Northern Harvest Rye – Distiller: Crown Royal. ABV: 45% Blend: 90% rye, 10% undisclosed. Price: $30.
Hand Selected Barrel – Distiller: Crown Royal. ABV; 51.5%. Mashbill:65% corn, 31.5% rye, 4.5% malted barley. Price: $55.
In honor of big doings among our friends and neighbo(u)rs up North, it’s Canadian Whisky Day at the Axis.
We all know the American purist’s knock on Canadian juice, that it’s more like “brown vodka” than the whiskey we know and love. The explosion of Lot 40 onto the scene changed many American minds. These should too–and that two of them come from Crown Royal makes it even more fun.
Crown Royal’s Northern Harvest Rye takes a few big US-friendly steps by being bottled at 45% ABV and being stated as a 90% rye blend, rather than an unknown and unknowable mix that can contain grain neutral spirit, caramel, etc. (N.B.: Canadians often use “rye” as a catch-all term for their whisky, not as Americans do, to refer to a mashbill of 51%+ rye grain. Canadian whiskies don’t actually have mashbills–to learn why, check out this fantastic Whisky Topic podcast episode, with our friends Mark Bylok & Jamie Johnson talk with Canadian whisky guru Davin de Kergommeaux.)
Though this Northern Harvest Rye uses a hardy, flavor packed winter rye grain that only grows in parts of Canada & Northern Europe, it’s far milder and fruitier–think hot apple pie–than the Willett/MGP rye/dill/pumpernickel spice bombs. On the sweeter side, with some candied notes, but nicely integrated with creamy vanilla and baking spice. Very tasty.
[UPDATE Nov 2015: This little number’s about to get a lot more attention after being named World Whisky of the Year, with a whopping 97.5 points in Jim Murray’s 2016 Whisky Bible. Jim said it “pops up out of nowhere and completely changes the game” for Canadian whisky. Can’t wait to see the fireworks.]
Now for the sleeper: Crown Royal’s Hand Selected Barrel Canadian Whisky. First released in Texas and creeping around the U.S. now, it deserves to be everywhere. It’s Crown Royal’s hat-tip to U.S. whiskey making methods, distilled from a mashbill of 65% corn, 31.5% rye, and 4.5% malted barley, rather than being the more usual Canadian blend of separate single-grain distillates, neutral grain spirit, etc.
The Hand Selected Barrel is dense and packed with flavor. Crusty baked goods, sweet oak, and spicy high-rye bourbon goodness. A little like a less potent version of Barrell Bourbon’s MGP-sourced Whiskey Batch 1. Which is a very good thing.
Here’s to more good things from Canada! – BO
Crown Royal graciously provided these samples for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.