What is a Milk Stout? (Plus 10 of the Best Ones To Try in 2023!)

If you’re a fan of dark, chocolate stout beers, you may be interested in exploring milk stouts. People often wonder if these beers are brewed with actual cream or milk as the name implies.

Milk stouts are stout beers brewed with the addition of lactose sugar. Because brewer’s yeast does not ferment lactose sugar, these sugars remain intact in the beer, adding sweetness and creaminess. This is a great complement to the rich, chocolaty, coffee-like qualities of a traditional stout, making them smooth and balanced.

Read on for a deep dive on the milk stout style, including its history and where to find the best milk stouts to try today.

What is a Milk Stout?

A milk stout is a variety of stout beer brewed with the addition of lactose sugar. These sugars are not fermentable, so they remain in the finished product of the beer, adding a sweet creaminess. 

Here are some of the most common characteristics of milk stouts:

  • Color – Dark with a typical SRM of 30-60
  • Common flavors – Chocolate, coffee, caramel
  • Aroma – Roasty, sweet, sometimes smoky
  • Mouthfeel – Creamy, rich, smooth
  • IBUs (Bitterness) – 10-25
  • ABV – 4-6%

History of the Milk Stout

Milk stouts (sometimes called sweet stouts or cream stouts) originated in the United Kingdom sometime in the 19th century. Prior to their development, it was common for stout drinkers to add milk to their beer to make it more satisfying and nutritious.

Brewers caught wind of this and began experimenting with the addition of lactose sugar to simulate that same effect. When the earliest milk stouts were released, they were viewed as a cure-all for many different ailments and were even prescribed to nursing mothers as a way to increase their milk production.

Is Guinness a milk stout?

Guinness is probably the most well-known and easily recognized stout on the market, but is it a milk stout?

The classic Guinness beer is an Irish Dry Stout and is not brewed with lactose sugar.

The Baltimore-based American arm of the Guinness brand does, however, produce Guinness Over the Moon Milk Stout, a classic creamy milk stout.

Common milk stout ingredients

Milk stouts are typically brewed like many other stouts with highly toasted malts to add dark color and bring roasty notes to the beer. In a milk stout, brewers add lactose sugar to add creaminess and sweetness.

Unlike other sugars, lactose sugar does not ferment, meaning it is not converted into alcohol. Because of this, the sweetness of the sugar remains in the fermented beer.

Do milk stouts have dairy?

Though not brewed with actual milk, milk stouts are by their very definition brewed with lactose (or “milk sugar”).

Lactose can be a concern for those with lactose intolerance or other non-dairy diets.

Always check your labels or ask your bartender if you have a concern.

Left Hand Brewing Company produces America’s most popular milk stout, simply called Left Hand Milk Stout.

The brewery experiments with many variants on their flagship beer, including a nitro and peanut butter variety.

The best Milk Stouts in 2023!

There are a lot of great Milk Stout options out there, and many brewers are experimenting by adding additional flavors to balance the sweet smokiness of a basic milk stout. Some are even brewing supercharged Imperial Milk Stouts with double or triple the amount of malts and sugars, leading to ultra-high ABVs.

Here is a list of the most recommended Milk Stouts, including classic examples and some of the more esoteric varieties on the market:

  • Left Hand Milk Stout
  • Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro
  • Duck-Rabbit Milk Stout
  • 4 Hands Chocolate Milk Stout
  • Stone Xocoveza
  • Southern Tier 2XSTOUT
  • Surly Twisted Midnight Coconut Milk Stout
  • Wiseacre Gotta Get Up to Get Down
  • Tailgate Peanut Butter Milk Stout
  • Hopfusion Fur Slipper Imperial Milk Stout

1. Left Hand Milk Stout

  • Brand: Left Hand Brewing Company
  • From: Longmont, Colorado
  • ABV: 6%
  • IBU: 25
  • Featured Hops: CTZ, Golding
  • Taste: This is the milk stout that introduced America to the variety. Start your journey to trying milk stouts here. Left Hand describes this flagship beer as rich and robust, with notes of dark chocolate, freshly brewed coffee, caramelized sugar and roasted malt.

2. Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro

  • Brand: Left Hand Brewing Company
  • From: Longmont, Colorado
  • ABV: 6%
  • IBU: 25
  • Featured Hops: CTZ, US Golding
  • Taste: The milk stout that started it all, infused with nitrogen! Smooth and pillowy with all the roasty toasty flavors of Left Hand Milk Stout. Pour it in a glass to experience the visual magic of nitro.

3. Duck-Rabbit Milk Stout

  • Brand: Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery
  • From: Farmville, North Carolina
  • ABV: 5.7%
  • IBU: 25
  • Featured Hops: Nugget, Fuggle
  • Taste: This is Duck-Rabbit’s best-selling beer. The sweetness of the lactose sugars perfectly balance the highly toasted malts.

4. 4 Hands Chocolate Milk Stout

  • Brand: 4 Hands Brewing Company
  • From: St. Louis, Missouri
  • ABV: 5.5%
  • IBU: 10
  • Featured Hops: Unknown
  • Taste: 4 Hands loads this milk stout with cacao nibs to give it a chocolaty creaminess like chocolate milk.

5. Stone Xocoveza

  • Brand: Stone Brewing
  • From: Escondido, California
  • ABV: 8.1%
  • IBU: 50
  • Featured Hops: English Challenger and East Kent Golding
  • Taste: The recipe for Xocoveza originated from San Diego homebrewer Chris Banker, who won Stone’s homebrew competition. Its flavor profile mirrors the flavors of Mexican hot chocolate, featuring coffee, pasilla peppers, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and a generous amount of chocolate.

6. Southern Tier 2XSTOUT

  • Brand: Southern Tier Brewing Company
  • From: Lakewood, New York
  • ABV: 7.5%
  • IBU: 25
  • Featured Hops: 2 varieties
  • Taste: Part of Southern Tier’s 2X line, this is a double milk stout. It has a higher ABV and richer body than most milk stouts. 

7. Surly Twisted Midnight Coconut Milk Stout

  • Brand: Surley Brewing Company
  • From: Longmont, Colorado
  • ABV: 5.5%
  • IBU: Low
  • Featured Hops: Warrior
  • Taste: Surly adds decadent coconut to their milk stout, giving this beer an additional depth and dessert-like quality.
  • Where you can find it: Available only on tap at Surly’s Minneapolis Beer Hall.

8. Wiseacre Gotta Get Up to Get Down

  • Brand: Wiseacre Brewing Company
  • From: Memphis, Tennessee
  • ABV: 5%
  • IBU: 15
  • Featured Hops: Bravo
  • Taste: This coffee milk stout is brewed with a fruit naturally-processed coffee from Ethiopia, adding roastiness and blueberry pie aromas to this extremely drinkable, medium-body beer.

9. Tailgate Peanut Butter Milk Stout

  • Brand: Tailgate Brewery
  • From: Nashville, Tennessee 
  • ABV: 5.2%
  • IBU: 42
  • Featured Hops: Magnum
  • Taste: PBMS is one of Nashville’s most awarded beers. Here, Tailgate adds not only coffee but peanut butter to their milk stout, adding a satisfying nuttiness like chasing a peanut butter sandwich with a glass of cold milk.

10. Hopfusion Fur Slipper Imperial Milk Stout

  • Brand: Hopfusion Ale Works
  • From: Fort Worth, Texas
  • ABV: 9%
  • IBU: 34
  • Featured Hops: Unknown
  • Taste: This monster imperial milk stout is silky smooth with notes of hazelnut, dark chocolate, and toffee. Hopfusion has combined a traditional milk stout with the boldness of a Russian Imperial Stout.

Now that you’ve checked out the best Milk Stouts to try, learn more about best yeast to use for a Milk Stouthow to brew a Milk Stout and even the best water profile for milk stouts!