If you’ve been a food or drink writer for any amount of time at all, then one thing is all but certain: You’ve become intimately familiar with gimmickry. The American food and alcoholic drink landscape is rife with it—how does one stand out when launching a new product into an overcrowded marketplace? By simply doing things better than the next guy? Why do that, when you can create a ZANY HEADLINE The truth is, even with a quality product, a gimmick can be essential in getting that product noticed and publicized.
Case in point: Would I have clicked on the email that was simply about a new, “better for you” boxed mac ‘n cheese brand when it landed in my inbox? I’m not sure, but as a beer and spirits writer you know I’m going to click on the email promising the launch of an IPA-infused macaroni. It’s an idea that feels both novel and familiar, ridiculous and yet not. After all, beer cheese is a thing, right? But how often do you really make beer cheese with explosively hop-forward India pale ale? And how often do you then pour that hoppy sauce over pasta spirals?
If there’s one thing you can say for such a concept—beyond the fact that it only further illustrates the beer world’s excessive fixation on IPA as a style—it’s that it has a chance to be a spectacular misfire, and that’s the kind of possibility that gets me excited. That’s just the kind of weirdo I am, that a chance to taste something potentially terrible is arguably more exciting to me than a chance to taste something great. And as it turns out, though, Goodles’ new IPA-infused Mac, titled “If You’re Hoppy and You Know It,” isn’t terrible. It’s actually kind of, dare we say, good? And beyond the gimmickry, what I really found here is a pretty cool company making a wide variety of eclectic, better-for-you boxed macaroni. And that, at the end of the day, is the real takeaway.
The central shtick of the Goodles brand is found in their proprietary noodles, which are much more complex than your standard, dried wheat-based pasta. Rather, the Goodles product is made with wheat flour but also chickpea and wheat protein, and is then infused with “nutrients extracted from broccoli, spinach, kale, pumpkin, sweet potato, sunflower seed, cranberry, maitake mushroom” and more. This yields a noodle with considerably more nutritional value. Compared to the likes of Kraft, their obvious competitor, a serving of Goodles contains 50% more protein and 200% more fiber, while also being infused with a wide-ranging array of vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, potassium, zinc and about a dozen others. A variety of different pasta shapes are then paired with a variety of sauces, made from powdered cheese just like in a familiar box of Kraft macaroni. Goodles flavors range from the obvious (cheddar mac) to the more gastronomically adventurous (cacio e pepe, aged white cheddar shells, asiago and parmesan spirals).
None of this would matter, of course, if the product didn’t taste decent, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the core Goodles brands were pretty excellent. The asiago and parmesan flavor accurately captures the flavors of those cheeses, while the cacio e pepe-inspired flavor features a thick, glossy, well-seasoned sauce with significant pepper and mild heat. You really couldn’t ask for better mac ‘n cheese from a box full of noodles and powdered cheese.
With that said, though, an IPA-infused flavor is still a pretty wild idea for a boxed macaroni. This one specifically is a brewery collaboration launching for direct-to-consumer sales in the near future, while promising to combine “farmhouse chedder” mac and cheese with the brewery’s own IPA flavors. They’re doing this via the use of actual hops and “extracts of IPA malt,” among other things. Truly some mad beer science at work.
The only question left to answer, then, is how it all tastes. Preparing the same I was given, I wondered if perhaps the “IPA flavor” part of the equation would simply be largely glossed over, in order to not give the customer something that tasted too strange. And then I brought the bag of powdered cheese up to my nose … and inhaled a huge whiff of hops. Yes, folks, the IPA is being represented here. In fact, the hoppiness of the cheese powder gave me instant homebrewing flashbacks, reading like the residue of a bag of pelletized hops, sprinkled over a bed of white cheddar. “Is this a good thing, or a bad thing?” I wondered. It was legitimately difficult to say, but Goodles did promise an IPA-infused mac ‘n cheese. You can’t exactly fault them for delivering what they planned to deliver.
Taking my first bite of If You’re Hoppy and You Know It was an odd experience, to say the least. The IPA character, thankfully, isn’t quite as present here as it is when you’re simply smelling the cheese powder, but it more than makes its presence felt. The effect is like hints of fresh pine needles, citrus and resin occasionally poking through what is otherwise just a bowl of tasty white cheddar mac ‘n cheese, and this is exactly as odd as it sounds. The IPA by no means dominates the proceedings, but at the same time it’s unusual enough that if you gave this to someone blind, they’d probably ask you why it tasted so strange. With that said, does this stuff deliver on the promise of its label? I’d say it certainly does, and it’s hard to imagine that someone would eat this and be disappointed that it didn’t contain enough hoppy character for them. When all is said and done, I’m still not sure the concept makes a ton of sense, but I think it’s probably been pulled off as well as anyone could possibly pull it off.
Which, at the end of the day, is a compliment. Goodles is a brand that clearly has a keen understanding of how to turn a gimmick in their favor, and it possesses a core lineup of products that mimic an old favorite, but bring more nutrients to the table. And at the end of the day, that catches my attention, because who among us shouldn’t be consuming more fiber, or protein? And if it comes in a worthy replacement for your Blue Box macaroni, shouldn’t we call that a win?
With that said, I’ll likely keep my IPA separate from my macaroni for the conceivable future.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.