As the proverb goes: You can’t have your cake and eat it, too. But now at least you can drink it.
A new substyle of imperial stout is surging in popularity by showcasing ingredients that seem more suited for a bakery than a brewery. They’re called “pastry stouts” and here’s what you knead to dough—err, need to know.
Pastry stouts are big, bold dark beers fashioned after desserts, flavored to taste like liquid versions of cake, cookies and candy bars. They are oily and thick in texture, high in alcohol and sweetness, and heavy on adjuncts. The combinations of such ingredients will differ, but you can always expect a confection-inspired brew as the end result, achieved with unapologetically large additions of food items like cinnamon, maple syrup, marshmallows, vanilla, almonds, coffee, cacao nibs, lactose, coconut and chocolate. So. Much. Chocolate.
Before I share more about the beer, though, you also need to know that following up on last year’s hit event Green City (that celebrated cloudy IPAs and their insatiable craze) is Pastrytown.
Pastrytown will feature unlimited samples from over 30 of the most popular brewers of pastry stouts, including Florida’s Angry Chair and Moksa Brewing in California, as well as barleywines and fruited sour ales, which has garnered a growing fan base for their close resemblance to smoothies, thanks to their vibrant colors, their rich, creamy texture and their notable sweetness.
The event takes place on Saturday, March 16, from noon to 4 p.m. at Industry City in Sunset Park. As with Green City, VIP tickets include early entry and several special collaboration beers to take home—one being Cookie Kooks, which sold out within hours of its release. There’s even another wrestling show, because nothing goes better with dessert-inspired brews than the sweet, sweet sound of a top-rope powerbomb. More info can be found here.
Now more about the pastry stouts:
Imperial stouts have incorporated similar ingredients for years, but typically as accents, their notes balanced with the flavors inherent in the style. The plunge into pastrydom, however, means swatting away all subtlety and pushing the flavor envelope full throttle, while also exuding a sense of fun and creativity and experiment. These tradition-bending brews often carry names proudly boasting of their over-the-top, dessert-like composition, like Double Stuffed Oreo Fudge Bucket, Icing On the Cake, Maple Truffle Ice Cream Waffle, Midnight Fluff, and Cookie Kooks, which was released in late January by Other Half Brewing Company in Carroll Gardens.
Brewed in collaboration with Omnipollo, a whimsically innovative Swedish beer maker known for its own outlandish pastry stouts (not to mention IPAs brewed with burgers and fries), Cookie Kooks mimics the flavor of a garbage cookie. As such, it was made by throwing in the entire kitchen sink—or, more accurately, the whole snack drawer: cacao nibs, vanilla, caramel sauce, potato chips, pretzels, Corn Flakes, Cookie Crisp, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Golden Grahams, Cocoa Puffs, coffee, oats and milk sugar.
Given the odd hodgepodge of adjuncts, even for a stout of this nature, I was somewhat skeptical when a bottle was shared with friends after dinner one recent evening. But it was an absolute delight to drink, wonderfully expressive and skillfully balanced, far from a defining trait of the style. One friend, who is not a big beer drinker, marveled at the expert assembly and execution. “Somehow it all works,” he said.
As with any emerging beer trend, pastry stouts have stirred mixed reactions. Josh Noel, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, wrote that most versions “have lost any semblance of balance and simply overrun the palate.” They can “easily lurch into gooey, sugar-smacked messes,” he said.
Noel isn’t wrong. I’ve tasted some confection-inspired stouts and immediately squirmed, its sweetness too intense to bear.
But he also isn’t wrong about another thing. People really like them. Releases for these suds with high residual sugar, which are typically produced in limited quantities and have limited runs, routinely attract throngs of bright-eyed beer enthusiasts who don’t mind waiting in line, sometimes overnight, for the chance to get the first crack at the wares. They also attract a great deal of attention on the secondhand beer market, single bottles sometimes fetching a few hundred dollars.
But by simulating decadent desserts, pastry stouts appeal to an audience that goes beyond the most ardent beer adorers. I’ve shared several with my mother, who doesn’t really drink but whose sweet tooth is rivaled only by that of my grandmother’s. “This tastes just like cake,” she’ll often say after easily putting down a few ounces.
The fact that these beers don’t taste like beer? Well, that’s precisely the point.
A similar debate on purpose and value has surrounded another emerging beer style since its existence: Hazy IPAs, also called New England–style IPAs or just NEIPAs. That leads us back to Other Half. While the brewery is best known as a premier purveyor of hazy IPAs, releasing a dizzying amount of different foggy, hop-forward ales to continued high demand, it also creates superb pastry stouts that sell like hot cakes, many of which are collaborations with other top producers in the subcategory.
Won’t you take me to
Won’t you take me to
Won’t you take me to
Won’t you take me to
Ahead of the fest, we chatted with two-thirds of the brewery’s owners, Andrew Burman and Sam Richardson, about pastry stouts and what gives them such a wide appeal. They also discussed the company’s ambitious plans for future growth after opening a second location last fall just outside of Rochester, and the recent announcement of a third brewery, coming to Williamsburg.
Here are excerpts from our conversation, edited for brevity and clarity.
Edible Brooklyn: As one of the industry’s top purveyors of hazy IPAs, which might be craft beer’s most polarizing style ever—though the derision continues to lessen—you’ve no doubt heard a similar contempt for pastry stouts and fruited sours, primarily a questioning of the purpose of these new-age takes and a decrying that these kinds of beers don’t really taste like beer. But, as you can attest, their popularity is unquestionable. What is it about hazy IPAs, pastry stouts and the like that has caused such a sharp divide among beer fans? It seems like you’re either obsessed with them and willing to wait on line for hours to land as little as a few ounces, or you’re utterly perplexed about their existence and can’t fathom why anyone would want to drink them.
Andrew Burman: All of these beer styles are available so that people can drink and enjoy what they like. If you’re angry about what someone else enjoys, you should probably take a minute to reevaluate your life.
EB: What do you like most about the pastry-stout style?
AB: Pastry stouts have the ability to appeal to a lot of different people because we’re able to create really amazing flavor profiles with some crazy ingredients—pistachios, strawberries, saffron, caramel, croissants, bananas, etc. Anything we can imagine we like to try. We also love consumers reactions to our stouts when they try them for the first time. Their faces really light up and they often say they taste exactly like you’d imagine. They’re often laughing and sharing them between friends. It’s really fun to see.
EB: You’ve added a lot of fun ingredients into your pastry stouts—peanut butter, marshmallow, ancho chiles, even pineapple—and used different combinations to create flavor profiles meant to mimic treats such as s’mores and Rice Krispies. What’s been your favorite?
Sam Richardson: We used wild Thai banana alongside macadamia nuts, coconut and vanilla in one of the stouts we recently brewed for our fifth anniversary. That was probably my favorite so far.
EB: A recent pastry stout you brewed in collaboration with the whimsical Omnipollo, called Cookie Kooks, is one of the most, for lack of a better term, the kookiest in the category. What’s the process when putting together a recipe like this? And how important is the base beer when you’re using so many adjuncts?
AB: The base beer is always important because even when adding adjuncts, you still need an appropriate base for the adjuncts to work with. You can never disregard the base beer. When it comes to putting together a recipe, you want the beer to taste like the ingredients you’re putting in, so you’re constantly fine-tuning how much of an ingredient you need, and tasting to make sure the flavors are present and balanced.
EB: Sam, you once said you view IPA recipes as endless given the increasing varieties of hops and the different combinations in which you can use them. Do pastry stouts represent a similar infinite creative canvas to you?
SR: Yep. First off there are lots of ways to make imperial stout different without adjuncts. How much residual sugar is left in the beer changes the mouthful and perceived sweetness. The amount of roasted malts versus caramel malts plays a part in how dry or sweet a stout is perceived. There are different kinds of roasted malts with different flavor properties, including differences in darkness of roast and grain type; barley, malted barley, wheat, rye, spelt. Then the adjuncts are up to your imagination. Flavors that go into darker desserts are an easy one: chocolate, vanilla, coffee, coconut, nuts and spices. But if you figure out how to do it, fruits can work well. Then you also have barrel aging, which changes it dramatically and is limited only by the types of barrels available: rye, bourbon, tequila, rum, etc. It’s just up to the brewery to find ways to make everything work together harmoniously.
EB: I thought Green City was extremely well organized and well run, especially when you consider it was a festival featuring the top producers of a style built at least somewhat on hype and high demand. Do you view the event on a whole as a success? What do you think worked and what do you think didn’t, and what are you taking from the experience heading into Pastrytown?
AB: Yes we view it as successful. Not financially, but from an experience standpoint, we thought it was amazing. Going into Pastrytown, we’re just trying to make it even better. We want to make sure that people keep having incredible experiences at our festivals. We also learned some pretty big infrastructure lessons—like make sure there are enough bathrooms, food and water when you have hundreds of people drinking a lot of beer.
EB: In our chat previewing Green City, we asked you how you developed the list of participating breweries, and you told us that you primarily “asked our friends.” Was it the same criteria for curating the breweries for Pastrytown?
SR: Again, yes, we’re inviting our friends. But in this case we are inviting a few new breweries who have a reputation for making incredible pastry stouts and Berliner weisses.
EB: Like Green City, VIP tickets for Pastrytown will include several special collaboration beers. What can you tell us about them?
SR: We actually just announced the VIP beers on our Instagram. We have a collaboration with Omnipollo, J. Wakefield, and then some other special in-house brews.
EB: Switching gears, you opened a second brewery, in Rochester, New York, last year, and in recent weeks announced plans for a third in Williamsburg. How do you envision the customer experience will be in these different outposts in comparison to what your fans have enjoyed in Carroll Gardens these past five years? And will you continue to follow the same, increasingly popular own-premise model for the business as you grow?
AB: Yeah, our new locations will follow the own-premise model. We’re definitely trying to cultivate the same experience at our other locations. For us, it’s all about making people feel welcome and part of the Other Half community.