When I think of booze pairings, the first things that come to mind are the usual suspects: wine and cheese, Scotch and chocolate, beer and pizza. Recently, however, I was introduced to a new concept that I’d never considered before. Wait for it: beer and cookies. If you’ve never paired beer and cookies together, guess what? You’re totally missing out.
This won’t work with just any beer and just any cookie, which is exactly why the genius minds at Firestone Walker are touring around, educating the masses on how to do this the right way. They’re specifically pairing their Nitro Merlin Milk Stout with Brown Butter Sea Salt Cookies. And for the next month, they’re stopping in bars all over the country to give you a taste.
What exactly is milk stout?
Let’s do a quick science lesson on beer. When yeast encounters grains, such as malted barley, they start to devour all the sugars they find inside. As the little creatures chow down, they create two byproducts: alcohol and carbon dioxide. Then, along with the addition of some hops, beer is born.
With milk stout, there’s one additional element: lactose. While lactose is also a type of sugar, yeast isn’t able to eat it. So, the lactose sugars don’t get turned into alcohol or bubbles—they just stay in the beer. This results in beer with a slight sweetness, as well as a rich, creamy body. Standard stout is transformed into milk stout.
The other thing that sets a stout beer apart is the use of nitrogen. Most kegs are force-carbonated with carbon dioxide, giving you the snappy suds present in most American brews. Stouts, however, favor nitrogen gas. If you’ve ever had a Guinness, you know what this feels like: smooth, tiny bubbles, a lighter body and a creamy head. It’s also what leads to that hypnotic “waterfall” effect you see when a pint of stout is poured.
Now that we’re experts on milk stout, let’s talk about cookies.
Milk stout and cookies: the perfect pair
My friend and I sidled up to the bar at The Oaks Tavern, one of the many spots that Firestone Walker is hitting on its tour. While this bar typically draws a crowd for its karaoke, we were there for only two things, beer and cookies. And we were not disappointed.
Firestone Walker chose to team up with Brown Butter Cookie Company for this taste experiment. They, much like Firestone Walker, are a family-founded west coast company making very delicious things. Specifically, their flagship offering is the Brown Butter Sea Salt Cookie. My friend and I were each handed one of these golden droplets alongside our tall pints of Velvet Merlin Milk Stout. We took a moment to breathe and prepare ourselves.
To be honest, I was slightly skeptical of the whole thing. I’m not really even into sweets in general. But I was more than willing to give this a try because I believe in embracing experiments. After all, this is science!
I started with a sip of the beer. It’s full of dark roasty notes and nibs of cacao. The mouth-feel is velvety (true to its name), and as a wave settles across your palate, flavors and textures of milk chocolate take hold. At the same time, dark grains punch up the low-end, and a fistful of hop bitterness keeps things from veering into dessert land.
Now it was time to try the cookie. As I picked it up, I was immediately hit with scents of butter and caramel. Biting into the crumbly decadence, a big wash of butterscotch set in, dotted with little bits of salty splendor.
Finally, as the last of the cookie began to dissolve, I took another swig of my beer. I’m happy to report that the combination is fantastic. The buttery texture of the cookie sings in harmony with the rich and silky stout. Meanwhile, the mild hops and that little sting of salt add unexpected layers that border on dissonant, but which somehow converge in the end to create a delightful finish.
Still, it did seem to me that one thing was missing from the whole experience. I turned to my friend and said, “Do you know what would make this even better? A slice of bacon.” I stand by this statement, and if you’re listening, Firestone Walker? Something to think about for next time. You’re welcome.
Other beer and cookie combinations
After this tasty experiment, I’ve been inspired to seek out other beer and cookie combos. Aside from milk stout, I could see tapping into some porters, Oktoberfests, brown ales or Belgian dubbels, and matching them up with different cookies to see what works. I’ve definitely seen people scheme out how to best pair wine with Girl Scout Cookies, but maybe this year it’s time to switch it up and pair them with beer. Once again, I’m going to have to use the scientific method on this: I’ll keep experimenting with different beers and cookies until I get the combinations just right. You just might want to set up an experiment of your own.