Now Reading
Drink614: Yes, there is lactose in beer

Drink614: Yes, there is lactose in beer

Steve Croyle

The haze craze really isn’t about opaque beers, as many brewers are finding out. It’s really about sweet beers.

In addition to using yeast with poor flocculation tendencies, brewers of hazy beer mash at higher temperatures, and load the majority of their hop additions to the end of the boil in order to enhance the sweetness of beer.

The sweet tooth many of today’s craft beer drinkers bring to the table has led to the copious use of lactose. Yes, the very same sugar found in dairy, that many people have trouble processing.

Lactose has long been used, albeit sparingly, by brewers to increase residual sugar content to bring enhanced sweetness to the table. This was most commonly found in Milk Stouts, where the bitter tannins of dark malts were offset with the addition of milk sugar.

Today lactose is being added to IPAs to increase sweetness and body—attributes some find appealing in the New England IPAs. Since brewers can play it fast and loose with labeling you might not always know when, or how much lactose is added.

If “Milk” or “Shake” is in the name, odds are pretty good there’s lactose lurking.

Generally lactose has been used judiciously, and most people with lactose intolerance won’t ingest enough in a few rounds of beer to get their digestive systems in a knot, but brewers are showing less and less restraint these days, as the demand for sweeter, more viscous beers increases.


Platform’s Banana Guava Slushie is thick and creamy.

Surely lactose is afoot, but how much?

Lactose is an unfermentable sugar that doesn’t produce any off flavors.

It’s cheap, easy, and for 99.9% of the people out there it is entirely innocuous. Brewers using lactose probably should make an effort to be more clear about it, but there aren’t any labeling requirements for brewers.

In most cases, ABV is listed as a courtesy, and often that’s off by as much as a full percentage point. The mysterious IBU might also be  listed, but it’s a metric that has no value to the consumer.

Brewers routinely make that number up, and even if it is measured, it still means little in terms of perceived bitterness.

Brewers don’t even want to list calories. In most cases, especially when lactose has been added, you really don’t want to know. Let’s just say that most of the beers people are drinking are a lot closer to 500 calories per serving than they are to 100 calories.

Sorry, but mouth feel and residual sweetness add up.

Adding to the confusion, Cream Ale, traditionally does not contain any lactose.

A cream ale is a regional style of American beer that emulates a Kolsch in the sense that it is an ale brewed at lager temperatures. The result is a light, refreshing beer with thick, creamy head.

So, you don’t eschew Wolf’s Ridge’s Clear Sky if lactose is verboden.


Scroll To Top