by Chuck Ferrin
I try to relate everything to the three primal forces that shape human lives—food, drinking and sports. So when I had the chance to attend a Macallan whisky and pastry pairing, I thought of two people—LeBron and Wade. Hear me out.
Wade made his team and city historic. The Heat are in the record books as champions. By doing that, he made the whole word take notice. We finally made it.
And that is what I think of Hedy Goldsmith, Executive Pastry Chef for Michael’s Genuine in the Design District (and semifinalist for a 2012 James Beard Award.) Like Wade, she elevates our entire city. Miami wants badly to be considered a top culinary destination, as much as Pat Riley wants a title. You can only achieve that lofty goal with unique individuals who are diligent, creative and talented. That’s Goldsmith and Wade.
Macallan, thus, is Lebron. Both are great anywhere in the world, but they’ve come to Miami specifically to showcase their estimable skills. This is the spotlight—the city becomes set on a massive stage, measured by international standards. So I am happy to say that the Macallan whisky and pastry pairing at Michael’s Genuine was the best meal I’ve ever had in Miami, and it didn’t even have a main course.
And for me, it got even better on a personal level. The host of the tasting was Macallan Brand Ambassador, Randy Adams. Randy lives in Sarasota, where he is something of a local legend. I also lived in Sarasota for years, and I first learned about whisky by sampling his collection at the historic Gator Club. But I never met him, until chance put us in the same dining room at a different city some 300 miles away. Randy is a true whisky man, someone who makes the entire state of Florida better with his knowledge and dedication, and I was lucky to finally share a glass with him.
Now to the crux of the matter—what makes Macallan work so well with dessert? The reason is wood.
Unlike most other single malt distilleries, The Macallan has insisted on the use of Spanish Oloroso Sherry barrels for maturing its whisky. Spanish Sherry was prized by distilleries for decades, but it has since given way to more plentiful and affordable American ex-Bourbon barrels.
Whisky acquires most of its flavor from the wood barrel during the aging process, as much as 60%. The Macallan refused to give up their Sherry barrels, in spite of economic pressure, because it is essential for the taste of their Scotch. Oloroso Sherry is a sweet, oxidized dessert wine, and it gives the resulting whisky notes of dried fruit and nuts. Goldsmith keenly focused on these elements in her dishes.
For the 12 Years Old Macallan, she created a West Indian Ginger Spice Cake, a dried fruit compote with candied ginger, Australian pine smoked vanilla ice cream and a 12 Years Old toffee sauce. These flavors played on the vibrant intensity of the young spirit, and I was struck by the impact of the smoked ice cream. Macallan is not peated, so the ice cream provided a smoky note that isn’t found in the whisky itself.
For the 18 Years Old, a milk chocolate and butterscotch pie was served with crème fraiche, wood roasted peaches, spiced pecan brittle, cocoa nibs and smoked fleur de sel. In this case, the simple topping of crème fraiche pulled everything together. When mingling with the older spirit, each displayed their gentle and luxurious texture.
With all this talk of sherry oak, Goldsmith may have done her best work with the most non-traditional whisky, The Macallan Fine Oak 15 Years Old. The Macallan Fine Oak series employs a combination of Sherry and ex-Bourbon barrels to create a lighter, more subtle side of the whisky.
This pairing included a roasted white chocolate semifreddo with chilled apricot soup, orange confit with house dried blueberries, and a toasted hazelnut cinnamon biscotti. To bring it all together, Randy advised the addition of a sliver of ice to the whisky. If find that ice usually dulls the flavor in whisky, but in this case, the cold dessert was only best matched when the whisky itself was brought down a few degrees, and then everything became harmonious and invigorating.
The piece de resistance was a more of a celebration than a pairing, like the finale of a fireworks show when a mass of rockets are fired in rapid succession, painting the sky in a Technicolor barrage. Our plate of confections included chocolate cinnamon marshmallows, smoked chocolate truffles, summer fruit gelees, candied ginger orange grapefruit, an almond-pistachio-vanilla torrone and the 25 Years Old Macallan. Amongst all these jewels, the 25 Years Old seemed to glow. It had an aura.
Older spirits have a unique sensual quality, like a well-worn wooden banister, smoothed over by thousands of sliding hands. Rather than trying to match the 25 Years Old, it became one of the confections itself, and the honeyed, liqueur-like spirit does taste like candy.
I know we’re at the end of a warm winter in Miami this year, but this is still the best time for Scotch. Grab a Macallan 12 Years Old and try pairing it with dried fruit, candied nuts and ice cream. Like Lebron and Wade, it’s a show you won’t want to miss.