Friday, November 27, 2015

Whisky Review: Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye

In his book, the Whisky Bible 2016, Jim Murray declares Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye to be the "World Whisky of the Year."  Another quote of Mr. Murray's praise for this Canadian whisky:

    "To say this is a masterpiece is barely doing it justice."

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 2013, he awarded Sullivans Cove French Oak Cask the best single malt of the Southern Hemisphere.   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.

So, here we are again, he has selected a Crown Royal release, Northern Harvest Rye, to be the best world whisky for 2016.

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.

Nose (undiluted)
Rye toast, copper pennies, cinnamon, damp wood.

Palate (undiluted)
Initial spicy and crusty rye bread notes grip the palate, raw ginger, brown sugar.

Finish (undiluted)
More ginger, oak, tingling winter mint, fine black pepper milled to powder and then waves of rye return, and a wee little heat.

General Impressions
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 fair 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.  And again, I do not find this whisky to be what I would call refined.

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:

(1)  Wiser's Legacy

(2)  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.

(3)  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
The availability of Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye is going to be a problem for most of you reading this review. I was fortunate to get a couple of bottles due to sheer perseverance with a certain retailer.  But, what do you do if you can't get a bottle and still seek a nice Canadian rye of similar quality and price point?  Please consider 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.

Nose (undiluted)
Dusty roses, black berries, cherries, very floral, raspberries.

Palate (undiluted)
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!

Finish (undiluted)
Long lingering old port/cognac notes drying across the palate coupled with powder dry sherry.

General Impressions
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.

I ran into 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:  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 parent's 1970s toga parties.


Jason Debly

P.S.  Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye is no masterpiece of whisky.  For a masterpiece, see my next review.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Whisky review: Johnnie Walker Explorers' Club Collection "The Adventurer"

In my last post, I uploaded a reader's email, in which he lamented that it is very difficult to find the "Honda Accord" of Scotches, meaning something affordable, yet of great quality.

Normally, 'affordable' and 'whisky' are two words that do not work well in the same sentence.  Generally speaking, affordable Scotch whisky means you are looking at blended Scotch, and in the past there were a few gems.  Today, the same brands are still with us, but the great drams they were, at very reasonable prices, have disappeared.

Teacher's, Black Bottle, Monkey Shoulder and others that at one time delivered great quality at a great price are now serving up noticeably lesser quality at a reasonable price.  Now, you get what you pay for, whereas ten years ago, you glanced nervously over your shoulder, as you exited the liquor store fearing the manager would bolt out the doors demanding you return, as there was an error in price.

Nevertheless, I am still in search of that Accord, thinking it is just around the corner, on a lonely shelf, just waiting for me to discover it.  So, in the spirit of Japanese efficiency and value having an equivalent in the blended Soctch category, a friend picked me a up a bottle of Johnnie Walker Explorers' Club Collection "The Adventurer" at Duty Free.

Duty Free only

1 litre



Nose (undiluted)
Red licorice, easy peat, wisps of smoke, rose hip, strawberries.

Palate (undiluted)
Spicy/sweet entry of sugared strawberries, raspberries, pickled beets, peat, some malt notes and lots of sweet grain whiskies bulking it out.

Finish (undiluted)
Montreal steak spice, ginger, simple black pepper, and a tannic cola note.

General Impressions
"The Adventurer" appears to be the standard Johnnie Walker Red Label with an extra boost of smoke, spices.  It is a little smoother than Red Label with a little less bite too but hardly by much.  I really struggle to distinguish much difference in taste between this and Red Label.  A Scotch whisky blogger in Brazil holds the same opinion.

That being said, for $29.99, you are getting a lot of decent mix quality blended Scotch whisky.  I really think this blend is best enjoyed as mix, and at the price it is offered for, you won't feel guilty using it as such.  In a tumbler, add 2/3 ginger ale, 1/3 The Adventurer, ice, slice of orange, a dash of Angostura Bitters, and you are in business!  Much more enjoyable than neat.

So, I guess I will heed Johnnie Walker's advice and keep on walkin.'  Maybe a trip down the Spice Road will lead to my ultimate destination: an Accord!


Jason Debly

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Reader Email

Hi Jason,

Hoping all is well with you as we enter into the darker time of our year. As I'm sure you don't remember, I began a scotch journey in earnest this time last year. Never one to do much subtly, I'm pleased to tell you that I experienced 35 scotches in the past 12 months (39 if you count the little 1/3 ounce sips that they give you at Binny's on the way to buy what you really came for). In this time I discovered that there are some stark realities we each have to come to terms with.

First of all, it's a freaking expensive hobby, especially when you've just opened a bottle and two weeks later you're Jonesing to buy something else.
Two, it's immensely fun to get together and share bottles for the sake of expanding horizons. 

Three, it matters but really doesn't matter what reviewers and bloggers say, as it's my bottle damn it and I'll do with it what I want and have my own opinion of it world be damned! 
Four, its really hard to like an Islay without a cigar, and not being a cigar smoker that would just be another expensive hobby to add to the current expensive hobby (the Ardbeg Uigeadail was completely un-understandable to this palate but smoking a Montecristo next to a small bonfire in the yard in October it transformed into one of the sweetest, syrupy delightful malts ever to touch this mouth!! - AND oh if I could just get that Laphroaig Quarter Cask back to give it the same test).

Five, I love spicy scotch top to bottom of the bottle but sherried scotch one glass at a time with one special dinner plate and guest.

Six, my house should always have a member of the Glenmorangie and Highland Park families and shame on me if I can't provide that. 
Seven, good luck finding the Honda Accord of scotches, the best to date that I can recommend being Monkey Shoulder ($27 in Chicago) which I had the great fortune of two bottles separated by six months, the second a gift when I was in the middle of the Glenfiddich Solera 15 -- this being a very important distinction of serendipity and synchronicity as they are both vatted malts from basically of the same family and side by side there's no doubt the Monkey Shoulder is its younger brother but hardly less so in stature. 
Eight, good fortune shines on scotch enthusiasts, one example my chance meeting with Steve Lipp the CEO of Alexander Murray who private labels for Costco, Trader Joe's, etc.. I liked him so I bought from him, loved the prices and discovered only one dud (the TJ Highland 10) out of 5 tries, and one exceptional gem, the just released Kirkland Highland 16 for $49, which is so smooth, elegant, perfectly sweet, subtly complex with a light spicy finish (kind of like the Dalwhinnie 15) and unfathomably drinkable - a friend and I took down 3/4 of a bottle 10/30/15 (yes there was another fire and some medium caliber Davidoff's in the mix that gave the evening a Sodium Pentathol quality).

Nine, you'll always encounter something you don't like but can pawn it off on some other scotch drinker to their pleasure as they're so happy to meet someone with good scotch in the cabinet. 

Ten, somehow, someway, bottles somehow make a difference as I was so disappointed in my Balvenie Doublewood 12 last December but thrilled with it last month with good company, brats and german potato salad (I promised Warren I wouldn't drink it again until we get together again - a big deal since it had been 3 years!).

Thanks for helping on the journey.


PS Eleven, JWBlue while terrific is grossly overpriced!!! I'm saving up for Highland Park 18...

Monday, November 2, 2015

Review: Green Spot Irish Whiskey

Wife:  "You never told me how you want to end up?"  She is cradling a book in her lap.  Probably sitting atop the Man Booker Prize list.  She is very smart.  Me, not so much.  I am cradling my Sony TV remote.

Me:  "What?"

Wife:  "You know, do you want to be cremated?"

Me:  "What?  Hell no!"

Wife:  "I want to be," she cheerily declares.  She picks a microscopic speck of dust off her sweater sleeve.  "So, tell me about your funeral.  How do you want it to be?"

Me: (I am thinking, why does she have to start these types of conversations when a really good football game is on.  It's a sunny Sunday afternoon, I am collapsed on the couch, the kids are at someone else's house for once.  I mean the Cowboys might beat Seattle and she is asking me about my funeral wishes?  Really?  WTF??  'Do not start a fight Jason, play along,' I say to myself repeatedly like some updated Buddhist mantra that is chanted by husbands the world over. So, I sigh deeply followed by a pregnant pause, worthy of off-Broadway, and reply with near honesty)

"Well, honey, I'd like music to play at the wake.  I am thinking to start things off with a Dorothy Love Coates gospel number I'll Be With Thee excellently covered by Jerry Garcia.  While that is playing, I want my coffin to roll up in a hearse that is modeled off the 1971 Cadillac Eldorado from Superfly.

I want the music to fade from Jerry's gospel cover to Isaac Hayes' Shaft.  The funeral director will have to crank the music so that the wah-wah guitar is killer, but then he must carefully dial it down before Isaac sings because I think his lyrics really just glorify the outrageously transient wealth and flashiness of soulless ghetto criminals.  So, before Isaac would sing I want the music to drift into Pusherman by Curtis Mayfield.  That brother had a moral compass.  His music didn't romanticize Ghetto drug dealers who destroyed large swathes of their community."

Wife:  She stares at me blankly and whispers . . . "Whisky, what about whisky?"

Me:  "Oh yeah, you can serve Green Spot.  It's an Irish whiskey.  Very good.  Its expensive but I'll put aside some money for it.  The kids may have to miss one college semester, but hey I made sacrifices too.  If they whine about it, just tell 'em Papa Was a Rolling Stone.

Irish whiskey is somehow more fitting for a wake than Scotch whisky.  I am not a fan of the bottom shelf Jameson dear, so I'm going to pay a little extra and educate my well-wishers, from my afterlife, about the magic of Irish whiskey and that would be Green Spot."

Nose (undiluted)
Oranges, slices of green apple, ginger.

Palate (undiluted)
Spiced apple and pears, sesame brittle, sherry, melon and classic Irish whiskey oiliness with a nutty hint.  Herbaceous and complex!

Finish (undiluted)
Clean lemons, honey and more orient spices.

Me:  "Oh yeah, and you can play my video review of Greenspot on a giant screen."

Wife:  "Honey, you just lay there and rest.  I think I will get dinner ready."

Me: (Mission accomplished!  Now back to the game!)


Jason Debly

P.S.  Green Spot is an excellent Irish whiskey that rivals if not surpasses other great compatriots like Redbreast.  It is expensive but worth the price.

By the way, Superfly is an excellent film that you should check out.  Shot without a permit, it shows a gritty 1971 NYC with humor, seriousness, but no moralizing.   Internet Movie Data Base member, thomaswatchesfilms writes:

"This gritty, low budget film offers a unique and honest perspective on the underworld of black street life in the early 1970s, with an almost tragic, Shakepearian, bent. The look, the feel and language of the culture and the almost real-time look street life in NYC of that era is truly unmatched by any film before or since. Perhaps through genius, inspiration, maybe just plain luck, or all three, the producers and director hit the nail right on the head. Starring an excellent, intelligent cast of professional thespians, some with impressive stage and film credentials, and augmented by a wonderful infusion of genuine non-professionals right from the street in key roles, the film has an honesty and gritty reality that belies its budgetary constraints. Filmed largely without the permission of local authorities and unions, in winter and often after dark, it has a cinema verite feel throughout; almost a documentary. And the score! Composed and performed by Curtis Mayfield, it is as close to an utter classic as has ever been offered. It stands alone, and would have been a multi-platinum offering even without the film. If one takes the inherent flaws to this type of production; i.e. the rough editing, slightly uneven performances and almost clandestine feel, and places these in proper perspective, it is sure to delight all but the most hardened and jaded enthusiasts of film. Notable: this film set THE STYLE for black, urban culture for most of the next decade. It has no current rivals in that accomplishment. After this film, simply everything since has been empty posturing vis-a-vis popular rap music. It was "remade" during the mid 1990s and set in Miami as "Big Ballers", which was utterly horrible. Compare the two and you will see what style counts for. This film is the real deal. I spent money I didn't have to get this DVD. Go buy it, trust me."