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Crown Royal XO

Review: Crown Royal XO    (87/100)
Review by Chip Dykstra (Aka the Rum Howler)
Published April 17, 2015

Last year, (January 16, 2014) Crown Royal® made an addition to its portfolio of Canadian Whiskies (in the USA) with the introduction of Crown Royal XO, which they have promoted as an “ultra-premium blended Canadian whisky”.  The whisky was crafted by Crown Royal Master Blender, Andrew MacKay and according to the fact sheet I was sent, it is a blend of more than 50 of Crown Royal’s finest whiskies which are finished in cognac casks from the French Limousin Forest.

According to Mr. MacKay:

“The ultra-premium nature of Crown Royal XO and the smoothness of the liquid can be attributed to the handcrafted approach we took while creating the unique blend. We’re looking forward to sharing this special blend with adults across the country and encourage them to incorporate it into their celebrations of extraordinary moments and events.”

For those of you familiar with the family of Crown Royal whiskies available in Canada, Crown Royal XO, sounds remarkably similar to the Crown Royal Cask No. 16 (click on the link for my previous review) which according to the Crown Royal (Canadian) website, is also a blend of more than 50 different aged Canadian whiskies which are finished in Cognac casks from the Limousin forest in France.

I sent an inquiry to the Crown Royal Media team in the USA asking for a clarification of the differences if any between the two whiskies. What I was told was that the actual whiskies which make up each blend are different. However, it was the intent in creating the Crown Royal XO to have a similar flavor profile to the Crown Royal Cask No.16 which remains a very popular (and highly regarded) whisky in Canada.

In addition to my sample bottle of Crown Royal XO, I also have an almost full bottle of the Crown Royal Cask No. 16 which I recently tasted for my Rum Howler Top 25 Canadian Whiskies of 2014 competition, and I decided to taste the two expressions side by side as I reviewed the Crown Royal XO. This review inevitably contains some comparisons of the two whiskies..

sam_2662In the Bottle 4.5/5

As you can may know, Crown Royal Whiskies have a rather unique presentation. They all are housed in an elegant crown shaped bottle with each brand of whisky having its own distinctive bottle. As you can see to the left, the color scheme for the XO is dark gray and gold as the  bottle displays a gray label with gold accented lettering upon the glass bottle.

Also shown are the cardboard display box and the iconic bag which also display colors of dark gray and gold. The Crown Royal bag in this case is particularly nice with its dark gray colour and gold-embroidered accents. My only quibble with the presentation is that the gold lettering upon the bottle is hard to read against the pale golden spirit inside. I would prefer more contrast between the lettering and the whisky.

In the Glass 8.5/10

The Crown Royal XO displayed itself as a pale golden coloured spirit. When I gave that glass a slow tilt and a twirl, I saw the crest of the oily sheen which formed released medium-sized legs which traveled at a slightly quickened pace back down to the whisky at the bottom. The initial aroma from the glass revealed sweet butterscotch and maple rising into the air with a combination of light but firm rye accents and fine wood spices.

As the glass sat I began to sense some of that typically punky Crown Royal sweet corn aroma along with a few slightly musty ripe corn cobs alongside some spicy grain. I searched for an indication of the Cognac Cask enhancement and found a few apple scents wandering in the air and some very light indications of dry raisins.

Comparing the Crown Royal XO with the Crown Royal Cask No. 16, I found the two similar on the nose, however the Cask No. 16 seemed more elegant and refined, and it carried a more obvious cognac accent within the breezes above the glass. The Crown Royal XO on the other hand, seems more heavy and for the lack of a better phrase more ‘Crown Royal-like’ in the breezes as it carried a more well-defined expression of that punky corn aroma so familiar to Crown enthusiasts.

In the Mouth 52/60

When I took my first sip of the XO, I found the whisky both lightly sweet with flavours of butterscotch and maple, and moderately spicy with firm citrus and wood spice heating the palate. The mouth-feel is creamy with an almost almond like nuttiness and with gentle indications of vanilla playing under the sweet and the spice. The second sip brought forward flavours of damp tobacco and saw grass with perhaps a bit of old leather riding alongside. Bitter rye and orange pith seem to well up, and the whisky is showing me more complexity than I initially suspected based upon the nose. Return trips to the glass bring me impressions of treacle and green grape and a stronger impression of corn than my initial tasting revealed.

When I sipped the Cask No. 16 side by side with the XO, I again decided that the Cask No. 16 seems to carry more refinement in the glass. The Cask No. 16 displays a smoother melding of rye and fine wood spice which plays well with the cognac enhancement revealing flavours of green grape and raisin more fully, whereas the Crown Royal XO seems heavier with a stronger corn influence and this tends to hide rather than reveal the grape flavours of the cognac cask.

I suspect the blenders at Crown Royal got it right, a slightly heavier corn whisky for the American market, and a lighter more rye-like whisky for the Canadian market.

In the Throat 13.5/15

A surprising note of bitter rye kernel seems to overwhelm the more abundant corn in the exit. The finish also shows me sweet flavours of maple which have combined with the bitterness of orange pith to great effect. There are touches of cinnamon and wood spice left behind to keep the palate (and the tonsils) nicely heated.

The Afterburn 8.5/10

It was interesting tasting the Canadian edition Crown Royal Cask No. 16 side by side with the USA edition Crown Royal XO. Both are extremely good whiskies, although I found myself having a strong preference for the more elegant and refined Cask No. 16 over the slightly heavier more Crown Royal XO. Although the two whiskies are similar, the XO is more firmly entrenched in the corn forward Crown Royal style.

My score of 87/100 means that I feel the XO is an excellent whisky, but it does not reach the stratospheric heights which I have assigned to its Canadian brother.

You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.


Suggested Recipe

This recipe is similar to my Resplendent Iced Cocktail, however I have added a touch of lemon juice and accented that flavour with a lemon peel garnish.

crowning glory SAM_1492Crowning Glory

2 oz Crown Royal XO
1/4 oz Triple Sec
1/8 oz Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice
1 dash Angostura Bitters
1 dash Fees Cocktail Bitters
twist of lemon peel

Add the first 5 ingredients with ice to a metal cocktail shaker
Shake until well chilled (the outside of the shaker will frost)
Strain into a medium size rocks glass
Add one small ice-cube and a twist of lemon peel for garnish

Enjoy Responsibly!

Note: If  you are interested in more of my original cocktail recipes, please click this link (Cocktails and Recipes) for more of my mixed drink recipes!


As always you may interpret the scores I provide 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 more 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)

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