I am often asked what I consider the “best whisky in the world”, and my response isn’t meant to be coy, but it probably comes off that way as I often answer, “For who?” The truth is, there are a number of amazing whiskies out there, and the best in the world FOR YOU may be something completely different than for me.
This is why I often take exception to the furor which tends to surround Jim Murray’s annual decree of the “World’s Best Whiskey”. Murray is a master of publicity, and his picks often are aimed at creating controversy and generating ink for Murray rather than genuinely accolading the best whisky of the year. This past year Jim Murray selected Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye as his “Best of The Year” which, as he hoped, created a lot of buzz. Murray has a track record of snubbing Scotch Whisky, and his pick of Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye was another calculated poke in the eye to Scotch.
Prior to Murray’s pick, it was really Crown Royal Apple that represented the biggest win for Crown Royal in 2015. Crown Royal’s strategy to down market their premium brand caught the flavored whiskey wave right at the sweet spot. That didn’t stop the brand from also releasing some nice premium offerings including Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel Release, selected by noted Canadian Whisky writer Davin De Kergommeaux, and the now infamous Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye.
Beyond the Murray nod, Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye is notable because of the high percentage of rye whisky in the blend, a whopping 90%. Rye whiskies continue to be very hot commodities, and Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye delivers a high rye whisky to this very thirsty market at a very reasonable price. This is the same kind of formula that made Diageo’s Bulleit Rye such a smash hit.
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye Canadian Whisky (45% ABV, $29.99 ) – dark gold in color, the nose is unmistakably rye with rye spice, graphite, dill, cinnamon, and oak. Underneath the spice is vanilla and marzipan. It’s a spicy nose, squarely focused on the character of the rye, with just a slight edge.
On the palate, Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye is considerably softer than the nose would suggest. The solid rye flavor that was suggested by the nose is there but it’s presented with much more balance at the entry. Whereas the nose had an edge with the rye spice, here it’s mitigated with an undercurrent of maple and vanilla. The mouthfeel on the entry is also lighter and more delicate than expected.
In the midpalate the flavor experience shifts towards spicy with the addition of cinnamon, black pepper, and oak. Even though the midpalate is spicy, Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye doesn’t lose its sense of balance. The combination of the rye, oak, and cinnamon with the undercurrent of vanilla and maple is delightful. In the midpalate the mouthfeel makes a shift as well from the soft opening to a slightly drier, slightly more acidic feeling.
This sets up a nice medium length finish which features the rye and cinnamon flavors from the midpalate. The finish is notably dry, but not overly so, creating a solid conclusion to an enjoyably whisky.
Is Crown Royal Northern Rye the best whisky in the world? Absolutely not. It’s a very affable and well constructed Canadian whisky, but it pales when stacked up to other key whiskies released last year, like William Larue Weller, Barrell Bourbon Batch 1, or The Exclusive Malts 13 year old 2002. Crown Royal Northern Rye doesn’t need to be “the best whisky in the world” – it succeeds at delivering an affordable, light, affable, and balanced rye-heavy Canadian Whisky that will appeal to whisky drinkers looking for something a little more delicate in their glass. 92 points.