course of a glass, especially as the beer warms to room temperature.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: Malty, with a light graininess.

Glassware: Tradition would call for the use of the English pint glass. Serving this beer only slightly chilled, at 50-55 degrees, enhances the soft mouthfeel and chocolate milk-like tones.

Pairs well with: Well-aged, buttery cheeses. It's also a wonderful beer with semi-sweet or mint chocolate.

Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four)

The Consensus: B+ (very good) at Beer Advocate and 90/77 (overall/style) at Rate Beer.

The Verdict: Lake Louie Milk Stout is a very nice English sweet stout that's well suited for this time of year. With its smooth caramel, chocolate maltiness and medium- to full-bodied mouthfeel, the beer lives up to its name. It's an exceptional version of the style. I'm not in favor of cellaring this beer beyond the season, but buy a six-pack or two now and allow it to age into January for drinking when the snow is flying. Just a few additional weeks will soften the malt sweetness and bring out its smooth, silky character even more.

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