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

Category 
Blended Canadian Whisky

Price
$35 (in Canada)

ABV
45%

Age
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.

Category
Canadian Blended Whisky

Price
$30 (in Canada)

ABV
45%

Age
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: 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 parent's 1970s toga parties.

Cheers!


Jason Debly

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

23 comments:

  1. I would have to agree with this assessment. I think the Northern Harvest Rye is a solid purchase and worth spending some time with at $35. It probably wouldn't make my top 10 Canadian whisky list, (Lot 40, Wiser's Legacy, Mastersons 10 yo Rye, etc) but maybe something tickled Mr. Murray's palate. Nothing wrong with that. I just hope the rest of the world doesn't try it and think "that's the best Canada can do?" I hope instead they think "Hey, not bad, and only $35. What else do you have?"

    Now what do you recommend to purge the mental image of my parents in togas from memory?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wiser's Legacy! Now that is a whisky, as you have mentioned before. That is what people should be seeking out.

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    2. Mum's the word Jason on the Legacy. That's all I need is to see a "run" on that. Let the newbies have their CR Rye and Ginger ale.
      Leave the Legacy and Highwood "Ninety" for those who appreciate quality Canadian Whiskey at a decent price.
      Cheers

      Delete
  2. I really enjoy your reviews Jason. I recently bought a couple of bottles of this Northern Harvest Rye because of all the hype, I find that it's decent for the $35.00 price tag but I have to admit that the Dark Horse is better and the price on that one just went down to $28.00!

    What's your take on the Lot no.40? I find that one to be a superior Canadian Rye whisky and it's only $40.00

    I have never had the chance to try the Wiser's Legacy and now it seems to have been delisted from NBLC's inventory.

    I will have to try the Gibson's 18 but it's up there in price at around $73.00 but it sounds like it's still good value for money.

    Anyways, thanks for your reviews. They are a greatr source of info and perspective.

    Charlie in Moncton

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    Replies
    1. The guys in my whisky club really like Lot 40. One of them is a big Canadian fan and really is a big fan of it. I tried it last night, but it was after some other ones. I have had it before, and it just does not ring my bell. Not bad by any means but not something i would buy.

      Gibson's 18 is now $72. I used to buy it when it was $39. It is a great Canadian whisky but at that price point I will generally buy Scotch first like Cragganmore 12 of Glenfiddich 15 Solera as I enjoy those more.

      Wiser's Legacy is very good but has disappeared from the shelves. Too bad.

      Thanks for the compliment on my reviews. I just try to be brutally honest, what with all the nice talk reviews and basically BS everywhere else, I owe it to myself and you readers to give the straight goods.

      Nice to hear from you.

      By the way, last night i tried Mortlach Very Rare, wow! What a single malt! THere are a few bottles in the province. $110 but worth it. Now that is a whisky that could contend for whisky of the year!

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  3. Jason thank you for the review, I would like to share it with my readers on my blog on Wordpress.com So if you don't mind I will copy and paste it. I too got a lot of questions from readers in the USA who read my blog and know I like scotch, this review of yours will be helpful.

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  4. Great review, Jason. I found this one just incredibly underwhelming and mediocre. Not to mention, I've seen some very inaccurate information posted about it from what I usually consider reliable sources. Has Diageo and Crown Royal rolled out a big bribe campaign? Disappointing in many ways.

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    Replies
    1. How Murray could call this edition of Crown Royal a "masterpiece" is baffling. There are masterpieces of whisky and this is not one. Thanks for commenting and I always enjoy your blog!

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  5. What's this??!!
    How dare you not like an Aussie whiskey !!!!!!!
    Ha Ha !!
    Sullivans Cove is never on the shelves down here so I can't get it to sample ...
    AL (from OZ)

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  6. I would say it is a perfect flask whisky.

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  7. Great read and I'd take your view over Murray's any day of the week.

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  8. Hey Jason, The Mortlach .... is that in a 500ml bottle? My shop has the Rare Old for $110 (aus)
    Sounds a lot for 500ml...
    AL (from OZ)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Mortlach I am going to review next is the Rare Old and it is a beauty. The bottle I have is in a 750ml bottle and cost me $110 Canadian dollars. I highly recommend it but 500ml for $110! Man! Everything down under seems to cost a fortune! But yeah, it is the Rare old and it is very very very good!

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  9. I might splurge on this one as it's almost christmas. It's that or the Aberlour A'bunadh.
    I might try the Mortlach as I've already had a bottle of the Aberlour...
    AL

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  10. You talked me into it mate. I'll grab on the way home tomorrow. We'll be sampling Friday night.
    thanks,

    AL

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  11. While I agree on the slightly random nature of some of Mr Murray's pronouncements, he didn't give his 2014 award to Sullivan's Cove – that was the World Whiskies Awards:
    http://www.worldwhiskiesawards.com/2014/

    The 2014 Bible (launched in 2013) gave the award to Glenmorangie Ealanta and the 2015 (launched in 2014) went to Yamazaki Sherry Cask.
    http://blog.thewhiskyexchange.com/2013/11/jim-murrays-whisky-bible014/
    http://blog.thewhiskyexchange.com/2014/11/jim-murrays-whisky-bible015-the-winners/

    The Sullivan's Cove French Oaks are all single casks and I've heard tales of significant variation, so have another try if you can – the one I had was very good. Maybe not 'best in the world', but definitely worth a look.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I stand corrected. Murray awarded Sullivan's Cove in 2013 the "Southern Hemisphere Whisky of the Year."
      http://sullivanscovewhisky.com/news/sullivans-cove-named-southern-hemisphere-whisky-of-the-year-in-2013-whisky-bible/

      In Canada, Sullivan's Cove is very expensive and I have tried two different bottles and they were both really dreadful. Not just my opinion. My whisky club was unanimous in this opinion. Maybe what was supplied to Canada was grossly inferior, which would support what you have heard about significant variation in quality.

      Thanks for commenting. Much appreciated!

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  12. I have to disagree. I tried the Northern Harvest and I tried the Alberta Premium. The Northern Harvest is actually very good, Its consistent with one theme it is expressing. The Alberta Premium is a little confused with different sensations conflicting each other.
    I suspect its the sherry in the Alberta Premium than you taste that makes you `like' it more. As its familiar, I do not know. I seem to appreciate the Northern Harvest more and more and can see why it may have been picked. Yes its young but expresses amazingly.itself

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for commenting. Your insights are appreciated by me and the readers. Cheers!

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