Every year a few new beer styles get added to the Brewers Association’s guidebook. These are usually just minor offshoots of long-held, already-existing styles. The black IPA was added in 2010; wild beer in 2014. The modernized gose made the list just last year. And by next year, we could very well see a new category: the milkshake ale.
It’s not just some clever name. These are hoppy beers, usually IPAs, with lactose sugar added to them in order to help produce a thick, milky, sweet and often fruity beer that, well, somewhat resembles a classic milkshake.
If there’s a Thomas Edison when it comes to this new style, it would be Jean Broillet IV, owner and brewmaster at Tired Hands Brewing Company. In March of 2015, Broillet teamed with the inventive Swedish brewery Omnipollo to produce something they called Milkshake IPA. (Omnipollo had produced a “Smoothie” IPA the previous year.) The seven percent ABV beer was brewed with oats and lactose sugar to create an initial heft. Then, wheat flour and 50 pounds of pectin-rich green apple puree were added. (Pectin causes an intense, almost gel-like thickening within beer—an effect most brewers try to avoid lest they accidentally make a can of jam.)
Post-fermentation, the brewers also added strawberries, another high-pectin fruit, followed by vanilla beans and a dry-hopping of Mosaic and Citra, two particularly fruity varietals that Broillet jokes are the Staples “Easy Button” of hops, due to their ease of enjoyment. The resulting beer, with it’s so-called “perma–pectin haze,” was an immediate hit.
This new style for Tired Hands, the Milkshake IPA, originated with a pointed insult from someone quite prominent in the beer industry. In January, Jason Alström, co-founder of BeerAdvocate, had visited Tired Hands’ Ardmore, Pennsylvania, café for some food and drink. Later that night, he reviewed Broillet’s HopHands, an unfiltered pale ale that is one of the brewery’s most notable offerings. Scoring it a meager 64 out of 100, Alström wrote: “Not feeling it with this brew, extremely cloudy and a mess to say the least…Milkshake beers are not a trend or acceptable with traditional or even modern styles…No excuses. [sic]”
“I thought it was a strange way for someone to represent a beer that is pretty fucking badass and well-liked. It felt very vindictive,” Broillet explains, telling me that he always liked Alström, for what it’s worth. “I wanted to turn that negativity into positivity. We call it ‘Milkshake’ to no small degree because of that silly, very childish reaction [from Alström].”
If “milkshake” had until then been a somewhat derisive term of art for particularly thick, New England-/Northeastern-style IPAs or pale ales—most geeks now call these beers “hazy” or “juicy”—the nomenclature had now been co-opted in the positive by Broillet.
Soon he had an entire line of Milkshake IPAs—by my count, 22 in total—each with a different fruit added. He’s done everything from a Blackberry Milkshake to a Double Watermelon Milkshake to a Zucchini Bread Milkshake.
While Broillet has undoubtedly popularized the moniker, he isn’t the first brewer to produce a beer with “milkshake” in the name (it’s common for big, bold adjunct-laden stouts) or even the first to add lactose sugar to an IPA. 3 Floyds Brewing Company, in Munster, Indiana, a Chicago suburb, may have actually been the first to add lactose sugar to an IPA when they released their Apocalypse Cow in 2008. While the decision was revolutionary (almost the entire history of brewing, lactose has mostly been used in milk stouts), the beer failed to change the brewing landscape.
However, Broillet’s decision to not just add lactose, but the “comforting” (as he calls it) flavors of oats, apple puree, vanilla and fruit, did. “It’s a childish whimsy that I appreciate [about the beers],” Augie Carton noted when Broillet was a guest on his Steal This Beer podcast.
He should know; he, too, has played around with childhood flavors at his Carton Brewing, most notably with GORP, a trail mix-inspired beer. There are many others playing in this arena—like Florida’s Funky Buddha Brewery, who’ve found great success with beers like Orange Creamsicle Imperial Stout, French Toast Double Brown and No Crusts, a PB&J-esque brown ale. Broillet has also played with other nostalgic flavors, citing TacoHands—an IPA brewed with tortilla chips—as an early foray into trying something different with “culinary” IPAs.
Nowadays, there are enough kid-inspired beers to warrant their own category. But so far, none of these aforementioned beers have created quite the level of buzz that the Tired Hands Milkshake IPAs have. It was practically inevitable that others would run with the style.
This past summer, Seattle’s Urban Family Brewing Co. released Limesicle Milkshake Ale, which features 200 pounds of zested and juiced lime per batch with, of course, lactose sugar. Andy Gundel, the brewery’s director of operations, says that Urban Family loved the other milkshake IPAs out there and was inspired to create a limited release of their own.
“We tried to put our own twist on ours,” he notes, and, indeed, Limesicle is a little more zesty, a little thinner and a little less viscous than Tired Hands’ offerings. “They are super fun to make, and people seem to really enjoy it.”
Chicago has also really taken to milkshake beers of late, though they refer to them less appetizingly as “lactose IPAs,” perhaps a nod to nearby 3 Floyds. Crown Brewing makes Tree Frog IPA, matching Simcoe, Mosaic, Citra and Amarillo hops with lactose. Meanwhile, just north of the city, Mikerphone Brewing has Vinyl Frontier, a lactose double IPA with no fruit added, though it’s super tropical thanks to the use of El Dorado hops. Then, Corridor makes Wizard Fight, a lactose IPA, to which they add even more creaminess to by exclusively releasing the beer nitrogenated.
Foreign breweries have also taken to the style. Australian breweries Moon Dog and Beer DeLuxe teamed up recently for Splice of Heaven, a pineapple IPA that they explain has been “ice creamified” via lactose. And earlier this month, fellow Aussie breweries, Newstead and BrewCult, teamed up to make Milk and Two Pineapples, described as transforming “what should have been a solid American IPA, into a gloop of sweetness with lactose and pineapple juice.” Likewise, Denmark’s Alefarm Brewing cut right to the chase in releasing their Kindred Spirits Lactose IPA earlier in the summer.
So now that the style has spread worldwide, are milkshake IPAs, or lactose IPAs if you must, soon to be an officially designated BJCP style? “It’s a fun, simple and cool idea,” says Broillet. “I really wouldn’t be surprised if it snowballs.”