Who wants a cookie? Those sweet little treats are a very big deal in North America, with packaged cookies accounting for $11 billion in sales in 2018 in the U.S. alone, and on track to total $12 billion by 2023, according to the National Confectioners Association. For Jim Dudlicek, editorial director of Progressive Grocer magazine, what’s driving this growth is today’s popular “treat yourself” culture.
While Dudlicek says that cookies are “historically the top-selling item in the in-store bakery,” according to his magazine’s annual bakery operations survey, it is the center-aisle packaged brands that account for the bulk of cookie sales, led by longtime best-seller Oreo. Despite inroads being made by niche brands from smaller producers, the balance of the top-ten cookies in the U.S. is composed of names familiar to most adults since childhood.
For tasting purposes, I separated the supermarket cookie aisle into five categories: biscuit, chocolate sandwich, peanut butter sandwich, chocolate chip, and spice. And before we delve into the pairings, a caveat: Of all the whiskies sampled, straight rye is the only one that failed with all varieties of cookies, so keep your favorite ryes well away from the cookie jar.
Biscuit cookies without fillings or adornments are typified by shortbread, the unquestionable national cookie of Scotland. No surprise then, that imported, pure-butter shortbread pairs wonderfully with soft and silky single malt scotch—best with a balanced Speyside, avoiding anything with full peat, advanced age, or an elaborate finish.
Dark-chocolate wafers sandwiching vanilla cream mean one thing: Oreo. The iconic American cookie pairs best with an equally iconic American spirit, namely bourbon. For traditional Oreos, pick a barrel-expressive whiskey such as Woodford Reserve, doubling down with the distillery’s Double Oaked for Double Stuf and pulling the reins a bit for Oreo Thins with Basil Hayden’s 10 year old.
Reverse the cookie profile so that the vanilla is on the outside and the chocolate in the center, as with America’s ninth favorite cookie, Pepperidge Farm Milano, and the Woodford Reserve addition becomes even more enticing, particularly so with Milano Double Dark Chocolate.
As sweet as packaged cookies typically are, few are more so than Nutter Butter, with its rather intense mix of peanut butter and sugar. For a companion, look for a whiskey with an almost confectionary palate, either from Tennessee or one of the more adventuresome of America’s (or Canada’s) youthful craft distillers. In this case, the sweeter the spirit, the better.
A somewhat surprising pairing is presented by the quintessential Chips Ahoy!, with a round Canadian whisky like Collingwood accenting the cookie dough or a moderately smoky single malt doing wonderful things to the abundant chocolate chip flavors.
Finally, given their gastronomic affinities, it makes sense that both Japanese and Indian whiskies, most notably Nikka From the Barrel and Amrut Fusion, make affable partners for Sweetzels Ginger Snaps in the spice category. Try the former for a more elegant pairing and the latter for accentuating the spicy punch of the ginger.
Three Whisky and Cookie Pairs To Try
Gentleman Jack with Nutter Butter
The whiskey’s candied notes up the sweetness, while its cooked-fruit flavors play the role of “jelly” to the cookie’s peanut butter.
Glenfiddich 15 year old with Walkers Shortbread
A mix of woods contributes a rich fruitiness to the whisky, which makes this pairing the Scottish equivalent of scones, clotted cream, and strawberry jam.
Talisker 10 year old with Chips Ahoy!
Smokier than most Highland malts, but mellower than the big Islays, the whisky’s balanced “peat and sweet” adds depth and complexity to the chocolate chips.