Michigan Beer

Christmas Cookie & Beer Pairing

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(Note: This is a modified version of a piece I wrote for the Stormcloud Brewing Co. mug club members.)

We all know that Santa prefers beer instead of milk with his cookies, so this month’s post is all about beer…and cookies!

Award-winning chef and Culinary Institute of America graduate Adam Dulye and Certified Cicerone® and Beer Judge Julia Herz explain, “A pairing is a match between beverage and food, with the goal of having the individual parts interact in a synergistic way to create an enhanced and elevated experience. Simply stated, craft beer and food can transform each other” (Dulye and Herz, 50). To transform your traditional holiday desserts, I’ve utilized a few of my favorite beer educators and did some field research of my own to compile a list of holiday cookies that pair well with our Stormcloud beer.

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Rainmaker Ale & Snowball Cookies (also know as Russian Tea Cake, not to be confused with Pfeffernüsse, which have a very different flavor.)

As our flagship beer and GABF bronze medal-winning brew, I knew I had to find a cookie that accentuated all of its best qualities. This cookie works so well because the dusting of the powdered sugar draws out the dark fruit flavors from our house yeast as well as some subtle caramel notes from the malt. In turn, the beer really helps to bring out the nuttiness of the Snowball Cookies. Looking for a Snowball Cookie recipe? Check out this link.

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228 Tripel & Apricot Thumbprint Cookies

Our abbey-style Tripel is extremely versatile in food pairings, with its complex flavor and wide range of delicious yeast-driven aromas. I love the Apricot Thumbprint Cookies paired with 228 because the dryness of the beer cuts through the sweetness of the apricot jam, providing a pleasant balance. Additionally, the cookie adds backbone to the base malt flavor of the brew, giving it a playful enhancement. Want to make your own Apricot Thumbprint Cookies? Click here for a recipe!

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Whiled Away® IPA & Orange Gingerbread Cookies

This was one of my most surprising findings. I was a little skeptical of this pairing at first, but after seeing it come up time after time in my research, I knew I had to try it. The hop flavor works really well to cut through the ginger spice, which in turn mellows out the bitterness. Then, the orange zest of the cookie enhances the bright citrus hop presence in Whiled Away, creating a perfect marriage of flavors. I have to say, this was my favorite beer and cookie pairing! Try it out for yourself, using this recipe.

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31 Planes IIPA (Plane 16) & Sugar Cookies with Buttercream Frosting

You can’t go wrong with the classic cut out holiday cookie, especially topped with a smooth, rich buttercream frosting. The dryness of our IIPA combined with the bitterness from the hops helps to balance out the sugary sweetness of the cookie. In finding this balance, the beer expands the cookie’s flavor range, allowing the palate to identify and enjoy the subtleties of the cookie (such as vanilla and butter notes) instead of just being overpowered by sugar. If you’re hoping to make a batch of these holiday staples, this recipe may be just what you need.

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Rowed Hard Stout & Peanut Butter Blossom Cookies

Stouts go well with just about every dessert imaginable, but combining our Oatmeal Stout with a peanut butter and chocolate cookie takes it to the next level. The chocolate of the cookie brings out an even balance of sweet and cacao elements from the malt, while the creamy mouthfeel of the beer sweeps the peanut butter across the palate in a most alluring way. This beer plays well with both milk and dark chocolate, so don’t be afraid to experiment a bit – this recipe is a good starting point.
Interested in doing some beer and cookie pairing of your own? 

A common way to pair food and beer is looking at the following three interactions — compliment (flavors that match each other); contrast (flavors that intensify or suppress each other); and cut (flavors that cleanse the palate). The Brewers Association Beer & Food Course book also explains that you should, “Expand your tasting notes to include places, memories, and sensations” (Dulye and Herz, 50). For more information on food and beer pairings, check out this awesome resource from the Brewers Association.

I’d be interested in hearing what beers you pair with your favorite cookies, so please feel free to share. Grab a crowler or growler to go and start baking!


References

Bender, Jonathan. Cookies & Beer. Andrew McMeel
Publishing, 2015.

Dulye, Adam, and Julia Herz. “Beer & Food Course.”
         CraftBeer.com, Brewers Association, Mar. 2017.

Mosher, Randy. “American Craft Beer and Food: Perfect
Companions.” Brewers Association, 2009, p. 7.

Murphy, Nikelle. “7 Delicious Beer and Cookie Pairings
You Have to Try.” The Cheat Sheet, 12 Feb. 2017,
http://www.cheatsheet.com/culture/7-delicious-beer-and-cookie-
pairings-you-have-to-try.html/.

Rhodes, Jesse. “Beer for Dessert.” Smithsonian, 29 June 2011,
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/beer-for-dessert-
24136392/.

Richards, Bryan M. “How to Pair Beer with Desserts That Aren’t
Chocolate.” CraftBeer.com, edited by Jess Baker, Brewers
Association, 9 Feb. 2018.

Specketer, Jenn. “Craft Beer and Christmas Candy Pairing.” Bites,
Barrels and Brews
, 14 Dec. 2015, http://www.bitesbarrelsandbrews.
com/2015/12/14/craft-beer-and-christmas-candy-pairing/.

Stanz, Carissa. “This Holiday, Skip the Milk and Pair Your Favorite
Christmas Cookie with Beer.” Wide Open Eats, edited by Sarah
Ramsey and Lyndsay Burginger, 12 Dec. 2017, http://www.wideopen
eats.com/this-holiday-skip-the-milk-and-pair-your-favorite-
christmas-cookie-with-beer/.

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Hosting a Craft Beer Tasting Event.

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Yesterday I hosted a Michigan IPA Tasting Event at our home. Six of us gathered around the table and shared beer, stories, and laughter. I had a lot of fun hosting, so if you’ve ever considered it, I say – do it! Here is a little advice to get you started:

Pick a Theme

Do you want to sample beers from one brewery? Do you want to sample the same style of beers from a variety of breweries? Do you want to share with people your favorite beer of each style? Once you decide the theme of your tasting, it will help determine what comes next.

Picking my theme was easy, because I had beer that I needed help getting rid of. Generally IPAs are meant to be enjoyed fresh, and my cellar was piling up with an abundance of Michigan IPAs that needed to be drank fast!

Pick Your Guests

First, you’ll need to determine how many guests you’d like to invite. Do you plan on having an intimate around-the-table tasting, or a larger mix n’ mingle party? It’s also a good idea to take into consideration the types of guests you want to have. If you’re planning on a more formal tasting event that thoroughly dissects the appearance, aroma, taste, mouthfeel, etc. – make sure you are inviting experienced and knowledgeable beer drinkers. If your event is going to be more casual and will include people with a variety of beer experience, make sure you facilitate it accordingly. You don’t want to disappoint your fellow beer junkies, and you definitely don’t want to scare off or intimidate new craft beer drinkers.

For yesterday’s event I invited friends that appreciate craft beer, but all have different levels of knowledge on the beer spectrum. In this instance, the environment was a positive one which facilitated an open discussion of beer knowledge.

Pick Your Beer

Once you know your theme and how many guests you plan on having, it is time to pick your beer! It’s fun to serve rare or unique beer your guests have never had before, but it might also be good to serve familiar beer to act as the tasting ‘control group’ to the other beers. How many different beers do you plan on having? We had 12 different IPAs, divided into two rounds – but I think if I were having a more formal tasting event, I would limit myself to 6 in order to prevent palate fatigue and mental exhaustion. Now is also the time to determine how much of each beer you will need. Are you having enough people to warrant a pony keg, or do you just need a couple bottles from your local bottle shop? Remember, a tasting event is different from a drinking event – each guest only needs a couple of ounces of each beer. Also keep in mind that a couple of ounces can add up to a lot of ounces, depending on how many different beers you are serving.

Supplies

  • Beer. Purchase your beer ahead of time, and make sure you store it in a cool, dry place. On the day of your event, make sure the beer is served at proper tasting temperature for the style. Beer that is too cold is hard for our taste buds to taste.
  • Tasting Cups. Remember, these only need to be a few ounces. I used clear plastic cups with a wide mouth, so guests could easily evaluate color and catch the aroma.
  • Tasting Mats. I made tasting mats for each round of tasting, with ordered, labeled spots for each beer. I also included other information about the beer, like the brewery name, ABV, and IBUs.
  • Beer Score Cards. While my event did not include formal judging, I wanted to provide my guests with a place to take notes about each beer if they were so inclined. I also printed off a page with some tasting “suggestions” and some simple beer vocabulary.
  • Snacks & Water. I intentionally picked snacks that act as palate neutralizers or that traditionally pair with beer. We had pretzels, popcorn, bread, and cheese. Make sure you also provide your guests with plenty of water. The idea behind the snacks and water are to help clear the taste buds between beer samples, and also to help prevent any major drunkenness caused by an empty stomach. Aside from the snacks, our group was small enough that we were also able to order carry-out once the event was underway.

Day Of

On the day of your event, set up as much in advance as possible. I set out each spot at the table with the tasting mats, beer score cards, pens, napkins, and suggestion sheets well before everyone arrived. I also threw some flowers in an old growler, which made a beautiful centerpiece. I put snacks out and poured waters 15 minutes prior to everyone’s arrival, and started playing music 5 minutes before showtime. In case of late arrivals, I advise you do not start pouring beers until everyone is there and ready to start. Talk to everyone, and make sure they are comfortable and enjoying themselves. Keep an eye out for overconsumption, and be aware that as the host you may have to provide a way home or a place to crash for the night if someone goes over the top. (Fortunately, I did not encounter anything remotely close to this last night.) Consider having a party favor you can send home with people at the end of the night – mine was simple, I sent my guests home with a variety 6-pack of the beers they ranked the highest.

 

Overall, my tasting party was a success and I am really glad that I did it. My guests were great, and brought some of their own delicious beverages to share – including a homebrewed Classic American Pilsner and some homemade wine. Thanks to everyone that came out! I look forwarding to hosting my next one.

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Have you ever hosted a beer tasting event? What did you find that worked and didn’t work for you? If you were to host a beer tasting event, what would your theme be?