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How I Created … Bristol Beer Factory Milk Stout

Bristol Beer Factory Milk Stout
by Simon Bartlett

I have worked in the brewing industry since 1986 and have been involved in breweries all over the world, from Coopers in Australia and Shiner in Texas to Guinness in Ghana and Carlsberg in Hong Kong, but I moved back to my home town of Bristol in 2004, to finally attempt to settle down.

Simon Barlett Bristol BeerI seemed to be in the right place at the right time. A local architect had recently bought an old brewery building and had the idea of putting in a microbrewery to help rejuvenate the local area.

I jumped at the chance to get involved and in 2004 the Bristol Beer Factory was born.

We moved a ten-barrel kit into a disused building that was originally built to house the ‘new fermenting block’ for the Ashton Gate Brewery in 1904.

The building and old brewery obviously had some history and that was something that I made a point of researching in the local records office and city library.

The brewery existed from the 1830s through to the 1930s and grew to own approximately 120 pubs. One of its beers was the diploma-winning Milk Stout. Wording on the label declared it to be ‘Invigorating & Stimulating. An Ideal Beverage for the Rheumatic, Invalids & all Workers’ – not really what you might call acceptable marketing today!

Bought and Closed

The brewery was bought in 1930 by local rivals Georges and closed, but this was not the end of Milk Stout. Just by replacing the name on the label, Georges continued to sell the brand.

Ashton Gate Milk StoutI am unaware of when the beer ceased to be produced but reviving it did give me and the Bristol Beer Factory an ideal opportunity to recreate a bit of local history.

Bristol has a long heritage of producing stouts and the aforementioned Georges was exporting stouts to Ireland long before Arthur Guinness revolutionised stout production. With this history on our side, my brewer at the time, Chris Thurgeson, and I set about reproducing a milk stout.

Sadly, no evidence of Ashton Gate's Milk Stout recipe was found so we had to start from scratch, with a bit of guesswork on how much lactose to add. We timed the release to coincide with the 2006 CAMRA Bristol Beer Festival so it would gain maximum publicity. It won Beer of the Festival.

Since then, it has earned more accolades then we ever dreamed of – including a gold at the CAMRA National Winter Ales Festival and being judged SIBA's national Champion Bottled Stout – and we are incredibly proud of it.

I wouldn’t say that there are any secrets to our Milk Stout (apart from the amount of lactose we add) and all ingredients are very standard and very British. The malts we use are Maris Otter pale, crystal, chocolate, wheat and roasted barley, with Challenger and Fuggle the hops.

We assumed that the original beer brewed by Ashton Gate would have used traditional English hops and, as this beer is not about the hops, we didn’t want to use anything too distinguishable. We were using Challenger and Fuggle in our best bitter at the time and they fitted the bill nicely.

Gravity Matters

Brewing it is all pretty normal, too, apart from the hugely-increased gravity because of the lactose and the difficulty of trying to establish the end of fermentation. Instead of finishing around 1011 or 1012 like our normal fermentations, the Milk Stout finishes around 1022 or 1023.

Bristol Milk StoutThe yeast we use is our house yeast, which is a very robust blend of both top-fermenting and bottom-fermenting yeast. In Milk Stout we are not looking for any strong characteristic from the yeast so our house yeast works well.

We also slightly change the water treatment, as it is a stout. The water in Bristol is pretty hard and, like most breweries, we Burtonise by adding recommended salts and acids. However, for our Milk Stout we do not add acids and rely on the natural acidity of the dark malts to reduce the pH of the mash.

Milk Stout is currently released in cask- and bottle-conditioned versions and we have been thinking of releasing it in keg. We do recommend that in many bars that it is served through a creamer tap and also, possibly, after running it though a chiller.

This does really add to the presentation and also makes it beautifully smooth and creamy. I also think it brings out the chocolate flavours but that is just a personal opinion.

The beer was initially brewed as a one-off, to recreate a bit of history, but it has been such a success that I’m convinced it will be around for many years to come.

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