Tuesday, January 31, 2023
Jan. 31, 2023

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Girl Scout cookies and beer? Hey, it works

The pairing of the two has been around for years

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CHICAGO — The idea of pairing beer with Girl Scout cookies has been around a few years, and it always struck me as largely ridiculous. And not the good ridiculous — the gimmicky ridiculous. The only thing gimmickier, it seemed, was pairing beer with Halloween candy (which is also a thing).

I didn’t doubt the merit of beer coexisting with Girl Scout cookies; beer is remarkably versatile alongside food, whether sweet or savory, haute or street.

And plenty of breweries and beer writers have embraced the intersection of Girl Scout cookies and beer. Even the Brewers Association, a craft beer trade group, has weighed in with a thorough guide to such pairings. (A gooey Samoa alongside a malty doppelbock does sound delicious.)

With Girl Scout cookie season upon us once again, at least three Chicago breweries have developed pairing events this year: Sketchbook Brewing and Ravinia Brewing earlier this month, and Logan Square’s Pilot Project Brewing today.

I gave it a try, for the sake of journalism.

Girl Scout cookies are good. Beer is good. So why not?

I headed to Sketchbook’s Skokie taproom, which offered its pairings for $14 — four 5-ounce pours with a small plastic bag stuffed with four different Girl Scout cookies. The bartender handed me a wooden tray with four short, round glasses and the bag of cookies that I carried to the beer garden.

It didn’t take long to be won over, and that’s because the first pairing was flawless: the Girl Scouts’ Lemon-Ups cookie with Sketchbook’s witbier. It was a combination that Sketchbook co-owner Cesar Marron told me the brewery was excited to feature as soon as it began planning the event. I could see why.

The cookie, introduced in 2020, is a gem unto itself, boasting bright lemon mingling with dueling textures: the crunch of the cookie along with a silky lemon glaze. The beer, a tweaked version of the Belgian classic, is similarly well built: a spry wheat beer brewed with coriander and orange, lemon and lime peels.

I sipped the bright, zesty beer, let the flavors sit for a moment in my mouth, then bit into the sweet lemon crunch of the Lemon-Ups. The combination dazzled brightly. Then back to the beer, which seemed to take on different character; after the cookie, the coriander’s herbal nature popped. They were wonderful complements.

Next up was Insufficient Clearance, a 5 percent IPA, with the Girl Scouts’ Trefoils, a no-frills shortbread cookie. Like many IPAs, the beer has an expressively bright citrus-forward note with a muscular showing of balancing bitterness. Shortbread, as everyone knows from childhood, is not the most expressive cookie — its appeal lies in its simplicity, crunch and buttery sweetness.

I was confused by the pairing before tasting it, but it soon became clear: Some pairings, such as the Lemon-Ups and witbier, work together. Others work as counterpoints; that’s what this one was, with the beer’s fruity bitterness cleared by the cookie’s crunchy sweetness. It wasn’t a flavor journey like the previous pairing, but it worked all the same.

Next was a pairing featured on the Brewers Association website: Sketchbook’s Illustrator doppelbock with a Samoa. As everyone knows — and surely this will not be a controversial sentiment — Samoas are the kings of Girl Scout cookies. It just so happens that doppelbock is one of the great unheralded beer styles, at least in mainstream American circles; its malty backbone is accented with notes of dark fruit and tobacco, often followed by a dry finish that keeps the beer light on the palate.

The combination was aces. Alongside the Samoa’s creamy caramel-chocolate-coconut delectability, Illustrator preformed a neat trick of both complementing the cookie with its sweetness and contrasting with that tobacco wrinkle and the dry finish.

Last was the most obvious pairing: Sketchbook’s dry Irish stout with a Thin Mint. I love dry Irish stout and I love Thin Mints, but this was the least interesting pairing, the roast of the beer becoming lost in the mint of the cookie. But it still worked fine.

At best, the pairings were towering; at worst, they were still tasty. I was won over.

Perhaps most fun about such pairing events is that no two breweries will do it the same.

Ravinia Brewing paired peanut butter sandwich cookie Do-Si-Do with a chocolate-cherry-vanilla stout; Samoa with a hazy IPA; Lemon-Ups with an imperial IPA; and, in what sounds particularly inspired, a barrel-aged barleywine with Tagalongs, a crispy vanilla cookie topped with peanut butter and coated in chocolate. Pilot Project will employ its own vision, too, including two big, flavored stouts and a lager, in its event today.

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