Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye

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!

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye
45% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $25 - $30
Acquired: (bottle) K&L Wine Merchants, Redwood City, CA, $25

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  • I love the review, I agree with you on your points completely. NHR is good, certainly not the best Canadian Whisky this past year, probably top 5 of what I’ve tried perhaps, but really it’s kind of a scam I think.

    It’s good for our Industry here to get the nod from someone like Murray, it gets people buying the product. Gets them interested in Canadian Whisky and maybe they’ll go out and buy a bottle of Lot 40 or Stock and Barrel

    • Unfortunately, I’ve never had any Collingwood, and especially not the 21. However, since Crown Royal Northern Harvest is probably relatively young (a wild guess is 5-7 years), and cheap at $30 a bottle, I’d put money on Collingwood 21 year being WAY better.

  • Living in the US this didn’t have quite the buzz that it did leading up to Christmas in Canada (my local has 10+ on the shelf). For $30, it’s a pretty decent representation of Canadian whisky.

    I LOVE the smell of Northern Harvest. It smells of fresh-cut green apples and light spices. It’s so inviting! The taste, however, falls short of the nose. The notes are there they just don’t punch your tongue like the nose would have suggested. This is my complaint about most Canadian whiskies. I already LOVE Lot No. 40, and if the taste ever catches up to the nose it would be world-class.

    Canada is definitely the “Country to watch” over the next few years.


  • I was in the liquor store today, and as a Canadian I’m embarrassed by the response to the hype around this stuff. People are buying this stuff now for the purposes of speculating(!), driving through vicious snowstorms to get a bottle…just ridiculous. This stuff has been reordered in Ontario liquor stores by hundreds, even thousands of bottles. Who in their right mind thinks a young, blended, off-the-shelf Crown Royal is going to rise in value that much?

  • Have you tried Canadian Club Chairman’s select 100 % rye? I think it is absolutely amazing for a cheap Whiskey. It’s not up to Lot 40 quality however it did win best Canadian sipping Whiskey this past year and is $5 cheaper then Crown and a better Whiskey. In my honest opinion

  • You have to understand the realities of living in Ontario with the communist LCBO. I cry when you mention the price of some single malt; 150% higher here; at least. This is the best there is at the price point. That means so much more in the Great Communist North than you can imagine,

  • The local liquor store in NE Kansas is selling bottle of this stuff for $16. Pretty incredible deal. I agree it’s just a decent whiskey, and is fairly interesting, but at $16 a bottle, it’s a pretty fantastic value. Practically the same cost as Evan Williams and way cheaper than Jack for a better whiskey. Anyway, I’m stoked. For $30 a bottle? Eh, I’d pass it by. For $16 a bottle? Great value!

  • I’m a little late to the party, but here’s my take FWIW. Northern Harvest is decent, good even. I have to say, I definitely get cloves, cinnamon and orange on the nose and palate, especially after the bottle’s been open for a week or so. Best whisky in the world? Not even close. It’s good, but Forty Creek is better at a similar price point. Love your blog. Sláinte!

  • I dont drink Canadian whisky, because Ive never found one I like. When my local liquior store had Crown Royal Rye on on sale for $15 I grabbed a bottle. This is overall a decent whisky. The first thing i get on the nose is alcohol and its a little overwhelming. Im surprised more people dont comment on that. It also leaves the palate slightly bitter. I believe that some more time in the barrel and this could be a great whisky. How about a Crown Royal 12 year old Rye?

  • Based on your review I tried this Rye while watching a movie last night. I remember the movie being good, but the whiskey was missing main actors and lacking a story line. It‘s not offensive in any way. Perhaps I would order this in a restaurant if someone else was paying the bill and I wished not to burden them with the price of something better.

  • I’ve never been a Crown Royal fan, but after buying a bottle of the northern harvest rye I will never be without a bottle in my home. I was overwhelmed at the flavor and smoothness of this whisky. Fabulous!