Here’s the setting: Four dudes in a room, including an off-duty police officer, huddled around bottles and cans of craft beer and a big box of, well, cookies.
We were going to sip and nibble and talk our hearts out about what we were thinking and feeling. Yes, we were expressing ourselves about all kinds of things that were pinging off our taste buds and whirling around on our palates.
Scoff if you want, but this was serious business. Cookies paired with premium beer, whether it’s a hopped-up and dank IPA, a silky smooth stout or a fruity sour, has become something of a trend. A few weeks earlier, I attended a cookies-meets-beer event at New Glory Craft Brewery and the cookies were all but gobbled up and gone by the time I got there.
I recruited two top craft beer aficionados for this tasting: Louie Toro, owner of the store Wireless World, and Sam Blackmon, a patrolman with the Sacramento Police Department. These guys really know their beer, travel widely to visit breweries and are an excellent resource for this column. Also attending was Trevor Davies, a sales rep with New Glory and highly knowledgeable in his own right.
The idea for such a tasting was inspired in two ways: I started seeing these kinds of events cropping up all over, including a recent one at Pangaea Bier Cafe in Curtis Park for the launch of Firestone Walker’s Nitro Merlin milk stout; and second, cookies. They’re really good!
What was I hoping to find? For one, food and beer pairings can often help you see beers in a new way, and cookies can be a quick and easy way to get into it.
In this case, we all noticed that Russian River’s Pliny the Elder, a double IPA many beer drinkers find overpoweringly hoppy, came across more muted and accessible after we ate the now famous carrot cake sandwich cookie from Nido Cafe by Magpie. This cookie has a layer of cream cheese frosting.
“I think it works because the cream cheese is so sweet and the hoppiness (of the beer) cuts it,” said Blackmon.
“What people might not like about Pliny, this cookie smooths all that out,” I added.
“It’s surprisingly good,” Toro said with a shrug. The takeaway? If you know people who badmouth Pliny, hand them a carrot cake cookie and then have them taste it anew.
But Nido/Magpie’s espresso cookie, which we thought was outstanding on its own, didn’t work. At all. The intense flavors of this tender, nearly black cookie simply stole the show and doused the flavor notes of the beer. It was like that with other pale ales, though it worked better with beer where malt took center stage.
With Big Dog Brewing’s Milk Stout, a local favorite, the espresso cookie, not surprisingly, worked well, highlighting the roasty notes we already liked and adding a layer of chocolate to the equation. But a burnt note on the back end, for me at least, did not do this beer justice.
“It almost intensifies both – the cookie and the beer,” Toro said.
Window of Opportunity, a Belgian-style tripel that won gold at the 2014 California State Fair, is a beautiful beer with a touch of sweetness from the malt, plenty of complexity and a dry finish. But with cookies? Uh-uh.
“That sour note just washes right over the cookies,” said Toro. We all concurred. My takeaway: One of my favorite beers is best enjoyed in a cookie-free setting.
Davies brought two New Glory beers to the tasting, a French saison that gelled nicely with the earthy notes of the oatmeal cookie but was overpowered by the espresso cookie. Then we tasted a special New Glory offering, a seasonal IPA with toasted coconut. For my taste, it sounded like a bad idea, but I loved it – hoppy and fruity and toasty-sweet all in balance. No cookie needed.
If you’re interested in having your own cookie and beer tasting, I recommend getting the new book “Cookies & Beer: Bake, Pair, Enjoy” by Jonathan Bender (Andrews McMeel, $19.99, 144 pages; $9.99 for the e-book on Amazon). There are plenty of recipes so you can bake the cookies yourself. Each cookie has specific pairing recommendations. Follow those suggestions or go your own way. See what works, what doesn’t and whether you detect anything new and inviting in each of the beers.
But be warned: Beer and cookies have a downside. Maybe it was the alcohol. Perhaps it was all that sugar or richness. But by the end of this tasting, which began at 5:30 p.m., I was pretty much toasted. I went to bed by 8:30 p.m. Toro reported via text message that he felt the same. It wasn’t the alcohol. We handled that in moderation. But we may have OD’d on the sweets.
“I’m not used to that much sugar,” Toro texted when I asked if he suffered the way I had. “Kinda had me wacky also.”