A week or so ago, the Liquor Fairy fought his way through ice and snow (appropriately enough) to deliver to me a bottle of a new Canadian whisky: Crown Royal Black. Now, up front let me disclaim that I have never been a big Canadian whisky guy. When I was young and my palate undeveloped, I drank vodka or rum, with the occasional Jack Daniels for when the Fugue came upon me and demanded brown liquor.
That said, Crown Royal was one of the very first liquor brands I ever identified with. Why? Because like most geeky twelve year-olds, I viewed Crown Royal as the world’s premier makers of quality dice bags for D&D. And when you bought one, it came with free booze for Dad!
Now the Canadian whisky makers (in addition to being the only people besides the Scots who know how to spell that word) have as a whole perhaps the weirdest reputation in the liquor market. On the one hand, they have tremendous (though falling of late) market share and a huge swath of drinkers who pretty much wouldn’t think of drinking anything else. Yet, at the same time, Canadian whisky is viewed by many others as being at best weak tea. Or worse Old Man Booze. Cocktail snobs eschew it because they are under the impression that it is bland and uncomplex.
How do we explain these contradictory facts?
Prohibition, to a large extent.
When prohibition destroyed the US liquor industry, Canada’s remained strong (suspiciously strong if you were an enforcer of the Volstead Act).When the Great Experiment was over, about the only ready supply of good quality liquor was Canadian whisky. If you didn’t want crap for a long time, you drank Canadian. The residue of this still remains, from older folks who remember those days, to many of their kids whose Dad transmitted to them that Canadian was the best, and the other stuff was dicey. In short, there is good historical reason for Canadian whisky’s power in the American market.
But in the last half century, America’s own great distilling tradition has rebounded, and there is no longer in most minds the assumed superiority of Canadian brands. The old men who learned that axiom the hard way are fewer now. And the smooth blended flavors of Canada’s product were sneered at first by the Scotch groupies when Single Malts became a craze, then by the Bourbon boys as Kentucky and elsewhere responded with huge, bold liquors of their own in response to the market’s demand.
During this time, the Canadian’s haven’t really responded as much as they could have. The big dog not responding to market forces as quickly as it ought is not unique…. The difference of course between the Canadians and the automakers is that the Canadians’ product quality has remained excellent. It has been their innovation and marketing that has lagged.
The other difference is that they seem to be getting the idea of what is happening in the market and finding ways to respond. Witness: Crown Royal Black.
Crown Royal has actually introduced several new whiskys to the market recently, including Black. The idea seems to be to offer blends with bigger, bolder flavors that retain the signature Canadian smoothness. This makes sense to me. Retain your signature strengths while adding elements that have lured some of your market away.
With the Black, Crown Royal has opted to punch up its flagship blend with more oak. People seem to be of two minds about this, even those who like the spirit quite a bit. Oak and alcohol are a magical mix, but you do have to be careful. I gave up on California Chardonnays years ago when I kept fearing I was going to be picking oak splinters out of my teeth when drinking.
But it works here with Crown Royal Black. This is a big yet smooth whisky. The color is seriously dark. If you pour it next to other flagship Canadian whiskys, it is three or more times darker, darker even than most bourbons or ryes. It is less fruity than the regular Crown Royal and a bit more spicy as well. On the rocks, both the flavor and aroma open up nicely, making Crown Royal Black an excellent sipping whisky.
While I’ll likely drink most of the Black just that way, sipping on the rocks, it does mix well in some applications. And since this is Tiki Month, my next post will be a pretty darn good use for Crown Royal Black in a cocktail.
The following product, Crown Royal Black, was recently provided to me as promotional consideration to encourage me to discuss it.
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