Sweet stout became popular during the early 1900s when it was advertised as a nutritious supplement for nursing mothers. It continued to be characterized as a pick-me-up and was often recommended by medical professionals. The term “Milk” or references to “lactose” or “lactic” is no longer allowed on the label in England or the United States, the reason given that it may confuse consumers. The term “cream” as in cream stout is allowed however in is often found on this style of beer throughout the world.
The sweetness in sweet stouts, or cream stouts as they are often called, can occur in a fairly wide range from slightly sweeter than a dry stout, to extremely sweet beers. The sweetness balances the bitterness of the hops and black malts. Overall, the impression is of smoothness with substantial notes of chocolate and coffee and a very smooth and creamy mouthfeel.
Important factors to consider when brewing this beer are its sweetness and mouthfeel. For competitions, go for more than less sweetness by reducing the hop bitterness, adding some sweetness with caramel malts, and using lactose powder to add some mild sweetness and rich creamy mouthfeel. Keep the hop profile to a single bittering addition to eliminate as much hop aroma and flavor as possible, which might otherwise interfere with the overall sweet coffee-like character of this beer.
- Aroma: The aroma of a sweet stout should be of mild roasted grains, sometimes with coffee and/or chocolate notes. An impression of cream-like sweetness often exists. Fruitiness can be low to moderately high. Diacetyl should be low to none with hop aroma low to none as well.
- Appearance: Sweet stouts are very dark brown to black in color, often opaque (if not, it should be clear). The head should be creamy tan to brown in color.
- Flavor: Dark roasted grains and malts dominate the flavor as in a dry stout, providing coffee and/or chocolate flavors. Hop bitterness is moderate (lower than in dry stout) so as not to detract from the sweetness. Medium to high sweetness (often from the addition of lactose) provides a counterpoint to the roasted character and hop bitterness, and lasts into the finish. Low to moderate fruity esters are often present. Diacetyl should be low to none. The balance between dark grains/malts and sweetness can vary, from quite sweet to moderately dry and somewhat roasty.
- Mouthfeel: The mouthfeel should be medium-full to full-bodied and creamy with low to moderate carbonation. High residual sweetness from unfermented sugars enhances the full-tasting mouthfeel.
- Overall Impression: Overall, the beer is a very dark, sweet, full-bodied, slightly roasty ale. It often tastes like sweetened espresso.
- Comments: Gravities are low in England, higher in exported and US products. Variations exist, in the level of residual sweetness, the intensity of the roast character, and the balance between the two, depending on the brewer’s intentions.
- Ingredients: The sweetness in most Sweet Stouts comes from a lower bitterness level than dry stouts and a high percentage of unfermentable dextrins. Base of pale malt, and may use roasted barley, black malt, chocolate malt, crystal malt, and adjuncts such as maize or treacle. High carbonate water is common.
- Vital Statistics: OG: 1.044 – 1.060 FG: 1.012 – 1.024 IBUs: 20 – 40 SRM: 30 – 40 ABV: 4 – 6%.
- Commercial Examples: Mackeson’s XXX Stout, Watney’s Cream Stout, Farson’s Lacto Stout, St. Peter’s Cream Stout, Marston’s Oyster Stout, Sheaf Stout, Hitachino Nest Sweet Stout (Lacto), Samuel Adams Cream Stout, Left Hand Milk Stout, Widmer Snowplow Milk Stout.
References: Information for this page was adapted from the BJCP style guidelines for 2008, and the book Brewing Classic Styles 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew, written by Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer.