Summit Suds: Why is lactose in my beer?

Outer Range Brewing Co.’s Pow Bender seen during a hut trip to Janet’s Cabin last winter. The blueberry vanilla milkshake India pale ale is made with lactose to give it a sweet and creamy profile.
Jefferson Geiger /

Last winter I went on a hut trip to Janet’s Cabin near Copper Mountain Resort and I brought with me a special piece of cargo to share with friends and family: Outer Range Brewing Co.’s Pow Bender. The beer is a blueberry vanilla milkshake India pale ale, a new version of an IPA that it isn’t frozen like ice cream nor requires a straw, but instead has a sweet, rich and creamy profile reminiscent of the non-alcoholic beverage due the addition of lactose. 

Like a dessert, everyone enjoyed a few sips after dinner except for one member of the crew. He wouldn’t chance a taste because he was lactose-intolerant. It got me thinking. How much lactose is in a milkshake IPA?

The milkshake IPA style was popularized by Sweden’s Omnipollo and Pennsylvania’s Tired Hands Brewing Co. and has since spread among craft breweries like wildfire. Breweries add the powered milk sugar to boil toward the end of the process and, because it is unfermentable by yeast, the profile of the drink changes while the alcohol content remains the same.

Outer Range Brewing in Frisco, Colo. has released JIB Strawberry Shortcake Milkshake IPA just in time for the 2019-20 holiday season.
Liz Copan /

Along with the aforementioned Outer Range, Frisco’s HighSide Brewing has also dabbled in the style with Special Kurt Rad Berries, named in honor of their general manager Kurt Zolbe that tastes like a bowl of cereal in a glass. The brew was made with lactose and 55 pounds of strawberry cereal in addition to over 100 pounds of strawberries.

Though it hasn’t caught on in other styles like IPAs, lactose has also been used in stouts for decades. Longmont’s Left Hand Brewing Co. has their iconic Milk Stout, but Outer Range also made an oatmeal cream stout and on Saturday, Dec. 28, HighSide released Eighth Night, an imperial White Russian stout that clocks in at 16.2% alcohol by volume.

While Outer Range may be where I first had a milkshake IPA and enjoy lactose beers the most frequently, the styles aren’t extremely common at the brewery. Head brewer Lee Cleghorn said lactose has only been added to about 10 beers among the roughly 250 brewed since they opened three years ago, with only three of those being milkshake IPAs released each year on their anniversary.

Cleghorn said that they mainly do it for fun and prefer not to make a New England-style IPA — which are usually sweeter than the grassy West Coast versions — with lactose.

“A lot of people put them in New England IPAs to achieve that residual sweetness, but if you just have the right brewing techniques you can achieve that without putting lactose in and it can taste a lot better,” Cleghorn said.

Like with baking or cooking, any recipe requires a balance of flavors. While IPAs and stouts have the depth to support the addition of lactose, Jon Zatkoff, head brewer of HighSide Brewing, also sees lactose as an opportunity to boost flatter beers such as a sour. This year they made Smoothie Criminal, a creamy sour that includes mandarin oranges as well as lactose.

“Kettle sour beers tend to be pretty one-dimensional and it just adds an extra layer of flavor, body and smoothness to a beer that needs a little bit of help, whether that be from a simple syrup or a fruit addition,” Zatkoff said.

Yet ingredients are best in moderation and going overboard with lactose is likely not ideal. For instance, HighSide’s Maneater chocolate oatmeal stout receives its mouthfeel from the oats and contains no lactose.

“In my estimation there has to be a good reason to use it,” said Zatkoff, who, like Cleghorn, doesn’t want to cut their product off from potential customers by using lactose. “If there’s another way to achieve the same thing, I prefer to go that route.”

Dietary restrictions

Since lactose is a milk sugar, that means those beverages utilizing it are inherently not vegan-friendly. They’re also not advised for those who suffer from lactose intolerance. Both breweries heavily denote and advertise when a beer contains lactose for those reasons, even though its not required by law.

However, knowing exactly how much is in the beer and its gastronomical effects is tricky.

“If we use lactose, there’s probably 3% to 5% of the beer that could be lactose, usually 3%,” Cleghorn said.

HighSide Brewing’s newest beer, Eighth Night, an imperial White Russian stout that packs a mighty punch at 16.3% ABV, releases on Saturday, Dec. 28.
Liz Copan /

While Zatkoff doesn’t specifically know the amount per glass, he does know how much is added to each batch. Eighth Night was made with 55 pounds of lactose in a nine-barrel batch, which is equal to 279 gallons. That is almost twice as much as their other lactose beers like Smoothie Criminal, which was 55 pounds in a 15-barrel, or 465-gallon, batch.

So can one who is lactose-intolerant enjoy the beer? It depends.

“The tricky part of lactose intolerance is that every person is different,” Gretchen Broecker, a registered dietitian with CHPG High Country Healthcare in Frisco, wrote in an email. According to Broecker, some can’t tolerate milk but can enjoy yogurt and cheese. It’s up to each person to know what their own threshold is based on previous experience.

“Often times, it’s ‘trial and error’ and most folks interested in trying a milk stout would go for it and see how they do,” Broecker wrote.

Jefferson Geiger is the arts & entertainment editor for the Summit Daily News and managing editor for Everything Summit. Have a question about beer? Send him an email at

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.

Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.