Crown… What can I say about Crown? I’ve never done a review of the basic blended whisky (the one in the purple bag) because my mother always said “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” I have tried the Special Reserve and thought it was “just OK” and maybe a little too sweet. Still, generally when I think of Crown it’s not as a serious whisky worthy of serious contemplation. I think of it as something that people dump in their Coke because it sounds fancy.
Then along comes much-maligned Whisky Bible author Jim Murray, whose 2016 edition of the bible awarded Crown Royal’s Northern Harvest Rye release a whopping 97.5 points and the shelf-clearing title of “World Whisky of the Year”. This caused the predictable explosion of indignation in the blogosphere (I don’t get to use that word nearly often enough) and social media, and the also-predictable frenzy in print and online media. The first group wanted to know how a $25 Canadian whisky (a Crown no less) possibly could be the best whisky in the world. They concluded that Jim is a highly-paid industry shill, stirring the pot for the sake of attention-grabbing headlines, or just screwing with everybody for the lulz. The second group started madly printing giddy headlines like “Scots left reeling as Canadian whisky named world’s best” (Telegraph) and “The Best Whiskey in the World Is Canadian” (Forbes). My theory is that (although misrepresented in the book), Jim’s “World Whisky of the Year” spot is really intended to be more of a “Most Under-Appreciated Whisky of the Year” award. I think he misrepresents that fact for the aforementioned headlines. Controversy sells almost as much as sex does.
So, how is the best whisky in the world? It’s decent. It’s a hundred steps up from the basic Crown Royal, and has a fantastic price point, but it’s really just a tasty bottle of blended Canadian whisky. Lot 40 (which later won the 2016 Canadian Whisky of the Year award from the people whose opinion on Canadian whisky you should probably actually trust… Canadians) is an order of magnitude better.
The Northern Harvest Rye bottling itself is a blended Canadian whisky comprising a high percentage (90%) of rye. (Most Canadian whisky contains rye, to some extent.) The packaging claims the rye used is from fields that over-winter under cover of snow which, we’re expected to believe, leads to smoother whisky. The result is bottled at 45% ABV. That’s pretty much all Crown has revealed. Oh, and it comes with a cute little beige cloth drawstring bag. So, am I about to taste the world’s best whiskey?
Nose: A very pleasant green apple and pear -filled aroma. Light and fragrant, with some nondescript flowers, soft grains, nougat, and an aroma I can only describe as circus peanuts.
Palate: Medium bodied. Banana candy (Runts), marshmallows, nutmeg, mulled cider, and faint oak. No burn to speak of (“smooth”).
Finish: Medium-long. Red apple skins, mouth-drying tannins, fading without bitterness.
With Water: A few drops of water bring out some vanilla in the aroma, and make the finish a little fruitier. I could take or leave water with this.
Overall: An inoffensive whisky, without the usual rye flavors (there’s no cinnamon, no clove, no eucalyptus/mint) but with a plethora of nostalgia-inducing fruit and candy flavors. Unlike the standard Crown Royal, I do not detect any “fake” corn-syrup-like notes, nor any young column-still grainy characteristics (acetone). This is not too sweet, not too spicy, and scary easy to drink. I certainly wouldn’t call this the best whisky of 2016, or even the best Canadian whisky I’ve had, but it is a good blended rye at a fantastic price, and I’m looking forward to the remaining 700mls in the bottle. My award? “2016 Best Effort To Improve Its Reputation by a Mass-Market Blended Whisky Producer”. Headlines, here I come!