Posts Tagged With: history


Over the course of the next few days, we will be posting a series of Milk Stout reviews. The following is a brief on this Stout variety for your (and our) edification.

What’s in a name?

Milk Stout is also often referred to as a Sweet Stout; less frequently, a Mellow Stout or Cream Stout.

What’s in a Milk Stout?

The defining element of the Milk Stout is its inclusion of lactose, a sugar derived from milk. Since lactose is unfermentable by the ale yeast, it adds a sweetness to the Stout. Back in the day–the 19th century day–brewers actually put up to 10 ounces of whole milk into a Milk Stout. This is no longer modern practice.

What region is the Milk Stout from?

Southern England, originally.

When was the first Milk Stout produced?

The concept of the Milk Stout likely came from the practice by barkeeps of serving a shot of milk alongside a Stout to help “ailing workers as a source of midday rejuvenation.” (Who’s going to join me in reviving this cultural practice?) Brewers sought to capitalize on this practice, adding milk to the beer and marketing the brew as “healthy,” with restorative effects similar to those of milk. An English brewer patented a Milk Stout recipe in 1875. They eventually realized they could save money by just adding lactose instead of the milk. In 1946, when the UK was under strict food rationing during wartime, brewers were banned from suggesting that there was milk in their beer. The name for the lactose-beer was changed from Milk Stout to Sweet Stout. This was not an issue in the US, where we can find dozens of appropriately-labeled Milk Stouts!

Just what the doctor ordered (credit:

What are the common characteristics of a Milk Stout?

Milk Stouts are generally creamier and fuller than non-Milk Stouts. They are usually more balanced and much sweeter than regular Stouts.

What are some of the most popular Milk Stouts?

Sam Adams Cream Stout, Hitachino Nest Lacto Sweet Stout, Left Hand Milk Stout, Southern Tier 2X Stout, Moo Thunder Stout, Lancaster Milk Stout, Three Floyds Moloko, St. Peter’s Cream Stout, Castle Milk Stout, Southern Tier Creme Brulee Stout.

Beer and Milk Love (credit:jbrookston, flickr)

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The Stout: In Honor of St. Patrick (and beyond…)

Happy March! This is the month of leprechauns, the vernal equinox, women’s history month, and….the STOUT! So before we start drinking the heck out of this style, here is a little bit about it’s early roots…

The humble origin of the Stout harkens back to January, when we investigated the history of the Porter. As you may recall, the Stout emerged as the younger and, well, stout-ier brother: the style “Stout Porter” referred to a stronger version of the Porter (at 7-8% instead of the typical Porter 6%).  So, the term “Stout” was more an adjective than a style. Eventually, the original Porter fell by the wayside–but are you surprised? The Stout Porter was stronger and richer than the original–and who doesn’t love a strong and rich man–er, beer?  Well, the Stout was loved so much, that doctors actually prescribed Stouts, so to speak, to athletes and nursing mothers to help them regain strength–or, in other words, regain their Stoutness. Stouts, Porters, and Stout Porters lost their popularity in England when a restriction was placed on making roasted malts during World War I, at which time the mild Ale won over the hearts of the Brits. However, it took the Irish population by a malty storm!

Stout Propaganda: "Guinness is Good For You"

Arthur Guinness opened his Dublin brewery in 1759, producing (along with an Ale) what can be considered the first Stout Porter.  (In 1799, Arthur made a wise decision to focus solely on Porter production–that’s why we see no Guinness Ales today.)  In the mid-1800s, the ‘Porter’ nomenclature was dropped, and thanks to keen advertising and calculated exporting, Guinness (with the help of other Irish breweries Murphy’s and Beamish & Crawford) made the Stout one of the most ubiquitous beers in the Western World.  Of course, it wasn’t always smooth sailing for this smooth brew: in the 1800s, Stouts became less popular, as it was expensive to produce based on the types of grains needed; and as mentioned earlier, the WWI restriction on roasting malts halted production in England, leaving the job to the mighty Irish. It wasn’t until the 1970s, when beer writers such as Michael Jackson (the beer god, not the music god) took an interest in the style, that the Stout was resurrected.

Throughout its development, a number of stout variations emerged, in England, Ireland, and beyond. The following will be included in this month’s beernalysis!

The Stout Styles

English Stout: The first to appear on the scene, the English Stout is notable for its black color and use of charred barley, which gives the beer a roasted, coffee taste. Chocolate Stouts are characterized under English Stouts; the malts in a Chocolate Stout are left in the kiln until they develop a chocolate taste and color.  (In some cases, actual chocolate is also added to the brew.)  Similarly, the malts of a Coffee Stout are roasted until they are as bitter as freshly ground coffee beans (and also, some brewers add coffee grounds to highlight the flavor).

Foreign/Export Stout: The Export Stout took the English Stout and made it a helluva lot more alcoholic to survive a journey across the sea where it was being exported. In fact, this style is still found in many tropical areas to where Stouts were first exported, such as Jamaica and Malta.

Irish Dry Stout:  The most popular of the Stouts, popularized by the aforementioned Guinness, Murphy’s, and Beamish. The Irish Dry Stout is the lighter of the Stout styles–it has lower carbonation and a uniquely creamy body, with a roasted and crisp taste.

Irish Stout

Milk/Cream/Sweet Stout: This is not for the lactose intolerant!  The Sweet Stout has a high content of dextrins and unfermented sugar that makes this Stout sometimes oddly sweet.  Milk/Cream Stouts are very similar to Sweet Stouts, but brewers add lactose to the brew kettle to add body and some sweetness. This was one of the beers that doctors would recommend mothers drink, because of the dairy content. In fact, one of the original Milk Stouts, Mackeson’s, claims to have 10 ounces of “pure dairy milk” in it.

Oatmeal Stout: As you can gather, Oatmeal Stouts are made with oatmeal, which is added to the mash. The major characteristic of this type of Stout is its smoothness. Oats have been used in beer production since the medieval times in Europe. It remained popular in Northern Europe, but Tudor sailors hated the bitter flavor that it caused in the beer so much that it died out in other parts of Europe. There was a brief revival at the end of the 19th century, when people thought that including oats would be healthy.  (But, of course, that’s like eating a bar of dark chocolate, washing it down with a bottle of red wine, and saying you did it for heart health.)  Subsequent Oatmeal Stouts used a very little bit of oats. When Michael Jackson wrote about the Oatmeal Stout in the 1970s, a European distributor commissioned the Samuel Smith Brewery to recreate the style; thus, their Oatmeal Stout has become one to imitate. The Oatmeal Stout can now be found in new incarnations all throughout the world, from Denmark to Australia. Fair warning, though: don’t expect it to taste like downing a big bowl of oatmeal; the uniqueness of this beer is in its smooth body.  (Oatmeal is used as a major component of moisturizers, too…)

Russian Imperial Stout (sometimes just Imperial Stout): This was a whole big marketing campaign on the part of Thrale’s brewery in the 17th century to impress Catherine II of Russia, as one story goes. Another is that Peter the Great, while visiting London, loved the Porter so much, that he requested Barclay Brewery send it over to Russia. However, the beer would spoil on the trip over; thus, a stronger brew was created to survive the journey. Barclay did so by brewing a beer with a higher alcohol and hop content. Rumor has it that Catherine the Great enjoyed this new recipe so much that she ordered kegs upon kegs of it to stock her court. And if it’s good enough for the courts, it’s good enough for us.

Catherine II with an Imperial Stout. Photoshop Credit:

Oyster Stout: Oysters, you say? Oysters! Back in olde time England, Stouts were enjoyed with a full plate of oysters in the taverns. But the two were not formally combined until the 1920s in New Zealand. Later, this recipe popped up back in London, and even later, after WWII, oysters were added to Stouts as another way of trying to infuse health benefits into beer, such as the Milk Stout campaign. Today, some breweries add oysters, while others only use the name, implying that the beer should be consumed with oysters. Vegetarians, be wary!

"Guinness Guide to Oysters" / Credit: Appellation Beer

While the British Isles hold the proverbially patent on the Stout, other countries have certainly had their fun adapting the style with local ingredients and recipes. Most notably, us crafty Americans!

American Stout: American Stouts range in their tenacity and ingenuity. There really is no way to generalize the American Stout, other than that they have a tendency of materializing as some crazy renditions of the English and Irish classics (from an Imperial Milk Stout to a Chicory Coffee Stout). However, one major difference is that American Stouts will often have a stronger hop presence than their British counterparts.

And with that…we venture into this month looking for the roastiest, maltiest, sweetest stouts this world has to offer. Stay tuned and drink up!


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Belgian Ales: the 1, 2, 3s of the 2, 3, 4s

And so…onto the next month! And what better way to celebrate the month of February than with the sweet, sweet ales of the small but mighty country of Belgium?  (We’ll let the whole government-falling-apart thing slide because of their contributions to the beer world).  Surely we could write a dissertation on the history of all beer in Belgium (and surely it has been done by some genius and/or ambitious fool). But, instead of trying to tackle all of the outstanding libations Belgium has to offer, we are going to explore the 1, 2, 3s of the 2 (Dubbels), 3 (Tripels), 4s (Quads). And while we acknowledge that even this is a fool’s mission, we will do our best to paint a picture of the style, nuances, and best (and possibly worst) of these Belgian–and wannabe Belgian–ales.

But first! A brief explanation about the (non) separation of church and beer unique to Belgium. (And the Netherlands, in one instance.)

Some of the most popular and delicious Belgian beers are produced by Trappist monks (god bless their souls). The modern day Trappists (or Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance) are a Roman Catholic order of “cloistered contemplative monks” that was founded in the 1660s as a reaction to the relaxation of monastic practices. Trappist monks follow the Rules of St. Benedict, one of which states, “for then are they monks in truth, if they live by the work of their hands.” Thus, Trappist monks make a number of sellable goods, including cheese, coffins, and yes, BEER!

There are 174 Trappist monasteries in the world; seven of them brew beer (six of which are in Belgium!). Trappist ales are recognized to be some of the most delicious in the world. Thus, many other monasteries and secular breweries have imitated the various Trappist styles. The International Trappist Association was founded in 1997 in order to distinguish authentic Trappist beers from the poseurs–look out for their official “Authentic Trappist Product” insignia.

As the Trappists separated their beer production from other monasteries and breweries, the other monasteries wanted to separate themselves from their secular counterparts. Thus, the Union of Belgian Breweries introduced the “Certified Belgian Abbey Ale” label, qualifications for which are that the beer must either be produced in a monastery, or the brewery must donate some percent of proceeds to a monastery.  Who knew beer could be so holy and righteous?

(Credit: The Guardian.)


The History of the 2

The Dubbel was brought to us for mass consumption by the kind Belgian Trappist Monks of Westmalle Abbey in 1856, allegedly. While the Abbey had been brewing beer twenty years prior, it was just a weak ol’ witbier.  (Think Hoegarden, but better.) These Monks decided that this low-alcohol-by-volume brew was not getting them toasted fast enough (it’s cold in those old Medieval monasteries, from what we hear), and thus, they decided to brew a stronger version; and it became progressively stronger as the years went on–because, really, why not?

The popularity of the Dubbel was undeniable. It was so popular, in fact, that other monasteries copied the recipe in order for their monks to also enjoy the strong brew also. Even further, the secular community was intrigued: by the late 1800s, this style was being imitated by brewers all across the Western world. The style became increasingly popular after World War II, and was dubbed the “Dubbel” by a number of breweries, part as marketing strategy, part as a way to indicate its strength.

The History of the 3

The history of Tripel also has it roots at the Westmalle Abbey. (Someone was doing something right over there!) While the style has been around for quite some time–Westmalle had released a strong blonde ale in the 1930s–it wasn’t until 1956 that the Abbey named this strong pale ale the “Tripel.” And much like the history of the Dubbel, the style and name caught on: In 1987, Koningshoeven in the Netherlands (another Trappist brewery) released  La Trappe Tripel. The style has took the secular Western world by storm post-war, and an imitation style can be found at many non-Trappist, non-Belgian breweries.

The History of the 4

Remember Koningshoeven Brewery? They are the only Trappist abbey that brews beer outside of Belgium. And they also were the only abbey that had the balls to produce La Trappe Quadrupel, a much stronger Tripel, which appeared on the market in 1991.  So even though Netherlands lost in the last World Cup, they still have a pretty kick-ass claim to fame: being the originators of the Quad.


What to expect from the sight, scent, flavor, and feel of a 2:

As mentioned, the name “Dubbel” is derived from the fact that these brews require twice the grain as a “regular” beer, thus making them a stronger beer. Beneath a large, dense, creamy off-white head you’ll find the Dubbel’s ruby-tinged dark amber coloration, which comes from the use of dark candi sugar rather than dark roasted malts. The candi sugar, which is a Belgian sugar commonly used in brewing because it boosts the alcohol content of the beer without adding extra body, provides the sweet aromas and flavors of raisins, chocolate, or caramel. Notes of earthy qualities, such as herbs, plums, bananas, apples, spices, and black pepper, can also be found in a Dubbel. Because a relatively low amount of hops is used, the Dubbel usually has a malty sweetness, but tends to have a dry finish.  The best Dubbels are bottle-conditioned (which means the beer is unfiltered to allow for final conditioning to occur in the bottle), and this gives them a strong amount of carbonation to complement their medium-to-full body. Although you might not know it from the taste, the alcohol by volume of the mighty Dubbel is on the higher side, typically ranging from 6% to 7.5%.  Like all three of the Belgians we’ll be exploring, the Dubbel is best served at around 45-55°F in a chalice, tulip, snifter, or goblet.


What to expect from the sight, scent, flavor, and feel of a 3:

If a Dubbel derives its name from using twice the grain as a typical beer, we can presume (and be correct in our presumption) that the Tripel gets its name from requiring three times the amount of grain.  The Tripel is deep yellow to golden in color–a shade or two darker than your average Pilsner–with a dense, creamy white head that usually leaves lacing on the glass. The aroma can be spicy, floral, and fruity (like an orange, or a banana), and the flavor can be lightly sweet and lightly malty, with a low-to-moderate hop bitterness that comes through mostly as a spicy or herbal quality–so all in all, pretty darn complex. Despite having an alcohol by volume of 7% to 10%, a good Tripel should not taste like one glass of it is going to get you tipsy, even though it probably will.  Despite its get-you-drunk quality, however, the Tripel should be medium-to-light-bodied, which is achieved at the brewery by adding that lovely Belgian candi sugar to the brew kettle.

What to expect from the sight, scent, flavor, and feel of a 4:

The Quadrupel, which we can correctly assume is stronger and bolder than the Dubbel and Tripel, is typically a dark brown-garnet red brew with a thick, fluffy, tan-colored head that you’d want to curl up in on a cold winter’s night.  The aroma is that of lightly roasted malts and fruitiness, with a tinge of caramel.  Again, candi sugar is added to increase the alcohol content, and as a result, the Quad is a medium- to full-bodied brew.  Its complex flavor is that of rich malty sweetness and dried fruits (like raisins and plums), with the occasional slight spiciness; no hoppy bitterness here.  Typically, traditional Trappist versions of the Quad are on the drier side, while Abbey styles tend to be sweeter.  Either way, the all-powered Quad is going to run you into the 8% to 11% alcohol-by-volume range.


And with that…time for a four-week trip to Belgium via our beer-traveling machine.

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The Porter

And we are starting the year off with the elusive Porter! We have a number of friends, and Kerensa includes herself in this group, who once assumed all dark beers were Stouts. (Ally was just happy living in ignorant bliss.)  Legend even has it that Kerensa came up with some completely inaccurate but intellectual-sounding phrase like, “All Porters are Stouts, but not all Stouts are Porters.” We really had no idea. And on an early quest to learn more about the style and what to look for when tasting one, we were baffled by the number of different forms a Porter could take: Smoked Porter, Mocha Porter, Vanilla Porter. Then, we began noticing that some Porters were even classified by geographic region: Baltic Porter, London Porter, Irish Porter. We knew that there must be some fascinating story behind this…

And so, to sort it all out, we’ve compiled a brief history of the Porter from a number of trustworthy and informative sources.

But first!

Some Technical Jargon

While we do not fancy ourselves chemists, we recognize that brewing is ultimately chemistry. Thus, we will do our best to provide relevant information without inundating you (and ourselves) with too many discussions on molecular formulas and the like.

You may or may not know, but there are, predominantly, two types of beer: the ALE and the LAGER. What is the difference, really? Well, an ale is produced by using a “top-fermenting” brewing yeast in what is known as the warm fermentation method, while a lager is produced by using a “bottom-fermenting” brewing yeast in the cold fermentation method. Top-fermenting yeasts produce sweeter, higher alcohol content beer (making ales your go-to beer if you’re planning on getting a little wild on a Friday, or, um, Tuesday night).

The Porter is a warm-fermented beer using the ale yeasts. Thus, it contains a hint of sweetness and is often characterized by flavors of coffee, caramel, and chocolate.

A Fabled Beginning

The origin of the Porter is to be found in 18th Century England, but the origin story is a slightly mythical and unsubstantiated one.  It has been said that in order to be frugal, workers in London would mix a more expensive beer with a lighter one (e.g. the Black and Tan). In 1802, a writer named John Feltham claimed that this was the case with the Porter. It developed from a particular combination of three beers (known as the “three threads”) that were popular with transportation workers in London: a bad ale that was no longer drinkable on its own; a brown or pale ale; and a mild ale. According to this legend, the combination became so popular that a man by the name of Ralph Harwood began brewing “three threads” as a single beer, and it became popular with–lo and behold!–London porters.

London Porters

The term “Porter,” as used in relation to the beer, is actually mentioned as early as 1721, but no writer before Feltham says it was made to replicate “three threads.”  Given this lack of evidence, many believe the Harwood origin story to be a fable. Instead, it is more likely that Porter evolved from the already-existing brown beers being made in London at the time. Before 1700, London brewers shipped out their beer very young and any aging was performed by either the tavern owner or a dealer. Porter, however, was aged at the brewery–a first in the history of beer–and was sent to bars ready to be consumed immediately.

The Pioneer of Beer

Not only was Porter the first beer to be aged at the brewery, it was also the first beer that could be made on any large scale–and lead to breweries such as Whitbread & Co. and the Old Truman Brewery making a pretty penny from it.  Furthermore, Porters benefited from the first applications of technological advances in brewing, such as the use of the thermometer and the hydrometer (an instrument that measures the relative density of a liquid).  Early London versions were strong by modern standards (at about 6.6%) and were brewed with 100% malt. However, as taxes increased during the Napoleonic Wars (you know, the conflagrations in the early 1800s that led to the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire), the percentages as well as the types of malt used fluctuated.

Whitbread & Co. (credit:

As the Porter developed and changed through the years, it varied in levels of strength, the stronger Porters being referred to as “Extra Porters” or “Double Porters” or even–oh hey–“Stout Porters.”  The term “Stout Porter” would later be shortened to, simply, “Stout.”  And so, as it turns out, Kerensa and friends weren’t so far off in considering this month’s beer to be a Stout in Porter’s Clothing.  But in answer to the chicken-or-egg question of what came first, it is the mighty Porter that wins.

Not Just an English Thing

The Porter recipe was exported to other countries, the most famous journey of which evolved into what we know now as the Baltic Porter, popular in the Baltic region–from Estonia to Denmark (and most countries around and in between). The major difference between the English and Baltic Porters is that, though the style was introduced to the area using top-fermenting yeasts typically used for ales, many breweries started to use bottom-fermenting yeast that are typically used for lagers (lager yeasts were more common in the region). However, some Baltic Porters do use ale yeasts. [If you are super interested in teasing out the variations of this style, here is a link to message board thread discussing the finer details of the Baltic Porter:]

A Typical Baltic Voyage (credit:

And what about us Americans?  In the United States, Porters can be traced back to colonial times.  (Makes sense, right?)  American Porters were originally made using top-fermenting yeasts and were rumored to be most tasty. In fact, Porters were the favorite brew of George Washington himself (also Jefferson, but whatever). Yards Brewing Company of Philadelphia even produces a “George Washington Porter” using his original recipe!

George Washington's Porter recipe (credit: NYPL)

However, as the country welcomed German immigrants who brought with them the Lager, brewers began using lager yeasts in the production of the Porter. Two of the oldest surviving Porter recipes in the United States are the Yuengling Porter and the Lion Brewery Porter, both of out of Pennsylvania (the home of many a German immigrant).

The Fall and Rise

Around the 1940s, Porter production stopped in England as the Stout increased in popularity. However, there was a renewed interest in the style at the end of the 1970s, and now, many brewers around the Western world have  brewed up their interpretation of the English classic. Many, in fact, have even put their own spin on things, with the introduction of a variety of flavored Porters (the aforementioned mocha, vanilla, and smoked–even the jolly pumpkin Porter!)

Well then!  Now that we’ve filled out brains with a little bit of knowledge on this month’s spotlight beer, it’s time to fill our mouths with some examples of the delicious brown stuff.  Check back soon for posts highlighting the taste, texture, and titillating aromas ascribed to the Porter, as well as hard-hitting reports and reviews on the bars and breweries that do this fine beer justice.

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