For all of the times we’ve written about beer pairings—beer with ice cream! beer with cheese!—there was one untapped pairing that was right under our noses the whole time. It wasn’t until earlier this week, when our editor Caroline stumbled upon this old Hotline question, that we realized the next (and seemingly limitless) beer pairing goldmine we were sitting on: beer and cookies!
We’re not saying that milk and cookies aren’t delicious—they are (this is coming from someone who owns a set of glasses dedicated to the art of cookie dunking). But beer, with its potential for complexity and its shape-shifting ability to range from dark and intense to subtle and fresh, can make the ritual of cooking-dunking feel a little more grown up—and a lot more fun.
When I called up beer expert Gwen Conley (co-author of Beer Pairing: The Essential Guide from the Pairing Pros and self-described "Director of Production, Quality, and Bunches of Interesting Brewery Things" at The Lost Abbey Brewery), she couldn't have been more excited about beer and cookies. And I mean that earnestly: She literally could not have been more enthusiastic about the subject. When I asked her about ginger cookies, she yelped she was so excited, and when I suggested a fruit-filled cookie, she said, "OH HOW FUN!" During our 45-minute conversation, I think she breathed twice she was talking so fast.
This is all to prove pairing beer with cookies isn't, as many believe, gross, or worse: boring, but is instead nuanced and exciting and worth the (minimal) effort. Not that you needed convincing, did you?
Before You Start:
- There is no one right answer in beer and cookie pairing. For example: Gwen is a savory food-lover while her husband prefers sweets, so they each look for different beers to bring out the savory and sweet aspects of their food, respectively. For that reason, when pairing a food for the first time, always try it with two beers, so that you have options.
- Don't be afraid of terrible pairings: "Yes, you can stick with something you already know," Gwen said, "or you can have an experience." When you try something unexpected, even if it's bad, you'll learn from it. "Middle of the road is such a safe zone!," she says. (We seriously discussed "Embrace the Anarchy: Pairing Beer with Cookies" as an alternative title option.)
- No two cookies are the same and no two beers are either. If you make the same recipe twice, it will come out two different ways, so the array of cookie possibilities is vast, to say the least. The first step is to not always answer "stout" when you hear chocolate chip cookie; the second is to keep an open mind and try lots of different beers with different cookie recipes.
Okay fine, pull our leg: Try two beers per cookie recipe, using lots of different beers. Let's do this. Here are 9 cookies and beer pairings to try yourself (maybe tonight, even!):
Gwen's reaction is the same reaction we should all be having every time we hear the name of a cookie we love: "OH OH!! White chocolate is SO fun! Such big vanilla! I love white chocolate!"
White chocolate, Gwen says, has such a nice creaminess to it that it's a goldmine for pairing with beer:
It's such a delicate thing that—while pairing something like an imperial red with it is lovely—something much simpler like an amber ale and or a German-style märzen with a spicy but also caramel-y quality can take you a whole different direction. A German-style hefeweizen with a slightly citrusy element, or something like a Bière de Garde would go with a white chocolate and macadamia nut cookie.
Why? Because the carbonation can cut through the fat of the nut and the chocolate.
For the comfort-zone averse, "a blonde-fruited sour could accentuate the vanilla in the chocolate and give you something that, together, tastes almost like a pie! Like a buttery tart." Gwen even suggested that a saison made with wild yeast may bring out notes you're not expecting, like a toasted quality in the grain, or a peanut-y flavor.
As for the peppermint in the cookie above, use something boldly flavored with it like an imperial red, an imperial IPA or a barrel-aged stout—it's a difficult pairing to made, but test out a few options and see what works!
Beers to try with white chocolate cookies: Lost Abbey's Carneval, Harpoon UFO Hefeweizen, Victory Festbier, Karl Strauss Oktoberfest
Dark Chocolate Chip Cookie
If your favorite part is the dough: You've always been the person to—gasp!—pick out the chocolate chips from the cookies. If it's that rich, buttery in-between part you're after, opt for a Belgian abbey dubble, which Gwen said often has a dark fruit quality to it and can bring out the vanilla quality of the cookie. "The Belgian yeast used [in an abbey beer] accentuates things like vanilla and butterscotch and has a tendency to throw off notes that are spicy like nutmeg, or clove, or even a banana-like quality—it'll bring out those tiny undertones," she said.
If your favorite part is the chips: "Dark chocolates can be so completely different but what you have to watch for is over-emphasizing its bitterness," Gwen told me. To bring its flavor out, match the cookie with something bitter and roasted like an imperial stout or an imperial red ale, which have high enough alcohol contents and are big enough that they can "cut through the fat" of the chocolate. For example, Gwen said, an imperial red with a 9.5% ABV and a caramel-y malt backbone will work well. She also suggested:
- An imperial IPA: If the hops have a citrus-quality, she said, "you actually end up getting that orange and dark chocolate pairing."
- A Imperial stout or a barrel-aged beer: With these, you'll emphasize the chocolate in the liquor.
- A Belgian quadruple: Similar to the Belgian abbey dubble, but with more booze, this beer has more sugar and can bring out the flavor of dark fruits, like dates and figs. "You can even end up with something like a fruit cake," she said.
Beers to try with chocolate chip cookies: Sierra Nevada IPA, New Belgium Abbey, Anderson Valley Brother David's Double, Allagash Dubble, The Lost Abbey Lost & Found Abbey Ale
Milk Chocolate Cookie
"Something big!" Gwen told me, "Something that complements the chocolate, like a coffee-chocolate beer." (I should say here that Gwen loves coffee beers. "It's just what I do," she explained.) Or you could go another route with an oatmeal stout, or even a pale ale which would emphasize the sweetness of the sugar.
Beers to try with milk chocolate cookies: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Lumberyard Knotty Pine Pale Ale, Deschutes Mirror Pond, Rogue Ales Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout, Troeg’s JavaHead, Ballast Point Victory at Sea, Port Brewing Board Meeting
"You can either really go crazy here and do a barrel-aged beer, especially one with any spice, or you can go with a lighter-colored beer, like a Belgian beer." If you want the spices of the cookie to really shine, go for a spiced beer or something like a coffee beer. And with a coffee beer, it doesn't feel as weird to dip your cookie in—Gwen laughed when she suggested this, then added, "No. Really."
To get out of your safe zone, go with a saison. Yes, they have the potential to taste soapy with the cookie, but you could also hit a home-run with the right one. Alternatively, opt for a Bière de Garde: As long as it has a decent maltiness to it, it could really emphasize the toasted quality of the oatmeal. "And that," Gwen said, "would be lovely."
Beers to try with an oatmeal raisin cookie: Harpoon UFO White, Two Brothers Brewing Company's Domaine DuPage French Style Country Ale, Alesmith’s Speedway Stout, Terrapin’s Wake-n-Bake Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout
This is an easy one. "You can pair these with pretty much everything—the lightest beer with the simple toasted-ness of the malt will cut down on the sugar, and then as you start to go hoppy, the hops will make it taste more citrus-y." You can try anything from a Belgian blonde to make the cookie lemon-y or a darker nut-brown ale, or an oatmeal stout with not-too-high of an ABV. "Wait, actually this is making my mouth water," Gwen said.
Beers to try with sugar cookies: Rogue Ales Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout, Anchorage Whiteout Wit, Avery White Rascal
With ginger cookies, you have to be a little careful. Ginger is volatile and you can get overwhelmed by it, but it can be delicious with a nut-brown ale or a stout. And something like a Belgian dubble or triple has a spicy quality from the yeast that's "going to complement the ginger and make it go POW!" Coffee beer is also delicious with ginger ("Have I mentioned I'm a fan of coffee beer?" Gwen asked) or something with a significantly malty backbone. Stay away from IPAs though, as they can end up tasting like soap with the ginger.
Beers to try with ginger cookies: The Lost Abbey Lost & Found Abbey Ale, Deschutes Mirror Pond, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Founder’s Breakfast Stout
"I know this is going to sound strange, but [our brewery] recently tasted this, and a citrusy IPA was delicious" with a nutty cookie. Gwen also said that a blonde sour with peaches can actually end up "emphasizing the nutty butter quality that makes it taste like a tart." Even a German hefeweizen can work well.
Beers to try with nutty cookies: Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA, Harpoon UFO Hefeweizen, Lost Abbey Hefeweizen
"Try something very light again, like a pilsner (but not a dry-hopped pilsner) and a hefeweizen again, and a wit-anything. A saison will emphasize the fruit as well." Or, you could even go dark—not necessarily with an imperial stout—but with a regular stout or a brown ale, or an English IPA. Or, if you can find them, pair the fruit cookies with beers that have the same fruit in them!
Beers to try with fruit-filled cookies: Left Coast Black Magic Stout, Odell 5 Barrel Pale Ale
To emphasize the lemony and toastiness of coconut (yes, it's all in there with the correct pairing!), go with something like a Biere, or a Belgian dubble to get the toasty quality of the coconut. To get the "big 'ol roasted coconut flavor," go for an imperial stout. Gwen also said, "Saison has a fizziness that will react with the coconut fat and make the weirdest mouth feel that's super fun!"
Beers to try with coconut cookies: Funkwerks Saison, The Lost Abbey Red Barn Ale, New Belgium Abbey
Still in doubt about pairing cookies with beer?
The best part, Gwen added, is that there's no specific time for eating cookies and beer, so you can do it morning, noon, or night. Morning cookie (and beer), anyone?
What are your favorite ways to eat cookies? Tell us in the comments below!