Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Uneasy Lies the Head that Wears a Crown

*Disclaimer: I realize I'm reviewing a Canadian whisky and not a proper scotch. But since this whisky has caused more controversy, anger and resentment than the 2016 U.S. election, I thought I'd share my thoughts on Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye.

Jim Murray, author of The Whisky Bible, kicked a hornet's nest when he announced, in the 2016 edition of his book, that Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye was his choice for world whisky of the year. He even awarded the Gimli, Manitoba whisky 97.5 out of a possible 100 points. People have since accused Murray of resorting to controversy and sensationalism to sell his book. Some love to point out Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye didn't even win best Canadian whisky at the Canadian Whisky Awards (that honour went to Lot No. 40). Murray, in response, stated that awarding a Canadian whisky his prestigious award actually hurts book sales. He says his publisher's reaction was one of despair, not jubilation when he was told of Murray's choice. So how did Jim Murray reach his conclusion? Were there shenanigans afoot? Does it really matter?

Crown Royal: the Joffrey Baratheon of whisky?
The crown doesn't make the King

According to interviews I've read, Mr. Murray tastes over 1000 whiskies per year under very strictly controlled condidtions. He eats bland food, he won't taste if he's got a cold and he doesn't even permit hotel staff to clean his room with strong cleaners. Murray awarded this whisky's nose a perfect 25 out of 25 points. His much publicized quote sums it up "To say this is a masterpiece is barely doing it justice." That's bold. Murray is a professional, and I am naught but a humble whisky enthusiast. Before I share my notes, let me say tastes and preferences differ. In fact, your whisky tasting experience may change from one week to the next or from one bottle to the next. So keep that in mind and use reviews, including mine, as a guide. No one but you has "the final word" on any whisky. Awards for "best" anything are incredibly subjective and "best whisky in the world" is no different. If it were me, "best in the world" would likely be something smoky and peated, since those are my preferences. I don't know if Mr. Murray does his tastings "blind" or with the knowledge of exactly what he is tasting. I don't want to question his motives or his honesty, since I don't know him personally and I have no reason to doubt his sincerity. Not that I am in a position to bring him into disrepute, but I want to be clear that I don't think he has an ulterior motive.

Best in the world?

Tasting notes

Nose (undiluted): cloves, rye bread, orange peels, vanilla, oak

Palate (undiluted): medium-bodied, brown sugar, orange, cloves, rye bread, cinnamon, vanilla

Finish: pepper, oak, ginger and cloves

Adding water increased the fruitiness and calmed down a bit of the spiciness. I prefer a spicy whisky, so I wasn't a fan of adding water to this expression. Note that it is bottled at 45% ABV. If you have never tried a whisky this high in alcohol content, you may want to add a little water.


There's a good chance the Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye you purchase today is NOT the same bottling Jim Murray tasted back in 2015. This doesn't mean the producer is "cheating" or deceiving you. The bottle I tried back in December 2015 was different than the one I had in November 2016, which was in turn different from the one I had in March 2017. I found the second bottle sweeter, with more pronounced citrus, and a bit less nutmeg/peppery spiciness than the first one. The third one, from March 2017, which I used for these tasting notes, had a far more pronounced rye and clove flavour than the other two. Tastes change over time and there are natural variations in something as volatile as whisky. Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye is accessible, consistently good, so I like to keep a bottle on hand most of the time. Is this the best whisky in the world? I don't think so, but it is a very good whisky and a great value for the money (approx. $35 CAD in May 2017).

Rating: 3/5 moustaches

Cheers, eh ?!

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