Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye
Review: Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye Whisky 90/100
Review by Chip Dykstra (Aka the Rum Howler)
Published December 03, 2015
(Revisited and Re-scored November 2016)
Crown Royal®Canadian Whisky is currently produced in Gimli, Manitoba, at the Crown Royal Distillery. The distillery and the brand are owned by the global spirits conglomerate Diageo, and I think it is fair to say that Crown Royal is Diageo’s flagship Canadian whisky. The brand was introduced in 1939 (by Samuel Bronfman of Seagrams) as a special whisky bottling to commemorate the Royal Tour of Canada by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth who traveled across the Country by train that year. (Apparently, the train carrying the Royal Couple was stocked with 10 cases of the new Crown Royal Blend.) Until 1964, the whisky was only available in Canada; however, today it is available world-wide, and is in fact the number one Canadian whisky brand sold in Canada and the USA by value.
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye Whisky was released in 2015 by the folks who run the Crown Royal Distillery in Gimli, Manitoba. It is a bit of a throwback in style as the whisky features a heavy dose whisky produced from Canadian Winter Rye grain in the blend (almost 90% of the spirit is produced from Canadian Winter Rye grain). Winter rye imparts a robust spiciness throughout the spirit when distilled which (in my opinion) provides a much stronger ‘Canadian Whisky’ feel for this particular Crown Royal Whisky than we find with the flagship blend Crown Royal Deluxe which is produced predominantly from corn rather than rye.
This movement towards a more rye forward flavour profile seems to be a common theme within the Crown Royal family as two other recently released blends (Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel, and the new Crown Royal Monarch 75th Anniversary Blend) have recently followed that common path.
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye Whisky is bottled at 45 % alcohol by volume.
In the Bottle 4.5/5
The whiskies of Crown Royal have a rather unique presentation. As you can see, they use an elegant crown shaped bottle with each brand of whisky having its own distinctively shaped bottle. As well, each bottle is housed in its own cardboard carton. In the case of the Crown Royal Northern Harvest, it is encased in a stylish white carton with green trim. As well each whisky is usually placed inside a unique clth bag with drawstrings. In the case of the Northern Harvest, the iconic Crown Royal bag is, unfortunately, a rather flimsy off white cloth bag which detracts from an otherwise stellar look and presentation.
In the Glass 9/10
I began my inspection with a look at the whisky in my glencairn glass. The spirit is a pale amber colour which when tilted and twirled drops moderately thin legs down the inside of the glass. The initial smells from the glass are enticing as I notice some obvious notes of golden delicious yellow apples and some green grapes rising into the air alongside sourdough rye notes which hint at milk chocolate.
As the glass breathes, I sense a stronger underlying oakiness within the spirit as fine wood spices rise into the air. The merry little breezes above the glass are tinged with crisp spicy rye notes as well. Fresh baked bread crust, light caramel smells, hints of vanilla ice cream, and bits of nutmeg and allspice round out the aroma.
In the Glass 54/60
The spirit is bottled at 45 % alcohol by volume; but the alcohol push does not reveal itself with any undo force. Although the whisky has an overt youthful brashness with both wood and rye spices abounding, I receive barely a whisper of gentle alcohol burn. Malted milk chocolate and crusty rye bread flavours seem to ooze from the woody spices. When sipped neat, the whisky is robust with a stronger presence of rye, orange peel and yellow fruit. With an ice-cube added, the whisky is oozes milk chocolate and light impressions of marzipan. I prefer the whisky neat; but certainly would not refuse a glass served with ice or mixed into a classic cocktail (see recipe below).
In the Throat 13.5/15
The exit is crisp with spicy rye and oak tickling the back of the palate. These spices ebb slowly revealing lovely caramelized rye bread crust underneath. During the finish I notice a youthful brashness; however, very little harshness is present in spite of the high alcohol content.
The Afterburn 9/10
Crown Royal seem to be undergoing a change of philosophy. I have criticized the brand in the past for its overt dank corn forward flavour profile which I feel is geared towards appeasing the American palate. However, this release (along with the previously mentioned releases of the Hand Selected Barrel, and the Monarch) seems to be signalling a path back to the true roots of Canadian Rye Whisky. I welcome the change, as the rye forward path has always appealed to me. And in fact, Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye is a tremendous example of how good rye whisky can be. It is full of robust flavour and spice, yet the spirit remains remarkably smooth (even at 45 % alcohol by volume).
Note: My score has dropped from 94.5 points last year to 90 points this year. I wonder if the impact of being named the Jim Murray World Whisky of the Year in the fall of 2015 is the root cause. Jim Murray’s recognition caused a spike in the sales of the Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye Whisky, and put tremendous pressure on the distillery to increase production to meet the demand. This must have placed an equally tremendous pressure upon the blending stocks at Gimli especially as 90 % of the whisky is produced from Canadian Winter Rye not corn.
2 oz Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye Whisky
3/4 oz Sweet Red Vermouth
Dash of Angostura Bitters
3 Large Ice cubes
Twist of Orange Peel
Add the whiskey, the Vermouth, and the optional bitters with 3 large ice cubes in a Martini Shaker.
Shake gently to chill the mixture.
Spear a cherry with a long toothpick and place it in a chilled glen cairn glass.
Strain the mixed ingredients over the cherry but do not add the ice.
Rub the cut edge of the orange peel over the rim of the glass and twist it over the drink. (This will release the oil from the orange zest into the drink) Discard the peel.
Garnish with orange, lemon, or lime slice if preferred.
I am always asked what my numbers actually mean. In order to provide clarification, you may (loosely) interpret the scores as follows.
0-25 A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49 Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59 You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69 Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74 Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky. Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79 You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84 We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89 Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94 Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+ I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.
Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and Bronze medal scale as follows:
70 – 79.5 Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5 Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95 Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+ Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)