NOTE: In the 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines, Sweet Stout has been reclassified as Style 16A in Category 16 Dark British Beer which This category contains average to strong, bitter to sweet, modern British and Irish stouts that originated in England even if some are now more widely associated with Ireland. In this case, “British” means the broader British Isles not Great Britain.
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.
Sweet Stout Description
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
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.
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.