1 Dec 2015
Being named “Whisky of the Year” is a kind of a big deal. But it was an even bigger deal when Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye, a Canadian whiskey, was selected for the honor in the just-released version of Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible.
Predictably, this blew the mind of many scotch and bourbon fans who tend to look down at simple low-proof Canadian whiskey. Not to mention the low price ($26-35) and wide availability of Northern Harvest Rye compared to the kinds of collectible, super rare whiskies that many consider to be the best of the best (I’m looking at you, Pappy).
With all that in mind, I decided to try Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye to decide for myself if it is the best whiskey ever, or the most overrated. More likely I’d find it somewhere in between.
The 95-proof spirit features a light straw color and a nose with fresh banana bread, light wood, and spice. The palate is very smooth and balanced (smoother than you’d expect from 90-proof) with wood, baking spices, and a toned-down dill flavor similar to what you might find from Bulleit Rye. The finish is short and sweet.
First, let me be clear about what Northern Harvest isn’t. It isn’t the best whiskey I’ve had in the past year (or even month). It isn’t the best rye, either. It isn’t even the best Canadian Whiskey for my taste preferences (I prefer Lot 40, which features similar flavors but with more intensity.)
That said, not being “the best” doesn’t make it bad. In fact, it has a lot going for it. It’s pleasant, balanced, smooth, approachable, and affordable.
There’s a theory that Murray chose this as his Whiskey of the Year to bring awareness to a well-made, widely distributed Canadian whiskey; a nudge of sorts for drinkers to check out what Canada has to offer, and also to prompt Canadian whiskey makers to unleash their potential. (You could say naming a Japanese whiskey Whisky of the Year last year did similar things for Japanese single malt.) Not to mention, by forgoing a rare single malt or bourbon, this year’s Whisky of the Year is something you’ll actually be able to find on shelves.
Pair it with a mild- to medium-bodied cigar so the balanced flavors don’t get overwhelmed. Try a Mexican San Andrés-wrapped maduro like the Illusione *R* Rothchildes. A good $4 cigar and a fine sub-$30 whiskey… What’s not to like about that?
photo credit: Stogie Guys