Lactose in Beer- Everything You Need To Know

lactose in beer

Beer; good, healthy, strong beer. The golden nectar of the Gods. The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems. Nothing beats coming home after a hard day’s work and cracking a cold one. But you worked hard, you deserve something special – something more than that plain run-of-the-mill domestic swill that everyone else drinks. You deserve lactose in beer: a new trend that has brewers creating unique and delicious flavors, the kind that turns a regular beer into an extra special treat. This may be useless news to you if you are lactose intolerant, but for everyone else, this could be the secret ingredient you’ve been waiting for. That beer you look forward to as you slave away just got even better. As if beer wasn’t good enough, here are the benefits of adding lactose in beer.

Why are more brewers adding lactose in their brewing?

People that own and operate microbreweries do it for one reason: they are passionate about beer. Anyone can get a job in a big household name type brewers, but people that choose to work in microbreweries are often creative individuals, and they look at their brewing process as an art. And with any art, the key is experimentation; the brewers like to try new things and mess around with the formula to create something special. The ingredients to make beer is far from complicated; you only need a few things to brew it: hops, yeast, grain, and water. That’s it. That’s all it takes to make beer. But what if there was something else you could add to the recipe to make it taste sweet and different?

The answer is lactose. Adding lactose to the beer during the brewing process works because it doesn’t get broken down by the yeast and will add flavor to the final product. Lactose is essentially milk sugar, and when you add it to beer, suddenly you not only have a beer, but you have a dessert in a pint glass (or can) as well.

It first started with stouts. It makes sense when you think about what a stout is: it’s a dark-roasted malty beer. It naturally has a creamy texture and a deep flavor that pairs well with a dessert. When thinking of stouts, one often thinks of chocolate. So it was only natural that brewers came up with the idea to add lactose in to give it a chocolate flavor. This type of beer was enjoyed best after a meal; its dark rich flavor settles the mind, and it’s a perfect beer to have after a big meal when you are ready to sit back and relax. It makes you want to take a nap just thinking about it. It’s also the perfect beer for the holidays. Who wouldn’t want a nice chocolate stout around Christmas time? But stouts were only the beginning.

Brewers started adding lactose to other beers to craft signature flavors, such as milkshake IPAs and coconut cream pie golden ales. These are smooth drinking beers that can be enjoyed anytime; a bright sunny summer’s day on the beach or game time with the boys. But be wary of their calories count when compared to other pale ales. Because of the lactose, they are naturally higher in calories. So enjoy these delicious drinks when you can, but don’t overdo it if you are watching your waistline.

When to add lactose for brewing

Lactose is typically added near the end of the brewing process. But, like anything in life, this can be experimented with. Some people add lactose near the beginning of the process, or during the malting phase. But since you would still need to filter out the wort, this would also mean that some of the lactose would get filtered out as well. This is not what you want because it will leave a rather diluted lactose flavor in your beer. You want that lactose to be strong and to stand out, otherwise why even put it in your brew in the first place?

When adding lactose in beer, try to avoid interfering with the hops that have been added to the wort. The hops give the beer its flavor and aroma, so you don’t want the lactose to compromise the quality of the hops. Therefore, it is suggested by expert brewers not to add lactose until the latter stage of the brewing process. If you wait until later in the brewing process, the hops with already be broken down and the lactose won’t affect them. It is also important to taste the beer along the way to make sure the lactose isn’t overpowering. It’s still a beer, after all. You don’t want the lactose to be too overpowering and sweet.

How Much Lactose Should You Add

How much lactose you add to the brew is all dependent on what flavor you are going for. As suggested above, the best practice is to taste it as you add it in. In this way, it’s better to add too little than too much. If you taste it and you feel the lactose flavor isn’t strong enough, you can always add more. Once you’ve put too much in, then you can’t take it out; it’s as simple as that.

Even though there is no exact rule on how much lactose to add, some brewers have suggested adding between a half pound and a pound of lactose per every 5 gallons. Since this is just a guideline, you could add a half-pound, then taste, and go from there. It’s your beer, so it’s your call. You can have it your way.

Don’t Be Shy, Give it a Try!

Although it might seem like an odd concept to some, people have even referred to it as, “Bubbly Milk”, but if you haven’t tried lactose in beer, then do yourself a favor and give it a go. There’s a good chance you will be pleasantly surprised by the outcome. Who knows, you might even discover your new favorite beer.

Dan Specht

Dan has been homebrewing beer for 8 years and holds a level 2 certifiication as a Cicerone.

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