A combination of the changing market of consumers and the rye craze has brought out some new interesting Canadian whiskies. Crown Royal has released 2 new whiskies, one being its Northern Harvest Rye and another its Hand Selected Single Barrel - the first being a 90% rye whisky and the second equivalent to a very high rye mashbill bourbon in terms of production and aging style. These whiskies are both components of whiskies which are blended together to form all crown royal products - in the classic Canadian style, most Crown Royal products are a blend of base whiskies (typically corn) which provide a good body and they are spiced with powerful whiskies (often rye) to add flavour and craft a blend, much like how Scottish distillers use grain whisky as a base and single malts as the flavoring to their blended whiskies. Now, what we are seeing more and more in Canada, is that more of the more powerful flavouring whiskies are being released as bottlings, as Crown Royal has done here - this is similar, I think, to the single malt craze which emerged and grew outward from the blended scotch industry.
Crown Royal has a number of different whiskies which are produced - 5 in fact. There are two base corn whiskies, and three different flavoring whiskies, two of which are high rye recipes (from which these whiskies were crafted), and another of which is a bourbon style whisky (the hand selected single barrel). Both of these whiskies are only available in the US. Sadly, I picked up a Hand Selected Single Barrel on a recent trip to the US but it got crushed in transit as I was bringing it back, and now all my clothes smell like butterscotch and cherries! Sad turn of events, that.
Moving along, here are my notes on Northern Harvest Rye, which, notably, comes in at 45%:
Nose: Very fruity, with both a bit of a fruity rose wine and a bourbon profile. As I said, very fruity - fresh and dried blueberries, fresh and dried cherries, peaches, guavas, pineapple, dried apricot, and a bit of a candied fruit character as well like candied mango and candied pineapple, and hard tropical and berry candies, dried apricot....there are wisps of bourbon too, mint, oak, vanilla, honey, and light earthiness. And spices too - cumin, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. Yet, this is not a heavy winter rye! But rather a light spring one. Water brings out the nose even more, too, and more of a floral nature comes in. 92%
Taste: Surprisingly tannic, and now the rye comes in full force with its herbal essence - arugula, tobacco, jasmine tea, all with a pretty bright berry-like fruitiness like a fruity cigar. After tasting, I picked up a lot more of these notes in the nose. The rye presentation is quite clean, and works well amidst the light fruit, surprisingly enough. It reminds me, in effect, of the trappist beer Chimay Extra Strong (the little blue bottle) in its balance between heavy grain and bright fruit. The mouthfeel is medium - not super thick, but not watery. Very well done. 90%
Finish: Dried apricot, black tea, jasmine, raw ground almonds, with a slightly sour profile and a bit of a peppery bite. The tannins take their toll, and the rye fades quickly - this is the weakest part of the whisky, but it's still very decent. 90%
Intrigue: There you go folks - I'm very pleasantly surprised by this. I expected something better than the standard Crown Royal, but wasn't expecting something this good. This whisky is in my top 2-3 budget whiskies, sitting alongside the likes of Forty Creek Copper Pot, lot no. 40, and pike creek - very good company. The match between the complex fruitiness (I rarely find a whisky with such complex fruit packed in it!) and the heavier herbal rye and spice is brilliant, and continues to impress upon subsequent tastings. Quite a bit different, and significantly better, than the standard Crown Royal - not nearly as dry or harsh. Highly recommended. 95%
Weighting the nose 25%, the taste 35%, the finish 15%, and intrigue 25%, the overall score is 93. I am surprised how much I liked this.