In his book, the Whisky Bible 2016, Jim Murray declares Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye to be the "World Whisky of the Year." Being Canadian I was proud and at the same time dismayed because I was happy Canadian whisky was getting international recognition, but worried about the source of the attention.
Jim Murray has a history of making baffling selections for best whisky. In 2014, he awarded Sullivans Cove French Oak Cask the best single malt of that year. Yup, better than all the other whiskies of the world, including Scotland and Japan. A whisky that several members of my whisky club purchased and decided was the worst whisky they ever tasted period. I found it to be terrible. A bizarre selection we thought.
In 2011, he assessed Ballantine's Finest 17 year old blended Scotch to be the best whisky in the world, even better than all world single malts. I do not have a problem with a blend being declared better than a single malt, indeed Hibiki 17 or 21 yrs is a prime example of a blended whisky that beats out the vast majority of single malts in its price range, but for Ballantine's to beat all whiskies, I found that hard to accept. I bought a bottle and wrote about my disappointment: here.
It is that good?
Jason, have you tried it?
Jason, are you going to review it?
In the past week, I have probably received about fifty such emails. This blog gets about 75,000 hits a month and has had 3.7 million hits to date, and guess what they are all looking for? As of late, a review of Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye. It does not matter that the whole concept of best whisky in the world is absurd, people want to know if this selection is any good? You want to know, and you know what? I want to know! So, I bought two bottles.
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye
Blended Canadian Whisky
$35 (in Canada)
No information is available with respect to the constituent whiskies. If I had to guess I would say a lot of younger (ie. 3-6yrs) whiskies are present.
Rye toast, copper pennies, cinnamon, damp wood.
Initial spicy and crusty rye bread notes grip the palate, raw ginger, brown sugar.
More ginger, oak, tingling winter mint, fine black pepper milled to powder and then waves of rye return.
Upon opening this bottle two nights ago, I found this whisky tasting young, untame and a little raw. The following night, it was the same. Tonight, it has smoothed out a fair bit and is drinking gentler. Oxidation can be a good thing.
Adding water doesn't improve the flavor profile. Just smooths it out. While it is 45% ABV, it is not strong or over the top with rye flavors.
I think for $35 you are getting good value for money. I think it is not a great whisky because it lacks great complexity. The flavors are not simple, but not sufficiently refined to make me sit back in awe, as some other whiskies have done. Really, for a whisky to be great in my eyes, it has to exhibit amazing complexity that leaves you blissed out. It's not happening here. There are the beginnings of complexity but only the beginnings.
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye represents good value for money. In my video review of last night, I observed the whisky tasted young and raw. Tonight, it is more tame with time in the bottle and some extra air in there. Still not knocking my socks off.
What really bothers me about Jim Murray's assessment of this whisky being the best in the world is that it will turn a lot of people off from the Canadian whisky category. People will think that if this is the best of the Canadian whisky category, they will pass on trying any others. That would be a mistake. There are a lot of truly great Canadian whiskies like:
Canadian Club 20 years is a very fine Canadian whisky for $60! Complexity abounds in the flavors and never offensive. Highly recommended and far superior to Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye.
Gibson's Finest 18 is classic Canadian whisky, smooth, totally inoffensive, but with some substance. Price is sharking up though. I still think it is a great example of Canadian whisky.
Alberta Premium Dark Horse
Canadian Blended Whisky
$30 (in Canada)
No age statement on bottle label, but we do know that Dark Horse is comprised of 12 year old rye whisky and 6 year old small pot rye. Added to this is an 8% dollop of aged corn whisky and actual sherry wine has been added to the blend. Very high rye content overall. Aged in heavily charred American white oak barrels.
Dusty roses, black berries, cherries, very floral, raspberries.
Robust rye bread wrapped in sherry and prunes (in a good way), orange peel, red licorice and dried figs and strong brown sugar. French roast coffee beans and cognac notes. Nice!
Long lingering old port/cognac notes drying across the palate coupled with powder dry sherry.
The flavors are deeper, with notes of brown sugar, port, sherry, and of course plenty of rye, but the rye is swaddled in the aforementioned flavors that makes it truly interesting and very comforting at the same time. The price and great quality make this what Teacher's Highland Cream once was to blended Scotch, great value/bargain blend.
No need to add water. Great stuff!
In a match-up with Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye, I am going to grab Dark Horse every time, save $5 and enjoy better flavors.
Davin de Kergommeaux at a recent whisky festival. He is the leading authority on Canadian whisky and if you want to learn more, please visit his website: http://www.canadianwhisky.org/ You will get plenty of ideas in your exploration of Canadian whisky and learn that this spirit is no longer simply the smooth cocktail mix of your parents 1970's toga parties.