Having already covered the story of how these came into my possession, it is time now to give them both a thorough going over. Would it be a case of The Crown Jewels? Or er... Monarch Airlines?
I’m pleased to have a chance to try the regular Crown Royal again, as last time I had a bottle, I hadn’t started writing the blog yet, and my wealth of experience with whisky was probably more a pittance of experience. Even more pleasing is that this time I get to try it alongside the legendary Jim Murray’s 2016 World Whisky of the Year – the Northern Harvest Rye. Now, I’ve already tried this one (briefly) also, and it was pretty impressive, so let’s see how they compare, and how the new king stands up to more rigorous examination.
These are both very reasonably priced Canadian whiskies – particularly if you’re visiting Canada and are used to UK type prices. I didn’t buy them, but from memory, I think over in Canada you’d be looking at around $25 for the standard, and somewhere around $30-35 for the NHR. Over here, the standard will be around the same price in pounds, but the NHR could exceed £50.
The standard Crown Royal is 40% ABV, while the Northern Harvest has been beefed up to an enticing 45%. They are presented in quirky crown shaped bottles and sealed with screw caps.
We already know how highly Jim Murray rates the NHR, but now that the rest of the world has had chance to try it, what does everyone else think?
Reviews on The Whisky Exchange are overwhelmingly favourable – a lot of 5 star reviews there, a lot. There are a couple of nay sayers, one calling it “raunchy armpit juice” while others merely call out the hype. There’s talk of “great whisky… for the price” - which really strikes me as people getting carried away with the fact that they like it and it’s affordable.
Meanwhile, the internet’s journalists and bloggers keep their feet on the ground and one butt cheek firmly either side of the fence. Not the best whisky in the world, they say, but a worthy effort. It doesn’t take expertise and a lifetime of experience to say that.
I started with a head to head tasting, and was not immediately impressed. I was mostly recovered from a recent cold, so I was tempted to attribute any negative impressions to the tail end of that. The Northern Harvest Rye, nevertheless, was much fuller on the nose than the standard bottling.
When I’m struggling to get inside a bottle, I am frequently compelled to return to it often – leaving aside other bottles I’ve been delving into and concentrating on the newcomer. So it was here. I stopped feeling curious about the Talisker Skye, and instead kept pouring glasses of the two Crown Royals. I’m sorry to say this continued. I just wasn’t getting the results that I’d come to expect from the standard, or that I’d first experienced in Canada with the Northern Harvest Rye, so I ended up endlessly returning to them, hoping something would be revealed or a part of the puzzle would click into place.
While the NHR nicely followed a tea of fish and chips once, I was mostly getting mixed emotions. A pleasant sweet leather impression was tempered by the smell of poppers. And, I haven’t mentioned it yet, but menthol is pervasive throughout – note though, that this isn’t an impression I’ve read in any other review, anywhere. I hadn’t detected any of that whilst in Canada, but now, that’s almost all there is. That just seems to be the way that the wood is manifesting itself, and while it’s not exactly bad, I’m just not a fan of menthol and I don’t want it in my whisky – at least, not so prevalently. Where were the banana and nuts that I’d tasted? On top of all that, there’s a lot of burn. Normally I like a bit of burn, but this was not particularly pleasant.
Finally I did get a slight hint of banana, and it occurred to me that this was the other side of the minty coin. I’m no expert, but one day, just peaking out from under the menthol, was a hint of banana – but not enough to redeem the NHR in my eyes.
All this makes it hard to imagine what could inspire seasoned connoisseur like Jim Murray to name this World Whisky of the Year [all speculation about controversy and marketing aside] – it certainly isn’t mine. I’ve had some strong contenders this year already, and the Northern Harvest Rye isn’t even close. In fact, I found the less complicated, reliable but standard Crown Royal to be preferable on most occasions.
So, sorry Canada, you may have the accolade, but I don’t think you really have the best whisky in the world after all. At least not in my book.