(TORONTO, ON) – A few years ago we tried a bunch of spirits with renowned Mary Macleod’s globally famous shortbread cookies. I recall the overall winner was a cheap J&B Blended Scotch due to its slight sweetness to match the sweetness of the shortbread.
I wanted another try at this with a new grouping of spirits. Now, if you like cookies and milk good for you, but I am thinking post dinner dessert here.
Mary Macleod passed in 2016, but left her name and recipes behind. She started her business in 1981 and it has been on an uphill trajectory conquering Canada with plans to go global.
You can find Mary Macleod’s shortbread cookies at select retailers across Canada or visit their website.
You may think single malt scotch whiskey is Scotland’s contribution to the world, but shortbread cookies, beer, and obscure carrot pudding challenge whiskey for those in the know. In fact, in my Scottish household, carrot pudding, a poor man’s plum pudding, and shortbread, along with mincemeat pie, vied for supremacy every Christmas.
We should start with the basics.
The Traditional Wedge is not overly sweet, but buttery rich, delicate, flakey, and melts in your mouth. This homemade cookie is finished with a light sprinkling of sugar. Simple and decadent with almost a citrus twist to it.
The Dillon’s rye cuts through it all and strips the cookie clean leaving a lovely lime finish.
For coconut lovers, the Rolled Coconut Shortbread has a flavour of toasted and raw coconut with just a hint of pure Madagascar vanilla. Initially the Dillon’s Rye conflicts with the coconut, but the coconut puts up a bit of a fight with the rye and tames it. A marvellous match is achieved.
We now try a mass produced Ballantine’s blended Scotch whisky with a Macleod Traditional. The cheap Ballantine’s soars to high heights and melds beautifully with the virginal shortbread. The scotch is smoothed out so that it is close to a perfect match for the shortbread.
It immediately cuts down on the burn and lessens the finish. Ballantine’s is perhaps a perfect finish to Macleod’s basic shortbread. Pooh-pooh to you single malt snobs.
As the Ballantine’s is so good with the Traditional I’ll risk my declining stock of shortbread with a Maple Crunch, with the rich taste of pure Quebec Maple syrup and an addictive chewy crunch. Je me Souviens.
Mellow but unmistakeable. The cookie, for some reason, fails to conquer the Scotch. Instead of a perfect blend of tastes, we end up with a bit of a harsh burn.
The lesson here is that a simple cheap blended scotch matches a simple Macleod shortbread. Any taste variation after that requires a more comparative and detailed analysis. Perhaps a Master’s thesis.
Taylor Fladgate Tawny Port
What I left out in my previous Macleod’s tastings was a Port, so we try a 10 year-old Talyor Fladgate Tawny Port matched with a Dutch-Chocolate. It has a deep, dark, and authentic cocoa flavour from a Dutch process cocoa, as well as milk and dark Belgian chocolate.
It is good, soft, and crunchy with a large piece of Belgian milk chocolate and a dusting of icing sugar.
Oh, what a match with the 10 year-old Tawny. They meld perfectly, so much so you lose track of the Port and the chocolate. A match made in heaven.
With the gluten free Dutch, though, the match is no longer even as the Port exerts its supremacy, but with a pleasing result. A subservient, but not totally overmatched Dutch shortbread is still a wonderful match.
We move on to a Kentucky Sazerac Straight Rye whiskey, full of apricot, peach, apricot, and caramel, without a high ratio burn. It is quite smooth, but with a smouldering burn.
A Macleod peach or apricot shortbread would be magnificent, but alas no such shortbread exists. So I pull out a Cranberry Almond, which is made with pure almond oil. Sweet dried cranberries and pure Madagascar vanilla topped with a bright red cranberry and candied almond.
A subliminal, out of this world match. What can I say, but a match developed in some Rocky Horror Picture Show.
With a gluten free orange chocolate crunch, again a perfect match as the rye slightly overcomes the cookie, but not so much as to suggest a mismatch.
This time Metaxa Greek Brandy gets the nod as we pull out an Espresso Chocolate made with Colombian Coffee and a shot of bitter espresso. The cookie is blended with dark Belgian chocolate and a sweetening touch of Madagascar Vanilla. An unexpectedly pleasant blend, taming both the chocolate and brandy to a pleasant mix.
Can the Metaxa withstand a Hazelnut Chocolate Crunch, which is a marriage made in heaven?
Belgian milk chocolate is combined with freshly ground hazelnuts for a nougaty flavour, decorated with a whole hazelnut and chunk of Belgian milk chocolate. Again a perfect match with the orange in the Metaxa and its alcohol acting as a foil to the chocolate.
Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey is now paired with a Dutch Chocolate. There is again a huge hunk of Belgian milk chocolate in the centre and the cookie is dusted with icing sugar.
No doubt the cookie is terribly rich and decadent and perhaps calling for some homo milk. However, the bourbon mixes quite well with the chocolate. It is a decent match, but not an ideal one as the heat of the bourbon overpowers the chocolate.
To be sure, we try an Espresso as well. The chocolate and bourbon co-exist, but really do not enhance each other. I am reaching a tentative conclusion that 10-year-old Tawny Port is the perfect match for this cookie.
Before writing off the Hayden’s bourbon we should give it a roll with a Rolled Coconuta. Again, a decent match, but not one that excels These cookies are a very difficult match.
Soon, I’ll be hitting on three dozen MacLeod shortbreads and I am beginning to feel the pain after trying to match them with the spirits. Wine is my game and Mary is dragging me out of my comfort zone. I am looking for some overall winner.
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye literally slides into a Maple Crunch cookie making a perfect match as it is just as discrete in its composition as is the cookie. A stellar pairing.
Will the Northern Harvest Rye stand up to the Hazelnut Chocolate Crunch? It again just slips into the cookie and melds with it despite the fact I thought the chocolate would throw it off.
We should shut this down with one of my favourite shortbread Scotches, that being a J&B Rare. On its own it is a bit feeble and hardly worth a quaff. But, with a whole wheat walnut cookie, the Scotch breaks on through and a beautiful marriage is had. Perhaps because the Scotch lacks an assertive power of its own and it is ready to be lead by the nose by the shortbread and walnut.
Perfecto; and, by a wimpy Scotch.
As a last siren call for our J&B, we chomp into a Hazelnut Crunch. A bit of a slight burn with a great match, even though the chunk of chocolate throws its personality against the Scotch. The J&B handles it with aplomb.
By this, I mean a good match.
As it is time to wrap up you can draw your own conclusions from my pairings. Rest assured, this has been extremely difficult for me having to go through multiple batches of cookies and too many glasses of spirits. But, I am a Scot and I think I owe it to my clan, and to Mary, to give some insight as to what an adult imbiber might try with Mary’s fine products, other than milk.
I’d love to try this in a couple of years again so, until then, good-bye.