Review: Crown Royal Noble Collection Wine Barrel Finished

Crown Royal continues its limited edition, called the Noble Collection, which started with the Cornerstone Blend last year, with this second release, Crown Royal Noble Collection Wine Barrel Finished.

What we have here is classic Crown Royal that is finished in cabernet sauvignon wine barrels sourced from Paso Robles (winery unstated). No other production data (including the length of time in the finishing barrel) is provided.

There’s something immediately off on the nose — notes of gunpowder, black pepper, and overripe fruit weighing heavily on the caramel and vanilla core. There’s a ton of stuff going on on the nose — lemon peel, thyme, tobacco leaf, and menthol… more elements than you’d expect, and we’re just talking about the aromas.

The palate is just as confusing, a somewhat muddy body offering notes of dark chocolate and oily walnut, with a heavy grain underpinning. A bold furniture polish note — astringent and pungent — dominates the second act, while the finish evokes something more akin to well-aged sherry more than cabernet. The conclusion is simplistic, a bit fruity, a bit grain-heavy, and directionally confused.

Crown Royal’s special releases have long been hit and miss, but this one is a tougher sell than most.

81 proof.

C+ / $50 / crownroyal.com

Review: Lord Calvert Black Canadian Whisky

The original expression of Luxco’s Lord Calvert didn’t exactly win over the heart and mind of our Editor-In-Chief earlier this year. Facing this new extension of the brand with mild apprehension and a chaser in tow didn’t seem too unreasonable — in fact, it was suggested in the accompanying press release. Thankfully, the good Lord bucks the trend of delivering an underwhelming experience with Lord Calvert Black.

Arriving in select markets this spring, Lord Calvert Black is a 3 year old blend offering much more caramel and oak on the nose than the original. Much to its credit, it mercifully abstains from assaulting the senses with an all-out grain invasion. The cereal and faint rubbing alcohol notes are still present on the palate, but they’re balanced out nicely by hints of sherry, vanilla, and spice. The finish is short and sweet, with vanilla and spice enduring and providing an inoffensive landing.

In the expansive and diverse world of Canadian whisky, there are offerings far more complex and enticing than Calvert Black. But this is a decent entry-level bottle for those wishing to sample something new without breaking the bank. For the four dollar boost in price, this is a more than reasonable bargain and a marked improvement over the original.

80 proof.

B / $15 / lordcalvertwhisky.com

Review: Bison Ridge Special Reserve Canadian Whisky 8 Years Old

Prestige Beverage Group (known for Kinky, Glen Moray, and more) is out with a new Canadian whisky, Bison Ridge. Bison Ridge comes in two expressions, a 3 year old blend and this Special Reserve, which carries an 8 year old age statement (with aging noted in American oak). Sourcing and mashbill information are not provided.

An eight year old whisky for 20 bucks? Hold your garters, because I’ve seen it as cheap as $14.99. That’s unheard of in today’s whiskonomy.

Sadly, the whisky itself is nothing all that special. The nose is particularly Canadian, with a nutty character plus a mix of baking spices leading the charge. Vanilla and maple syrup notes are also distinct, with some sulfur character lingering at the end. On the palate, the body is immediately a bit gummy in texture, with flavors of cinnamon toast, barrel char, vanilla-flavored candies, peppermint, and jasmine. It’s a mixed bag of expected and unexpected flavor notes, with a finish that comes across like eating vanilla frosting straight out of the tub. This kind of saccharine character of course isn’t unheard of for Canadian whiskies, although one would have thought that an 8 year old would have grown out of it by this point.

80 proof.

B / $20 / prestigebevgroup.com

Drinking the Bottom Shelf Vol. 2: Canadian Whisky – Ellington, Black Velvet, LTD

bottom shelf

Good whiskey can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. This review continues our project of considering bargain bottles by looking at three inexpensive Canadian whiskies. (Cheap-ass American whiskey coverage can be found here.) Canadian whiskies are usually blends, as all three of these are.

Ellington Canadian Whisky

Note that the whisky reviewed here is the regular Ellington and not the Ellington Reserve, which lists itself as 8 years old. The age of this product is unstated, but to bear the label “Canadian Whisky,” all of the constituent whiskies must have been aged at least 3 years in oak barrels (usually used barrels). The whisky’s light-yellow color suggests that coloring has been added to achieve an enticing hue in a blend that spent very little time in the barrel. The nose is gentle and presents a mix of nail polish remover, peanuts, and a touch of rye spice. The palate however is surprisingly supple and reminds me of cheap vodka. But I think it is better than cheap vodka. Slight wood notes and a touch of sweetness serve to round out the alcohol’s bite. The finish includes a touch of pepper and a slight bitterness. Ellington could serve as a promising mixer, particularly for people who aren’t huge fans of whisky (or alcohol) but still want to drink.

80 proof.

C / $11

Black Velvet Blended Canadian Whisky 3 Years Old

Like Ellington, this young whisky has an older sibling, Black Velvet Reserve, which is also aged 8 years. This younger, less expensive expression is light-gold in color, suggesting, as with Ellington, that color was used to achieve a pleasant hue in a very young whisky. The nose is virtually  nonexistent. I’m not sure I have ever smelled a whiskey (or another 80 proof product) that exhibited so light a nose. A light medicinal scent can be discerned when swirled in a glass. The taste is more pronounced than the aroma suggests, opening with some bitterness, followed by notes of cheap vanilla extract. A touch of pepper follows, which is nice, and then an alcohol burn. The finish is rather short but surprisingly clean. No bitter aftertaste.

80 proof.

C / $9 / blackvelvetwhisky.com

Canadian LTD

On the bottle, Canadian LTD states that it is “Canadian Whisky with Natural Flavors,” which means that some of the product is made up of whiskies aged for at least 3 years and some of it is a mystery. Most of the remaining product is likely neutral grain spirits (aka vodka). On the nose, LTD is presents faint aromas of nail polish remover with a little vanilla and just a whiff of peanut. The palate is much more assertive, opening with some pepper and then presenting strong flavors of cheap vanilla extract, which leads me to wonder if it is made with some of the same whisky as Black Velvet. The finish is fairly short and is followed by an unpleasant, but not overpowering, medicinal bitterness.

80 proof.

C- / $9

Re-Review: Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye (2017)

crown royal rye

In 2015, I reviewed Crown Royal Northern Rye. I thought it was OK. I graded it a B.

Later that year Jim Murray named it his whisky of the year, and all hell broke loose. A $30 Canadian whisky is the best whisky of the year? Sales went through the roof. The price shot up. Everyone asked me about the little whisky that could.

That’s bothered me for the last two years. Was I wrong? Was I missing the plot on this one? I reached out to Crown Royal to see if I could get a fresh sample, in order to see if I could suss out what I missed.

To refresh your memory, this is a 90% rye, bottled with no age statement. Let’s give a brand new bottle a fresh look.

Well, much as I said previously, the nose is loaded with dried apple notes, cinnamon, and caramel. It’s apple pie in a glass at least aromatically. I can see how someone would like it, but the fruit is so blown out that it strikes one as a a flavored spirit.

The palate offers few surprises, though the caramel is stronger and notes of barrel char, and, now that I explore it more deeply, a character closer to baked pear than apple. Slightly gummy and fragrant with cinnamon, ginger, and allspice, it’s got sweetness pushed almost to the breaking point, with a lasting finish that is fragrant but gummy.

In the end: I still don’t understand the fuss. In fact, I like it even less now than I used to. And no, I’m not trying to be contrarian, mom.

90 proof.

B- / $45 / crownroyal.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Lord Calvert Canadian Whisky

I have to say, I was only interested in Lord Calvert, a budget Canadian whisky imported by Luxco, because it is now available in a limited edition decanter that looks like a dog with a dead duck hanging out of its mouth. 4500 of these, made in partnership with Ducks Unlimited and all filled with Calvert, are available for $100.

Or you can get a regular old bottle of Lord Calvert (pictured at right), which is now celebrating its 50th anniversary, for $11. Your pick.

Either way, Lord Calvert is made from a mix of rye, corn, wheat, and barley, aged three years. (36 months, to be specific, according to the label.)

The nose is initially innocuous, a little heavy on raw alcohol notes but otherwise quiet with modestly sweet granary notes. Breathe deep though and that alcohol really starts to dominate, taking on a plastic-like hospital character.

The palate doesn’t exactly sing, and though it offers some unusual evergreen and eucalyptus notes, the primary focus is on cereal, which is dusted with notes of mushrooms, sour cherries, and green beans, with more overtones of rubbing alcohol. The finish is short and fairly hollow. It’s got a bit of a random collection of flavors, to be sure, but let me say this: It’s nothing I’d feel unusual about while pouring out of a decanter shaped like a hunting dog.

80 proof.

C- / $11 / lordcalvertwhisky.com

Understanding Different Types of Whiskey

Overwhelmed by the complex world of wines, beers, and spirits? You’re not alone. Today let’s look at one of the most common questions that we receive day in and day out: What the heck is the difference between all these different types of whiskeys? Today’s the day to find out. Join me in a brief tour of the whiskeys of the world, a primer of all things whisk(e)y.

The most noteworthy style of whiskey, or in this case spelled whisky, is Scotch. Scotch whisky comes from Scotland, and we could (and probably will) write another whole article on the complexities of the terroir of the country. Scotch is divided into two main styles: Single malt Scotch (like Macallan) is made entirely from malted barley and is produced at a single distillery, whereas blended Scotch (like Johnnie Walker) is made from a blend of malted barley and various others grains, which are distilled separately, sourced from all over the country. The taste of single malt Scotch can vary widely depending on the region in which it is made: Scotch from the briny Islay region can take on a smoky, iodine quality, akin to a campfire by the ocean, while Scotch from Speyside can be more sweet and sumptuous, with notes of vanilla, apricot, and honeysuckle.

Bourbon is American whiskey that is frequently produced in Kentucky, but which can legally be made anywhere in the U.S. The name bourbon has a strict legal definition, which dictates, among other rules, a base grain mixture of at least 51% corn and the use of unused, charred-oak barrels for aging. These requirements give bourbon a characteristic sweetness compared to Scotch, with notes of vanilla-covered cherry, woody oak, and butterscotch. Of course, just like Scotch, the taste of bourbon can vary quite a lot; compare sweet, vanilla-laden Maker’s Mark with burly, brambly Hudson Baby Bourbon. Jack Daniel’s is a bourbon as well, though it doesn’t say so on the bottle, preferring the term Tennessee Whiskey to give it a local identity.

The names of most other whiskeys aren’t as opaque as Scotch and bourbon. Canadian Whiskies like Pendleton are blends that usually contain more rye than bourbon does, giving them in general a spicier taste; think cloves, toffee, and chocolate. Irish Whiskey is, typically, distilled more times than a Scotch is, which removes more impurities and giving the whiskey its characteristic lightness and fruitiness: Green Spot is warming with a taste of honey and chocolate. Most Irish whiskeys are blends, though there are quite a few single malt Irish whiskeys out there. Japanese Whiskies can be as varied as Scotch; Toki is light and delicate, with notes of white flowers and melon, while Hakushu is bolder and smoky, like a good Islay Scotch. Some Japanese distillers also use unusual grains in their blends: Kikori uses rice to make its whisky.

At least one category of whiskey is known based not on the region in which it is made but the primary grain used to make it: Rye. This booming category of whiskey is made from 51% rye but can be wildly different from a stylistic perspective. A Kentucky-made rye like Rittenhouse will be pungent with baking spices, which a Canadian rye like Crown Royal Northern Harvest might find a more apple-heavy fruit note. Note that a whiskey, like the above Crown Royal example, can be both a Canadian Whisky and a rye, simultaneously.

Hopefully this brief overview of whiskey gives you a better idea of the various styles of spirits out there. There are plenty of other whiskey manufacturers in the world of course, in Australia, Germany, India, and elsewhere, but this should give you a solid base from which to build, and to start exploring the wonderful world of whiskey.

Any questions? Let us know in the comments!

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