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Using Lactose in Craft Beer: A Practice That’s Not Just For Stouts Any Longer

When it comes to alcohol, craft beer really has become all the rage in recent years. With a variety of flavors, a lot of which are unique, there is a craft beer for everyone. But, even though they are now becoming increasingly popular, this hasn’t always been the fate for craft beer. 

Once upon a time, a lot of people were very skeptical about craft beers. Their unique flavors seemed intimidating, and the entry of new brands onto the market made people unsure.

But, in recent years, craft beer really has blossomed. There are now manufacturers all over the world that produce popular craft beers, and these beers are ever-changing.

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One of the main things that craft beer fans love about this style of alcohol is that nothing is too extreme. These manufacturers come up with an idea, and it can seem a bit unrealistic, but they always manage to achieve it.

One of the most recent ‘unrealistic’ trends in craft beer is the addition of lactose to the drink. 

Lactose has been used in beers in the past, but traditionally it was reserved for milk stouts. These stouts were medium-bodied with a low alcoholic content, and they included milk to make them sweeter to drink.

Consumers loved milk stouts, but as soon as there was talk of lactose being used in craft beer, skepticism stepped right back in. 

Despite this, a lot of craft beer producers went ahead with their plans to introduce lactose to their drinks, and in most cases these plans have gone well. Even though they were met with skepticism at first, there’s no denying that the addition of lactose to craft beer has been successful in most cases. 

If you are still skeptical about the addition of lactose to craft beer, you might want to learn more about this. In this guide, we’ll be taking a look at what lactose is, why it has been added to craft beers, and the styles of beer that use it as an ingredient.

So, with no further ado, let’s dive in. 

What Is Lactose?

Even if you don’t really know what lactose is, you probably will have heard of it before. You may know lactose as a key ingredient in milk and dairy products, you may also know lactose as a common intolerance in the human population.

But, despite having this basic knowledge, very few people actually know what lactose is. So, let’s take a look.

Lactose is a milk sugar, and this is why it is always found in dairy products. It is possible to get lactose-free dairy products, but this is not a natural form of these products, instead a lot of work goes into producing lactose-free products. As lactose is a milk sugar, it is naturally found in milk.

Why Is It Used In Beer?

You might be wondering why alcohol manufacturers would go to the effort of including milk sugar in their products. After all, sugar is already used in the fermentation process of alcohol, so what is the reason for adding lactose too?

Even though lactose is a milk sugar, it is actually very different to regular sugar. The main difference between these two types of sugar being that lactose isn’t actually fermentable.

So, regular sugar is used in the production of alcohol to actually make alcohol due to fermentation. But, if you add lactose, this sugar will not be fermented and converted into alcohol. Instead, lactose will remain in the finished beer product. 

This is why manufacturers of beer choose to use lactose. You might think that you can make a sweeter beer by adding more sugar before fermentation, but this will not work.

Instead, you will just end up with more alcohol in your beer. If you want a sweet tasting beer, you need to use a sugar which doesn’t ferment, and lactose is the perfect option.  

After fermentation, regular sugar will no longer be in the beer as it will have fermented. But, lactose (milk sugar) will still be in the beer after fermentation.

This allows you to achieve a sweet beer without a high alcohol content. Beer that contains lactose will have a sweet and creamy feel in the mouth, and this is something which people seem to enjoy. 

Like we have said, traditionally, these characteristics would have been exclusive to stouts. But, lactose is now also being used in craft beer.

Additionally, lactose is being added to other types of beer too as brewers begin to push the boundaries to create something new. You might not have realized that this is happening, so let’s take a look at some other styles of beer which brewers are now adding lactose to. 

What Styles Of Beer Contain Lactose?

If you are reading this, you might be racking your brain trying to figure out which styles of beer could contain lactose. Well, look no further because we’ve put together this quick guide of the main styles of beer where lactose is included in the ingredient list.

It is important to remember that lactose isn’t always used in these beers, but some brewers do include lactose in them. So let’s take a look.

Pastry Stouts

As we have said a couple of times, lactose is most commonly used in stouts. Due to this, this is the style of beer that you will most commonly find lactose contained in. Even though lactose has begun to be used in other styles of beer too, there’s no denying that it is still most common in stouts. 

Traditionally, lactose has been used in both stouts and porters. But, it is now most commonly used in a sub-group of stouts known as pastry stouts. This style of beer is given this name because it has a sweet, dessert-like flavor, like a pastry.

To combine with the sweet flavor of this beer, some brewers add other ingredients such as cinnamon, brown sugar, and maple syrup to complement the sweet flavor. 

These beers are traditionally dark, like most stouts and porters are. But, lactose is no longer reserved to dark beers. So, what are some other styles of beer where lactose is included in the fermentation process?

Milkshake IPAs

In terms of craft beers, one of the most popular types of craft beer that includes lactose is a style known as milkshake IPAs.

There are lots of different craft beer companies all over the world, and most of these companies produce some form of milkshake IPA. They might not strictly call it a milkshake IPA, but it will be advertised as a milky beer. 

One of the most notable styles of milkshake IPA is the New England IPA. Most people credit the introduction of this beer to Tired Hands, and now a lot of different companies produce it.

These IPAs tend to be heavy and sweet with fruity undertones. The addition of lactose to these drinks amplifies this flavor, creating a sweetness that is only comparable to a milkshake. Hence, the name. 

But, this style of IPA isn’t the only craft beer that contains lactose. So, what other drinks include lactose? Let’s take a look. 

Sour Beers

Another type of beer that is now having lactose regularly added to it is berliner weisse and gose sour beers. These beers tend to have fruits as their main ingredient to add depth to the drink, and the addition of lactose to the recipe naturally complements the ingredients that are used in this style of beer. 

Brewers tend to use fruit in sour beers because these beers tend to be quite tarty, and the fruit balances it out. Lactose complements this perfectly as it adds even more sweetness to the beer, creating a sweet and fruity beer that tastes very different to what you would expect it to from its looks alone. 

The introduction of lactose to craft beers, and sour beers has led to it being used in other types of drinks too, so what are they?

And More… 

But, these aren’t the only beers that now sometimes contain lactose. Since, the introduction of lactose to some beers has made brewers keen to try them in all sorts of drinks.

From pale ales to brown ales to IPAs. From lagers to stouts to wheat and creams. The list of beers where brewers have added lactose is seemingly endless. So, don’t be surprised if you find even more beers that contain lactose flooding the shelves in the grocery store in the future.

Is This Just A Trend?

Now, you might be reading this and wondering if this is just a trend. When most people talk about the introduction of lactose to craft beer, you will hear the word ‘trend’ thrown around a lot.

But does this mean that it is actually a trend? After all, lactose has been used in stouts for a long time, and that definitely isn’t a trend, so why should craft beer be any different?

The thing with craft beer is that it is always evolving. Craft beer is never static, the market is constantly moving and changing to fit new trends and patterns.

So, perhaps, the introduction of lactose to these drinks is just a trend. However, with craft beer, something which seems like a trend can quickly become the new normal, and this is because the world of craft beer is totally unpredictable.

It is important to remember that the introduction of lactose to craft beer is not a new thing. Lactose has been included in New England IPAs for a long time, despite the fact that it was very controversial at the beginning.

People were very skeptical about the introduction of lactose to this craft beer, and at first it seemed this style of beer would not succeed. But it did.

In terms of the future of lactose in craft beer, the chances are that it will not always be as popular as it is at the current. At the moment, lactose in craft beer is a trend.

As you know, trends do not last, and because of this all the craft beers that currently contain lactose probably won’t last in the long term. As trends change, most breweries will discontinue their lactose beers, changing them for beers that fit to the new trends.

But, even as some brewers discontinue their lactose beers, some will make them a permanent feature on their production list. 

But for the moment, it is clear that sweet beers are all the rage. As we have said, the only real way to achieve a sweet beer is to use milk sugar, like lactose, otherwise the sugar will burn off in the fermentation process.

It is possible to make beer sweeter by adding additional ingredients, but if you want to make a drink sweet without changing its flavor entirely, lactose is the best way to do this. 

However, as great as lactose is for this job, there is one major issue with it. We briefly mentioned this earlier, and it is something that could be detrimental to the success of lactose in craft beer. This is, of course, lactose intolerance.

Of all the allergens that exist, lactose intolerance is one of the most common, with more than 68% of the world’s population suffering from it. If you break this down into percentages of the target market for craft beer, this is still a large amount of your target that you will be excluding by the inclusion of lactose. 

Some brewers try to minimize the amount of lactose that they include in their beer to a level where it is undetectable. But, sadly, this isn’t enough for some who suffer from lactose intolerance. This type of food intolerance affects everybody differently, and some people will not be able to consume even the smallest amount of lactose.

So, a potential issue of brewers introducing lactose into a lot of their beers is that they will be preventing some of their customers from enjoying their favorite beer. This is the main reason why it is unlikely that lactose will take over the craft beer industry. 

But, it seems unfair to say that lactose in craft beer is a trend. Yes, it is more popular at the moment than it likely will be in the long term, but it is highly unlikely that lactose will ever disappear from craft beer completely.

As trends move on, it is likely that companies will begin to reduce the amount of lactose that they use in their beer, and likely remove it entirely from some of their lines. 

However, lactose in craft beer isn’t going anywhere. This is something that is going to stick around for a long time, and rightfully so with how popular it is. So, if you love a sweet craft beer, then one that contains lactose is the perfect choice for you. 


In short, yes, lactose was once restricted to stouts, but now it is used in lots of different styles of beer. Craft beer included. This is sort of a trend, but it is likely a trend that will last.

Over time, brewers will begin to reduce their menu of craft beer that contains lactose, but this style of beer is unlikely to ever disappear entirely.  

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