Ok, so here’s the thing about Canadian whisky. Laws about what constitutes “Canadian Whisky” are somewhat less strict than those for, say, bourbon or scotch. The law allows “blended Canadian Whisky” to contain either column-still or pot-still whisky distilled from a mash of grains including corn, rye, barley, and wheat. It must be distilled and aged in Canada. It may contain spirit caramel for coloring, and it may contain flavoring ingredients. It must be aged for at least three years in oak barrels, which can be new or refill. Canadian whisky can contain high-proof neutral grain spirits in amounts as high as 90% of volume, unless they are sold in the United States, where at least 20% by volume must be “straight whiskey”.
The concern for whisky lovers is that “flavoring ingredients” line, which basically allows Canadian whisky producers to sweeten their products using caramel, sugar, or other ingredients without disclosing them on the label. This is not to say that all producers do this, in fact it’s likely that Crown Royal does not, but owner Diageo is not very specific about its operations. For example, while the website claims that Crown Royal is a “blend of 50 distinct Canadian whiskies”, due to corporate consolidation during the period when CR was owned by Seagram, all production of these whiskies was combined at the large Crown Royal plant at Gimli, in Manitoba. Do they produce 50 “distinct” recipes of whisky at this plant and then blend them? I doubt it.
The primary difference between a Canadian blended whisky and other blended whiskies on the market is that Canadian whisky is generally lighter in style, and usually has a higher percentage of “neutral” grain spirit in the blend. Some newer craft and small-scale producers of Canadian whisky – foremost among them Forty Creek – have been rescuing the reputation of Canadian whisky with carefully-crafted, high-quality spirits. It should be noted that a large amount of Canadian whisky (and probably the best of the stuff) is not exported outside of the country.
Crown Royal Reserve is simply a blend of Crown Royal that contains a higher percentage of longer-aged and hand-selected casks. It was first released as “Special Reserve”, but Diageo dropped the “Special” and updated the label in 2008.
Nose: Some Rye spiciness, with soft overtones of brown sugar and maple syrup. Slightly bourbon-like, although not as robust.
Palate: Thin body. Maple again. A bit watery. Slightly woody, slightly sweet.
Finish: Nutty, but with a twinge of bitterness. Aftertaste of artificial sweeteners.
With Water: Too watery. Even a little bit of water kills the nose and washes out the palate.
With Ice: An ice cube sweetens it, but dilutes the flavor. As with most iced whiskeys, do this only if you dislike the flavor of straight whiskey.
Overall: Not objectionable. The flavors are mild. It tastes a bit like an American rye, but watered down and sweetened. Possibly not worth the money unless you already love Crown Royal and want a direct upgrade. If you are looking to experiment with Canadian whiskies, I would suggest starting with Forty Creek instead.