There are some beer companies that are strongly associated with a single style of beer done in different ways. Blue Moon almost exclusively brews wheat beers that are infused with citrus, while Sierra Nevada are pioneers of the American pale ale, and many of their most well known beers are versions of this style. Another example of this is Left Hand Brewery in Longmont, Colorado. They make a wide variety of beer, but are probably best known for their stouts, some of which have changed the American craft beer landscape, and also cemented their status as a stout brewery.

Left Hand Brewing Tap Room in Longmont, Colorado

Beer taps at Left Hand Brewing

When Left Hand Brewery opened their doors in 1993, stout was not among their earliest beers, however just a few years later, they would be one of the few American beer companies making a milk stout, and possibly the only one distributing one nationwide. Milk stout is a style of stout brewed with milk sugar, more commonly known as lactose. Unlike sucrose and glucose, lactose cannot be digested by brewer’s yeast, so it remains in the beer and contributes to a sweet taste and creamy texture. This type of stout originated in England in an era when stout was seen as a healthy, nourishing beverage. Milk Stout has always been popular across the British commonwealth, but was almost unheard of in America until introduced by Left Hand Brewing in 1999.

Due to the characteristic notes of coffee and cocoa, as well as the use of oats and milk, this style of stout has always been associated with breakfast, and Left Hand has actually made several variants of their iconic milk stout inspired by the most important meal of the day. Double Imperial Stout is a stronger version with notes of milk chocolate and tres leches cake. Bittersweet Imperial Coffee Milk Stout is similarly strong, but dominated by notes of fresh espresso and the slightly sour notes of cold brew Robusta coffee. Chai Milk Stout and French Toast Milk Stout are less strong, but they both use cinnamon, so the alcohol burn is somewhat amplified by the spice notes while it also cuts the creaminess of the milk sugar.

Left Hand Brewing Bittersweet Imperial Milk Stout and Double Milk Stout

Bittersweet Imperial Milk Stout and Double Milk Stout, two breakfast stouts

The most popular variant, and the only one made throughout the year and present in all their milk stout mixed packs is the Peanut Butter Milk Stout. While the packaging references peanut butter cups, it actually tastes closer to other peanut associated candies. It comes across like a Snickers bar in the middle of a chew when peanuts, caramel, and chocolate all come together in a crescendo of creamy candy flavor. It is a lot like salted peanut pralines with an aftertaste that is oddly reminiscent of circus peanuts.

Peanut Butter Milk Stout and Candy Cane Nitro from Left Hand Brewing

Two candy inspired stouts; Peanut Butter Milk Stout and Candy Cane Nitro from Left Hand Brewing

Beyond these breakfast stouts, Left Hand has also pushed their milk stout in another interesting direction; infusing it with nitrogen. As a product of fermentation, carbon dioxide naturally occurs in most beer and contributes to the characteristic fizz and large bubbles that leads to a thick head. Nitrogen does not naturally occur in beer, and was originally infused into British beer as a means of mimicking the smoothness of well poured cask ale without requiring the knowledge of an experienced barkeep. The smooth texture is due to the fact that nitrogen bubbles are significantly smaller than carbon dioxide bubbles, so the beer has a completely different texture and it interacts differently with the tongue of a drinker. Carbon dioxide also makes a beverage mildly acidic, so reducing it also lessens the burning sensation on the tongue of a drinker. The practice of adding nitrogen to beer was strongly embraced by Guinness who used nitrogen to ensure consistency across their product regardless of who was actually pouring the beer. They also pioneered and patented the packaging of nitrogen infused stout in both bottles and cans during the 1960s, and are the brand most associated with nitro stout.

In 2011, Left Hand became the first American beer company to bottle a nitrogen infused stout, with the introduction of their Nitro Milk Stout. They continued to innovate, and six years later they became the first brewery in America to package a nitrogen infused beer in a can and distribute it across the country. Lactose makes a beer smooth, and nitrogen contributes even further to the smoothness. With both combined, Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout is easily the creamiest beer on the market, and truly unlike any other stout. Just like with the regular milk stout, there are several versions of Left Hand Nitro Stout. Naturally, many are variations of the milk stout that the company decided would benefit from nitrogen bubbles, but several were developed to be served exclusively on nitrogen. One of these is Candy Cane Nitro, an imperial stout with a fresh minty flavor, and background notes of creamy chocolate. There’s also a white stout inspired by the White Russian cocktail that’s brewed with oats, coffee and vanilla.

Candy Cane Nitro Stout

Candy Cane Nitro Stout from Left Hand Brewing

Some of the best stouts at Left Hand are their Imperial stouts that are brewed with no flavor additives, just the basic beer ingredients. One of these is a seasonal stout called Wake Up Dead, which is made with chocolate malt, black barley, and roasted barley, and released every year around Halloween. It’s sweet and rich, with notes of licorice, raisins, and rum. At their tasting room, and occasionally in cans they release Wake Up Dead on nitro, and the addition of this gas adds some creaminess, leading to a rich cake-like character. Galactic Cowboy is similarly malty, but much of its character, and the cool name comes from the generous use of Comet and Galaxy hops. Both of these hop varieties bring to a beer notes of citrus and other tropical fruits. In this stout, they come together with the other ingredients leading to notes of candied orange peel, bittersweet chocolate, cold brewed coffee, and dates.

Galactic Cowboy Nitro Stout

Left Hand Brewing Galactic Cowboy Nitro Stout

For a company whose history is so intertwined with stout, it makes sense to mark momentous occasions with limited edition stouts. This is what they did in 2018 as they celebrated their twenty-fifth year of making beer. 25th Anniversary was a robust imperial stout brewed with coffee beans sourced from a cafe in Grand Junction. In the time since then, the stout was rested for twelve months in barrels that previously held bourbon, rye whisky, rum, and brandy and released as 25+1 stout. This version is stronger than the original, but there is a sweet smokiness that hides much of the heat.

Most recently, for their thirtieth anniversary, Left Hand Brewing released their strongest stout ever. This thirtieth anniversary stout was aged in Bourbon barrels for over a year, making it more than twice as strong as their milk stout, and three times as strong as their dry Irish stout. It is peppery with notes of clove and nutmeg, cooked peaches, and caramel. There are beautiful notes of woody vanilla and maraschino cherries that wake up as the stout warms up. Drinking a stout like this would be a great experience at any brewery, but here it means something more. Left Hand Brewery describes is as a celebration of their “brewing legacy and passion for crafting exceptional beer since 1993”. It’s a sip of liquid history from a brewery synonymous with this style of beer.

Left Hand Brewing Stout History