Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Canadian Whisky Review: Crown Royal Black vs. Reserve

Crown Royal is one of the best known brands of Canadian blended whisky (Canadians use the e-less whisky spelling). The distillery was established in 1939 after a visit to Canada by the then King of England, George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth. Located in Gimli, Manitoba, Crown Royal is put together from five different types of whisky that are all distilled and aged separately before being blended to form the various expressions. Three of the spirit lines are 'rye', one is 'bourbon' (presumably this means that it contains a mixture of corn, rye, and malted barley), and one 'corn' (my guess is mostly corn, likely with some malted barley). The 'corn' line comes off the stills at very high proof - almost like vodka - and is aged in refill barrels to keep it fairly neutral. That is used as the 'base' whisky, which is then blended with more flavorful whiskies from the other lines.

Crown Royal Black

Nose: floral roses, light maple syrup and molasses, some corn/grain as creamy breakfast cereal, vanilla, some alcohol

Taste: light grain without much sweetness up front, shifts into molasses mid-palate, then a big burst of pepper, finishing with some grain/corn

Finish: grain/corn, residual pepper

In terms of flavor, this whisky seems like a mashup of some light grain whisky with a molasses-heavy Cuban style rum like Ron Matusalem. The use of refill casks really shows as there was a surprising lack of oak tannins in this whisky. Which makes sense, given that they're aiming for a lighter flavor profile. While I'm not sure this is something that gets me really excited, it does accomplish their goal of making a distinctly Canadian whisky with fairly robust flavors. However, it sounds like the feelings of long time drinkers are a bit more mixed.

Crown Royal Reserve

Nose: creamy grain with subtle rye, a hint of sherry fruit - mostly raspberry, maybe some maple syrup, floral. After dilution, there's more rye grain, drier, some breakfast cereal, a bit of bubblegum or floral sweetness

Taste: mildly fruity up front, segues into creamy grain, some pepper near the back, a bit of chocolate and bubblegum flavor. After dilution, there's more body and sweetness up front, but the flavors become flatter, with with pepper and bitterness near the back.

Finish: grain residue, cacao and rye bitterness, fades out into floral notes

The first time I tried this whisky, I made the mistake of tasting it immediately after the Black. While it holds up on its own, it didn't stand a chance against the heftier Black and seemed tepid and washed out. Sampled first it shows a much more robust and pleasant character that offers a different side of Canadian whisky - while lighter, there are more fruity and floral notes on the nose and palate. While I think it too could benefit from a higher bottling proof, that's not really Crown Royal's goal and it seems that they keep their customer base happy with a gentler spirit. Overall I would say that this is a very nice sipping whisky when you want something tasty but not overly complicated or challenging. The only major downside I can see is the price point, which sets it up against a lot of good single malt whisky. If you want something similar but a bit cheaper, Bushmill's Black Bush might be a good pick.


  1. Of all the Canadian whiskies on the market, Crown Royal is simply my LEAST favorite. It doesn't matter what they come out with, I feel like I'm putting an AVON men's aftershave in my mouth. I just can't get myself to drink any of the Crown Royal products, yet I see hundreds of people yearly at the local liquor store that love it?! Goes to show how subjective our palates can be? So proud to see another Canadian whisky review done well :)

    Thanks Jordan!

    PS - If you would like a few "better" Canadian samples to review, please get in touch with me.

    1. Thanks, Johanne. I think Crown Royal has potential, but they're not aiming for whisky drinkers like me. It seems to be an effective business strategy, which is hard to argue with. However, I've got to think that they have some interesting whiskies sitting around their warehouses that could be very interesting if bottled without blending. Say, something like El Dorado's Connoisseur Range, where they bottle rum from each of their stills.


      Bottling pure whisky from Crown Royal's two rye and one bourbon "lines" (especially if bottled above 45%) could definitely generate some buzz in the whisky nerd community.

  2. What happened to Cask 16, definitly the best crown of all?

    1. Looks like there are still a few places where you can buy it


      This review came about purely because I happened to notice the minis at a liquor store.

  3. I love the Crown Royal blends, my favorite and what I feel the Smoothest of the top Shelf Whiskey, other than Jameson’s or Baily’s Irish Cream.
    I hope I don’t offend anyone, this is just my opinion.
    Thanks Crown for making Black!