Everything You Need to Know About Milk Stout and 7 to Try

Here are seven of the best milk stouts around.

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If you’ve spent any time staring at the tap handles at your local craft beer bar, you’ve probably noticed the term “milk stout.” You’ve also probably asked yourself, What in the world is milk stout? Milk stout is not just a clever descriptor to emphasize a stout’s creamy texture. There really are milk-derived ingredients in these brews.

Milk stouts — also called “cream” stouts — are dark beers brewed with lactose, a type of milk sugar. Lactose does not ferment when exposed to beer yeast, imparting sweetness to the final beer. When properly made, the sweet notes perfectly complement the bitter flavors of the beer’s hops and barley.

Milk stouts first became popular during the 1800s. Back then, many beer drinkers were laborers who enjoyed their lagers and ales with morning or midday meals. Just as the old “Guinness for Strength” advertisements were designed to attract these customers with healthy-sounding sloganeering, brewers recognized that adding lactose and calling a beer “milk stout” made it seem more nutritious and was good for sales. If you’re lactose intolerant, it’s best to avoid this style of beer. Otherwise, this rich, creamy beer style is worth trying.

If you’re curious about milk stout, here are seven that Food & Wine recommends.

Milk Stout Nitro by Left Hand Brewing Company

Chocolate, brown sugar, and coffee notes highlight this Colorado brewery's flagship beer, which its makers have dubbed "America's stout." While this nitrogen-infused brew's creamy texture is appealing even when served ice-cold, its full flavor and complexity emerge when it can warm up a few degrees. The bottled and canned versions also contain nitrogen, allowing you to experience the same pillowy texture from a draft at home. This beer is your jumping-off point if you're interested in milk stouts.

Gunner's Daughter Milk Stout by Mast Landing Brewing Co.

This rich and balanced milk stout from Maine’s Mast Landing Brewing Co. boasts deep flavors of coffee and dark chocolate with a satisfying layer of peanut butter — without being brewed with any actual nuts. The complementary flavor combination gives this beer a unique and aromatic profile that sets it apart from other milk stouts.

Milk Stout by Lancaster Brewing Co.

Brewed since 1995 and touted as America's "original craft milk stout" by Lancaster Brewing in Pennsylvania, this beer is as creamy and smooth as you would expect after glancing at its dense head and dark-mocha hue. It's on the sweeter end of the milk stout spectrum — due in part to its low alcohol content — but is delicious without being cloying.

Madagascar by 4 Hands Brewing Co.

Released only once a year, this imperial milk stout from Missouri’s 4 Hands Brewing is aged in bourbon barrels and named for the abundant Madagascan vanilla beans added during the brewing process. All that vanilla comes through on the nose and palate, along with chocolate and an almost licorice-like hit of bourbon. It’s a complex and memorable interpretation of milk stout. Of 4 Hands’ limited releases, Madagascar is highly sought after and sells out quickly, so you’ll have to act fast if you want to try this unconventional brew.

Xocoveza by Stone Brewing

Brewed with coffee, cocoa, spices, and pasilla chile peppers, this is Southern California-based Stone Brewing’s take on “Mexican hot chocolate.” While a lot is happening in this beer — from layers of baking spice to a noticeable patina of pepper-derived heat — its elements come together so seamlessly that it goes down easy for an 8%-ABV beer. It’s the perfect brew to enjoy sitting near a fire on a cold winter night. This special edition beer is only released periodically, so you’ll have to keep an eye out if you’re looking to try a special milk stout.

Moo-Hoo Chocolate Milk Stout by Terrapin Beer Co.

Available at the Terrapin Brewery in Athens, Georgia, this beer offers delightful aromas of milk chocolate and medium-roast coffee, giving way to mildly bitter, spice-and-cream-tinged goodness on the palate. The sweetness and chocolate really come through in this brew, especially if you take your time with it.

Duck-Rabbit Milk Stout by The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery

Rich, smooth, and creamy, this beer from North Carolina-based Duck-Rabbit checks all the boxes when it comes to satisfying milk stouts and does so with superb balance and drinkability. Black coffee and caramel come through on the nose and palate but don’t overpower the sweet chocolate and burnt-malt flavors that help round out its character.

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