The regulations on what you can do with Canadian whisky have helped give the Canadian whisky category somewhat of a bum rap over the years. Known for their rye whiskey, Canadian whiskey producers are allowed to use a scant amount of rye in their mashbill and still call it Canadian Rye Whiskey. The unfortunate impact of this is that the market is awash in Canadian whiskey products which are sub par. The category itself, however, should not be ignored. Good Canadian whiskey provides a soft and easy whiskey drinking experience in very much the same way that Irish whiskey can.
Crown Royal has managed to cultivate a significant following in the United States while transcending the category of Canadian whisky. Many Crown Royal imbibers don’t identify the spirit with the Canadian whisky category. Even though it’s often consumed with a mixer (most popularly Coke), Crown Royal has done an excellent job of positioning itself as a premium spirit with superb marketing, branding, and packaging.
Building on their success in the elusive premium Canadian whiskey category, Crown Royal has a super premium series under the XR name. In 2006 the XR release came from the Waterloo distillery, and now in 2012 it’s from LaSalle. The series seems a lot like a fisherman testing the waters to see if a fishing hole really has any fish. It’s questionable if there’s really a significant ultra or super premium Canadian whisky market yet, but if there is, Crown Royal is well positioned to find it.
Crown Royal XR or Extra Rare (40%, 80 proof, $129.99) – while there is no age statement or breakdown of what this whiskey actually is, it’s being marketed as containing the final batch of whisky from the famed LaSalle Distillery. Odds are you probably don’t know the famed LaSalle Distillery, and honestly we didn’t either: it’s a significant Canadian whisky distillery which opened in 1924 and closed in 2003. Andrew MacKay, the master blender for Crown Royal, got his start at the LaSalle Distillery, so it’s a place considered special for the brand. Unfortunately, we really don’t know how much of the LaSalle whisky is in each bottle of Crown Royal XR, and after tasting it, we fear it’s not very much. Canadian whisky is often made from a base whisky made from corn and a flavoring whisky often made from rye. Here the LaSalle whisky is clearly the flavoring whisky in the mix.
Crown Royal XR leads with solid oak which is present without being too overpowering. Underneath the oak is sweet caramel along with subtle almond and cinnamon. All in all, a delightful and well integrated nose. The entry for Crown Royal XR is soft and lightly sweet with a core of oak flavor. Things open up in the mid palate with more expansive oak and some light spice and heat. From the nose to the midpalate you get a real sense of the quality old LaSalle whisky in the blend, but at the end of the mid palate, the whisky reveals its true colors when a much younger corn whiskey peeks its head out and begins to take over. The younger whisky comes in as a touch of heat as the rest of the flavors begin to really thin out. That young whisky also dominates the finish, which is thin and underwhelming – a complete mismatch from the rest of the whisky.
As with the other releases in the Crown Royal line, the Crown Royal XR is wonderfully packaged: a beautiful decanter with a glass stop is placed in the signature Crown Royal bag, and then placed on a gold silk pedestal in a hefty blue box. From a packaging point of view, it presents like a $130 bottle of whiskey, but unfortunately the juice inside the bottle doesn’t. Canadian whisky suffers from such a strong perception problem that what you pay for may not be exactly what you get, and Crown Royal XR only serves to reinforce that negative perception. Yes, there’s some great whisky in the blend here, but it’s not enough. In the end it’s the younger base whisky that we’re left with, and a feeling that somehow we’ve been shorted – instead of something extra rare, we’ve been given something extra expensive.