Milk Stouts and Nitro Beers

| October 5th, 2011 | No comments

Left Hand is a Colorado brewery that I have heard of various times. Previously, I had never tasted anything of theirs since they don’t distribute to Nevada. The one beer that I have consistently heard of is their Milk Stout.

What is a milk stout? It is a stout with lactose added. Lactose is a sugar that comes from milk. Lactose is not fermentable, meaning any lactose that is added when brewing will not get converted into alcohol and instead remains in the final beer adding more body and residual sweetness. Left Hand assures it’s customers that “milk sugar in your stout, is like cream in your coffee.”

This past Friday, Left Hand had a press event, that was prefaced by mysterious magazine ads, announcing the release of Milk Stout Nitro in bottles. They are the first craft brewer to bottle a beer using nitrogen gas. What this all means: Beer is normally carbonated using carbon dioxide (CO2) as this is a byproduct of fermentation. However, many brewers will force carbonate their beers with a blend of CO2 and nitrogen gas (N2) (typically just called “nitro”) because it gives the beer a smoother softer carbonation than just pure CO2. This is typically only done with stouts or porters as this primarily complements these styles. While nitro stouts feel and taste better than CO2, the problem is that N2 gas does not mix in the beer as easily. Special nitro taps are installed in bars that have the proper pressure to hold the gas in the beer. However, nitro beers cannot be used in growler fills because the gas dissipates too quickly, the beer must be served fresh. Which means bottling nitro beers was not possible for a long time. Guinness, the most famous beer served on nitro, developed what’s called a widget that contains N2 gas and is inserted into the bottles at bottling time. Once the bottle is opened and poured into a glass, the widget forces N2 gas into the beer allowing nitro beers to be enjoyed at home. Young’s Double Chocolate Stout is another common beer that is bottled with nitro widgets.

Back to Left Hand: Milk Stout was always available on nitro tap but the bottled version used CO2. In planning to bottle Milk Stout using nitro, Left Hand did not want to use a widget. They spent over two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars developing a way to bottle nitro beer without a widget. They are choosing to keep the secret to themselves rather than risk patenting the process and it becoming public knowledge. The result is amazing. I tasted this beer at GABF and was very impressed. I would happily drink this over any other stout, yes even Guinness. There is no “milky” taste, only a very balanced, smooth stout that is neither too bitter and roasted or too sweet. It’s perfect. Life was much easier having never tasted this beer, I didn’t know what I was missing. I am now forever longing for the day that this beer becomes available in Las Vegas.

*Photo credit: Left Hand Brewing Company