Milk Stout: Innovative, Energizing, and Nutritious?

Fermented Culture by | Jun 2017 | Issue #125

It’s odd how beer styles can come in and out of fashion. Milk Stout is a great example. All the rage in the middle of last century, then all but extinct by the end of it, it’s once again become rather trendy.

Mackeson, the original Milk Stout, first appeared in 1909, produced by a brewery in Hythe on the south coast of England. The idea was to make a more nourishing form of Stout. Several early proposals—such as meat or eggs—were rejected as impractical. Eventually a food chemist they consulted came up with the answer: lactose.

At least that’s the story put out by the brewery in an early newspaper interview. Adding milk sugar also happens to be a way of making Stout sweet without the risk of creating bottle bombs if a secondary fermentation kicks in.

Mackeson were savvy enough to take out patents for the process. They then licensed other brewers to produce their own Milk Stouts. Rivals flocked to their door once they realized this new type of Stout was a hit. It allowed the relatively small, provincial brewery to spread Milk Stout much further than it could have on its own and earned the company money from beer it didn’t brew itself, making Mackeson nationally renowned. Imagine if Bass or Allsopp had patented Pale Ale?

This how the brewery explained the name of this innovative Stout:

“We have christened it ‘Milk Stout,’ and have been able to get the energy—the lactose—of half a pint of milk in every pint of stout. It is to be sold the same price ordinary high-class stout, although it costs much more to make, but the protection afforded by the patent laws makes it cheaper and easier to sell.”
Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald, Saturday 17 July 1909, pg. 9.

Within three years breweries across the country had taken out licenses and were brewing their own version of Milk Stout. Exclusive licenses were issued for specific parts of the country with the condition that brewers had to include a significant amount of lactose in the recipe. Charrington, for example, had the exclusive right to brew Milk Stout in Burton-on-Trent, Derbyshire, and Leicestershire.

The license also stipulated careful wording on the label: “Each pint contains the energising carbo-hydrates of 10 oz. of pure Milk.” Mackeson wanted to make it clear that it was a product of milk rather than milk itself in the Stout.

The new style’s popularity was boosted by glowing recommendations from the medical profession. Doctors recommended it and both Nursing Times and The Lancet published articles singing Milk Stout’s praises. “Milk Stout, therefore, may well be tried by those who have occasion either to drink stout themselves or to select a beverage for a patient,” suggested the former. Newspapers chimed in, too:

“The milk extract, being unfermentable, reduces the rheumatic tendencies of malt liquors [to] a minimum, and makes the stout soft to the palate without in any way altering its appearance or flavour, and just as milk can be taken by the youngest child, so this new beverage can be taken by the hard worker, the delicate nursing mother, or the rheumatic invalid, and with great benefit.”
Surrey Mirror, Friday 29 July 1910, pg. 2.

Small wonder, then, that within a couple of years Milk Stout had acquired a devoted following. We’ll be hearing from some of those loyal drinkers next month, because it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Mackeson. One unscrupulous brewer produced Milk Stout without a license, prompting Mackeson into court action.


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