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History of the Milk Stout

History of the Milk Stout

History of the Milk Stout

In a previous article, we talked about the origins of porters and stouts. We covered how stouts came to dominate the market and became one of the first-ever commercially successful beers. Often, many beer styles become the hottest thing on earth for a while and then disappear off the radar. This was happening to stouts and porters by the end of the 19th century. Beer drinkers were abandoning robust and dark beers and opting for lighter, fresher and sweeter beers.

Styles fall out of fashion

By the end of the 19th century, there was a tendency among brewers to sell beers in their 'mild' (i.e. fresh) form as opposed to 'stale' (aged and certainly not rancid!). This made maltier, fresher and slightly sweeter beers popular and brewers of stout were quick to introduce sweet versions of their pale ales. ~Stouts and porters had been the 'stale' beer of choice for almost 200 years. Before lactose became the preferred ingredient to add body and sweetness to stouts, brewers experimented with cane sugar. However, there was a huge problem with this, sugar caused a secondary fermentation and the sweetness was lost.

A 'new' style is born

The 19th century saw the potential of technology and science and how far it could take humanity. Many major discoveries took place during this century. Of course, some discoveries were going to influence beer and beer making. One of the most important discoveries for brewing in the late 19th century was, without a doubt, the discovery of the massively important role of yeast during the fermentation process. Scientist Louis Pasteur studied yeast's crucial role. The combined popularity of 'milder' and sweeter beers, and the discovery of yeast's inability to ferment lactose gave rise to a 'new' beer style: the milk stout. From as early as 1875, a 'milk stout' was proposed and patented by John Henry Johnson. Although he never brewed a milk stout, his idea inspired other brewers. Mackeson of Hythe, mass produced in 1910 what is now the oldest Milk Stout in Britain. According to them, theirs wasn't just a milk stout, a pint: '... [contained] the energising carbohydrates of 10 ounces of pure dairy milk'. What's more, a leaflet released by the brewery also claimed that: 'the stout [gave] drinkers energy, stopped distention, fullness, indigestion and headache, prevented rheumatism and was ideal for nursing mothers and invalids'. The cure for many of humanity's ailments had just been discovered and it came in the form of a sweet stout! Various other breweries released their own versions of curative, nutritious and energising milk stouts. How come people still get headaches and rheumatism in 2016? It turns out that many breweries were exaggerating the beneficial properties of their brews.

Milk stouts and the law

As time went by, more and more people began to question the beneficial qualities of milk stouts. Not only that, the popularity of milds kept growing. More people preferred the fruity and malty notes of mild beer as opposed to the obvious sweetness present in milk stouts and the acidic notes present in stale (aged) beers. It looked as if stouts and porters were on the way out. Not only that, food and drink regulations were being introduced and the quality of most food and drink products was being closely watched. Since the early years of the industrial revolution, factory bosses often complained about the rampant absenteeism among their workers. This was often caused by illnesses resulting from consuming adulterated food stuffs and spoiled drinks. A series of regulations were introduced to the food and drink industry in order to stop this problem and not to cause bosses any more losses. By the first half of the 20th century, legislation was being introduced to regulate all aspects of the food industry. One of the most important acts of parliament, was the Milk and Diaries Act 1914. As its name implies, the act intended to regulate the quality and suitability of milk and dairy products. Given that most milk stouts by the 1920's didn't contain actual milk (but lactose instead) it soon became clear that the claims by brewers about the healthy properties of their milk stouts were false. Many breweries kept using the word 'milk' on their labels until the late 1930's. In 1938 The Food and Drugs Act 1938 was enacted and it introduced penalties for misleading advertisements, false claims and misleading labels. Few people could afford to bring claims against food and drink producers using misleading labels. Local authorities got involved and the first prosecutions were brought against James Calder and Co (brewers) ltd and against Tennent's of Glasgow, the actions against both brewers resulted in fines and the cases were settled in 1944. Many breweries quickly removed the word 'milk' from their labels and replaced it with images of cows, milk churns and other similar images. The milk stout declined in popularity and almost disappeared.

Milk Stouts today

More and more beer drinkers are paying attention to stouts. Its rich notes, gentle palate and silky texture are a favourite among discerning drinkers. Here at Jeffrey st. we love a good milk stout, one of our favourites at the moment is Wiper and True's 'Milk Shake. People preferring a vegan stout will definitely enjoy the silky, smooth and elegant palate of Inolvidable stout (not a milk stout) without the lactose.
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