These are strange days to be a cow. Dairy milk consumption is continuing its national decline, and coffee drinkers are going nuts for alternative milks. But the beer industry has an ongoing love affair with lactose, the unfermentable sugar derived from milk. Lactose boosts a beer’s body and sweetness, creating a creamier sip. Lactose is largely synonymous with milk stouts, most notably Left Hand’s standout, but the sugar is now used to sweeten sour ales, amplify imperial stouts, and make IPAs reminiscent of milkshakes.
Many folks go gaga for sweetness, and for good reason: Consuming sugary foodstuffs lights up the brain’s reward system like a pinball machine, stimulating surges of dopamine, that neurotransmitter that makes us feel oh-so-good.
Lactose can work really well in a fruited sour ale by balancing out tartness and acidity with a spoonful of (milk) sugar. However, in IPAs I find lactose to be too much, as cloying as the cereal during Saturday morning cartoons. Taken to excess, there’s little difference between a highly fruited milkshake IPA and a Jamba Juice with a jigger of vodka.
Dogfish Head isn’t a stranger to strange ingredients, making beers with scrapple, seaweed, spruce tips, and more. The kitchen pantry and natural world are inspiration for the next great lager, ale, or otherwise unclassifiable beer. For its latest fermented trick, the brewery looked to revamp the hazy IPA with help from the barista’s friend, oat milk.
In its most basic form, oat milk is made by blending oats with water and blitzing them in a blender, then straining the mixture. At its best, the plant-based milk is a creamy stand-in for dairy, no lactose required.
Brewers regularly use oats, and wheat as well, to create beers as smooth and lustrous as a sea of full-fat milk. Oat milk is more of a rarity, though I’ve seen DuClaw Brewing and several other breweries dabble with the dairy-free alternative. It’s now poised to break big thanks to Dogfish Head’s newest IPA, Hazy-O!
The exclamation point is the brewery’s, but I’m equally enthusiastic about the beer’s potential. I know you’re probably ho-humming about another hazy IPA, but first hear me out. The IPA contains an oat quartet, including malted, naked, rolled, and milk, supplied by Elmhurst 1925—a former New York City dairy reborn as plant-milk company.
Like a culinary jigsaw puzzle, the assorted oats interlink to create a properly cloudy, silky-smooth base that’s a little nutty, the citric bitterness cleansing the creaminess before another eager sip. The tropical scent is powered by the pineapple burst of BRU-1 and coconut-like Sabro hops, the effect not unlike a slightly bitter piña colada, hold the sugar.
The IPA is out now in Delaware, and it’s slated for a national release at the start of 2021. While this year can’t end soon enough, I know what I’ll drink when it does.