Trying to figure out which cookies taste good with which beers… Who does this? Only magazine editors, and publicists working for brewers and bakers, and whatever brewers or tasters who have been talked into playing along because it might grab likes on the socials. Special exceptions allowed for authors of food-beer pairing books (what a niche!), and brewery events people, and those who pay good money for tickets for the occasional tasting event—because, having been in pandemic mode for nine months, we have sepia-tinted fondness for all sorts of public events that aren’t happening right now.
Also: There is an unusual kind of mental exercise involved when you start trying to plug your brain’s attention into your physical senses—really trying to sort out all that data and figure out what it means. What am I tasting here, and what am I tasting there, and what am I tasting when it all comes together? Is it good—and most importantly, why is it good? What can I learn from this strange sugary bacchanal to increase the chances of future hedonistic pleasure?
Downsides: Inevitable bellyache, and the fairly high likelihood of unpleasant pairings along the way.
It’s probably worth it.
Before we get to our winning pairings, a brief explanation of how this came together: A publicist named Tori Allen reached out to us. She represents a few breweries as well as A Haute Cookies in Atlanta. She saw our recent masochistic experiments with Halloween candy and sent the kind of pitch that sounds fun and all but… Look, to be honest, people, this is your fault. A few years ago, we posted an apparently innocuous article about pairing beers with Girl Scout cookies, and you broke our site by clicking on it. Ever since, we have had a hard time resisting this kind of debauchery.
Our tasting panel: Todd DiMatteo, owner/brewer at Good Word Brewing in Duluth, Georgia; Mike Shatzel, restaurateur and founder of the Thin Man Brewery in Buffalo, New York; Jonathan Moxey, head brewer at Rockwell Beer in St. Louis; Trace Redmond, research brewer at Highland Brewing in Asheville, North Carolina; and myself.
Disclosure: A Haute sent us free cookies.
Just to make it harder on them, we asked the brewers not to choose their own beers for the pairings. If they did like me, then they grabbed some likely suspects and a few wild cards from their personal hoard to mix-and-match. It didn’t all work. We left out the duds.
“I’m not sure if it’s possible,” DiMatteo says, “but if I can make a living pairing delicious stout from amazing breweries and incredible cookies from A Haute, sign me up.”
Careful what you wish for, Todd.
The Cookies, and the Pairings
Your own available cookie and beer varieties will vary, but there are elements of these tastings that can be applied to whatever you’ve got. The most important thing with any beer-food pairing—we’ve had to re-learn this lesson often—is to look for comparable intensities. A flavor-bomb cookie is going to overwhelm a subtle beer, and vice versa, obscuring any flavor gestalts that your senses and imagination might otherwise discover.
- Urban Chestnut Schnickelfritz Weissbier (St. Louis). Moxey: “The delicate yeast character melds smartly with the cookie’s cinnamon and nutmeg. If there’s such a thing as a ‘sessionable’ beer-and-cookie pairing, here it is. I could do this several times over.”
- Westbound & Down Don’t Hassle the Hef (Idaho Springs, Colorado). Stange: “Banana and clovey-spice notes come out to meet the cookie’s own spices and doughy richness.”
- Westmalle Dubbel (Westmalle, Belgium). Redmond: “The eggnog comes across a little fruity, so the caramel, sweet notes of the dubbel complement the lightly spiced sugar cookie.”
- DSSOLVR Thicc for Life, imperial stout with stroopwafels (Asheville, North Carolina). DiMatteo: “Think brown sugar, fresh-baked brownies, roasted cinnamon sticks, brown-butter waffles drizzled in honey… The cinnamon from the cookie played so well with the beer, it was like they were meant to be together.”
- Prison City Wham Whams, imperial stout with coconut and vanilla beans (Auburn, New York). Shatzel: “Big espresso notes, chocolate, and vanilla... Cinnamon from the cookie adds a nice flavor component.”
Observations: Interesting that two hefeweizens and a dubbel with spicy yeast profile made the cut here.
White Chocolate Chunk Sprinkle
- Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock (Aying, Bavaria, Germany). Moxey: “The load of sprinkles made this the most challenging pairing, but doppelbock was up to it. Celebrator meets the cookie’s substantial sweetness with a potent combination of raisin and prune. The zip of carbonation and warming alcohol provide lift to the richness of the white chocolate chunks.”
- St. Bernardus Christmas Ale (Watou, West Flanders, Belgium). Redmond: “This cookie was sweet, with a lot of vanilla flavor. The ale is fruity, festive, and Christmas beer will always work with Christmas cookies.” Stange: “Equally lively and festive, with enough carbonation to break down all those sugary sprinkles, with just enough bitterness to help check the sweetness. The ale’s spice adds a nice accent to the cookie.”
- Seven Islands Moctezuma, imperial stout with cocoa nibs and vanilla beans (Corfu, Greece). Shatzel: “The white chocolate melded with the base flavors of the beer, and the abundant amount of sprinkles made for a great pairing.”
Observations: Notably, two of us chose the same beer for this cookie without any coordination. The sugary sprinkles were a lot to handle; bubbles helped to break them down.
White Chocolate Chunk Oreo
- Civil Life Porter (St. Louis). Moxey: “Smooth character complements the Oreo’s subtler chocolate. Moderate bitterness is just enough to balance, while creating an overall silky sensation of cookies and cream.”
- Anchor Christmas Ale (San Francisco). Stange: “Roasty Hydrox flavor meets the beer’s porterish backbone, while the beer’s spicing accents the cookie’s caramelized-sugars.”
- Corporate Ladder/Invasive Species Good Problems, Baklava-inspired imperial stout with honey, pistachio, walnut, vanilla beans, and cinnamon (Palmetto, Florida). DiMatteo: “All these big components work like cogs on the wheel and we get this great equilibrium. The creaminess from the cookie added to the full vanilla from the beer. So dang tasty.”
- Prairie Double Dunk, imperial stout with Oreos. (Krebs, Oklahoma). Shatzel: “Obvious reasons. I love Oreos and happened to have a bottle of this in the back of the fridge. Oreo flavors abound.”
Observations: Look for roast in the beer to find affinity with the Oreo.
Double Chocolate Chunk Peppermint
- Sierra Nevada Stout (Chico, California). Redmond: “The dark roast character of the stout and clean, dry finish works with the peppermint and chocolate.”
- Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout (Brooklyn, New York). Moxey: “The boldness of peppermint enhances the stout’s licorice note, combining to create a refreshing Fernet quality. The rich sweetness of the chocolate chunks find balance against the bitter cocoa and coffee roast of the malt. The intensity of flavor is substantial and well-suited with a traditional Russian imperial stout.”
- Bond Brothers Scavenger Hunt, barleywine-stout blend with vanilla, cinnamon, and coffee (Cary, North Carolina). DiMatteo: “Coffee-forward, where cinnamon, bourbon, and vanilla simply round out the finish. The mint and cinnamon play well with the coffee.”
- Finback Absorb Green, barrel-aged imperial stout with peanut butter, vanilla, cinnamon, and chocolate (Queens, New York). Shatzel: “This beer was so good, I had to get it on this list. Why not add some peppermint into the mix?”
- 2nd Shift Mládek, imperial stout with cinnamon, vanilla, and coffee (St. Louis). Stange: “Mingles together beautifully to become something like a six-dollar mint-chocolate-chip latte.”
Observations: The rich, strongly flavored cookies played well with a variety of strongly flavored beers, with chocolate and peppermint finding a familiar kind of friendship.
Double Chocolate Chunk Marshmallow
- Wedge Community Porter (Asheville, North Carolina). Redmond: “Robust chocolate-malt character matches the fudginess of the cookie.”
- Off Color Dino S’mores, imperial stout with graham flour, marshmallow, molasses, cocoa nibs, and vanilla bean (Chicago). Moxey: “More marshmallow, more cocoa, more of everything. Dino S’mores tiptoes inside pastry stout territory, but its dry roast character keeps it from being cloying. That provides the pairing definition to avoid becoming a decadent mess.”
- Eighth State/3 Sons Penrose, imperial stout with toasted coconut, Ugandan vanilla, and banana (Greenville, South Carolina). DiMatteo: “They nail the flavors listed on the description. This cookie was so good and so rich, honestly, it could’ve paired with any of these beers very easily.”
- Good Word Exit Simulation, imperial stout with vanilla and cocoa nibs (Duluth, Georgia). Shatzel: “The stout is quite rich and decadent and needs a cookie to match. Vanilla from the beer and marshmallows paired great.”
- Perennial Lunchbox Treasures, imperial stout with marshmallow, vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon (St. Louis). Stange: “Dark, cake-battery sin, with the cookie’s marshmallow plainly coming out to meet the marshmallow character in the stout. The beer’s thickness finds its mate in half-baked, I-get-to-lick-the-bowl richness.”
Observation: With a cookie this rich and fudgy, there was no apparent upper limit to how decadent the beer could be.