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Lactose Alternatives for Homebrewing

2016 January 13
by Mad Alchemist

Some people want to brew a sweet/milk stout or other beer that calls for it, but they don’t want to use lactose. Perhaps you are vegan or you’d like your vegan friends to be able to drink the beer you brew, or you worry that lactose-intolerance could be an issue.

Are there any substitutes for lactose? For those of us who would prefer to avoid lactose but want a creamy sweetness in our beer, there are still many options available:

  • Mash at a higher temperature, around 158 °F. This will decrease the fermentability of the wort and make it fuller-bodied and sweeter.
  • Add some carapils, maltodextrin, carafoam, or similar. All of these increase head retention and body.
  • Treat your water to favor the flavors. A 2/1 Chloride/Sulfate ratio with 100+ ppm of Chloride will help, as will some additional Sodium (but keep Sodium below 150 ppm)
  • Increase the amount of low lovibond crystal/caramel malt you use. For example, if you have some Crystal 20 at a rate of 5% of the batch, up that to more like 10%.
  • Reduce the astringency you introduce from dark grains (like chocolate malt and roasted barley). This can be done in a number of ways, including using Carafa Special (dehusked chocolate) Midnight Wheat, or De-bittered black malt. Alternatively, you can steep your dark grains separately (below 170 F) or “cold brew” them like a coffee then add them after the mash to help avoid tannin extraction.

There’s really a lot you can do. I actually stopped using lactose even in sweet stout so I didn’t have to worry about it impacting lactose-intolerant friends, and I employ most of these techniques when making a sweet stout. If you’re interested in a longer write-up on sweet stouts, feel free to hit this article: Mashing the Perfect Sweet Stout

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