Price is not indicative of quality, and taste is as individual as one’s fingerprint, hence the old adage, “there is no accounting for taste”. This certainly applies to whisk(e)y. Age is a another factor that leads people to think older means better, and sometimes it does, depending on the myriad environmental factors involved in the aging process of fine whiskies. But what is it that makes one particular whisk(e)y out shine all others?
Now, I will admit, I tend to be a snob when it comes to whiskey, especially single malt whisky, and I have distinctive taste preferences, although I pride myself on keeping an open mind. I will also admit that while my tastes tend towards premium drams, my pocket-book is unfortunately rotgut, which makes the chance of experiencing more expensive offerings that much more of a treat. But, as previously stated, price doesn’t denote flavor, and apparently other whisky connoisseurs share the same opinion, considering Jim Murray’s 2016 choice for the number one world whisky.
I’ve never particularly cared for Canadian made whiskies, nor am I a great fan of rye, although I am learning it can be quite delicious in cocktails. Woodford Reserve Rye, and Knob Creek Rye are my rye whiskey preferences. So, when I heard the news that shocked the whisk(e)y world, I immediately thought, “Crown Royal? What the hell?!” Then as I read the tasting notes, and Mr. Murray’s opinion of Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye, my second thought was, “Well damn, reckon I’ll lower my standards and taste it”, with a set prejudice against Canadian, as well as rye whiskies, and no real hurry to find a bottle to try.
Then, as luck would have it, on my next visit to my favorite whiskey bar’s (Lock & Key in Baton Rouge) free tasting Tuesday happy hour, the whisky to be sampled was the newly crowned Crown. As is my usual habit, I didn’t wait for the tasting to order a dram, so I was sipping Glenfiddich’s Bourbon Barrel Reserve 14 yr (fodder for another blog post) before the tasting began, but I doubt that had any influence on what I was about to discover.
From the very start, Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye was a pleasant surprise, beginning with the delightful aroma. Rich, warm with dark fruit, and the tang of grain, and spices. The first taste startled me, as I was expecting that peppery bite common to most rye whiskies, but instead I was gobsmacked by the crisp sweetness of warm butterscotch, tempered by oak. Adding a few drops of water brought out the vanilla spice, and a hint of tobacco that melted into a creamy peppered finish. My first response, “Holy shit, this really is GOOD!” And it really is, very good, and ridiculously economical with an average price under $35 .
So, I offer apologies to both Crown Royal, and Mr. Jim Murray for doubting the reliability of experience, excellent taste, and exceptional whisky making. Thank you both, for humbling an inexperienced whisk(e)y snob.
Please, designate a driver! Don’t let friends drink and drive! Drink responsibly!
Nancy McGehee Guillory