Crown Royal is a Canadian blended whiskey, or as this type is spelled, whisky. Specifically, it's a blend of 50 whiskies, each of which are produced in individual warehouses located on the company's 360-acre site situated along Lake Winnipeg in Gimli, Manitoba, Canada.
Created in 1939 by Samuel Bronfman, then president of Seagram's, this Canadian whiskey was crafted in honor of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the first reigning monarchs to visit Canada. Reputedly, Samuel made 600 trials before he was satisfied with the finished product, a signature blend known today as Crown Royal Blended Canadian Whisky. The blend still comes in the same distinctive cut glass bottle and purple sack with gold trim and tasseled drawstring that was presented to the king and queen 80 years ago. The recipe and process for making it also remain the same, with the essential Crown Royal ingredients of locally sourced grains and the use of charred-oak barrels.
Production of Crown Royal Whiskey
The Crown Royal Company property has a single stillhouse, in which more than 1.5 million barrels of whisky reside at any one time – that's more barrels than the population of Manitoba. Production runs nonstop 24 hours a day, seven days a week; it requires approximately 10,000 bushels of corn, rye and barley and roughly 900,000 gallons of water each day. At least 80 percent of the grains are obtained from Manitoba and other local provinces, and the water used in production comes from nearby Lake Winnipeg, which is naturally filtered by limestone in the lake bed. The choice of grains used in the blend is a matter of taste as well as practicality: Corn, rye and barley are able to withstand the subzero temperatures characteristic of the region.
Crown Royal Ingredients: Rye
Rye (Secale cereale) is a cultivated grass, forage crop and cereal grain in the same class as wheat and barley. Most people are familiar with the milled grain as a flour used to make rye bread and pumpernickel, but the grain also has a long history of use in the production of booze. In fact, most vodkas contain rye, and the grain is a key component of rye beer and rye whiskey.
Technically, Crown Royal is not a rye whisky. It may, however, contain varying amounts of rye grain that would ordinarily constitute the definition of rye whisky – if it were produced just about anywhere else beside Canada. Originally, wheat was part of the formula because it was the predominant grain milled at the time. Rye didn't make an appearance in Canadian whisky until the 19th century, when some unknown enthusiast imagined the two grains would work together. This new wheat-based whisky with a bit of rye tossed in is what makes Canadian whiskey distinctly Canadian.
In the United States, rye whisky cannot be labeled as such unless it contains 51 percent rye. Here's the difference: U.S. distillers combine the grains before mashing them in to a mixture called a mashed bill. Canadian distillers mash the grains individually and then combine them as separate whiskies. This means that Canadian blended whisky may contain a lot of rye or none at all. In short, there are no rules regarding rye that Canadian distillers must follow.
Contemporary Canadian whiskies, including Crown Royal, rely more on corn and wheat than rye, but the latter does lend detectable notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and other warm spices. Aged in oak barrels, Canadian blended whisky is known for its smooth, spicy and slightly fruity flavor profile with a hint of vanilla.
Crown Royal Ingredients: Corn
Corn (Zea mays) is an annual plant and domesticated grain in the grass family that is believed to have first been cultivated in Mexico more than 10,000 years ago. Today, corn is widely known as a fodder crop for cattle and to people as an essential part of backyard barbecues when dripping with sweet butter. Then there's popped corn.
Corn has also been a traditional element of Canadian blended whisky, but some Royal Crown blends contain a higher concentration. Crown Royal Bourbon Mash, for example, has a mash bill of 64 percent corn, compared to only 31.5 percent rye and 4.5 percent malted barley. Despite the moniker, this product is not a bourbon mash and its authorized labeling as such caused quite a stir. Within a few short months of coming on the market, bottles carried a sticker that read "Not a Bourbon Whiskey" and the official name change to Blenders’ Mash soon followed. It's interesting to note that fermented corn yields a higher concentration than some other grains – at least 14 percent alcohol is the average, compared to 8 percent for rye.
Crown Royal Ingredients: Barley
Barley (Hordeum vulgare) is one of the earliest cultivated grains. It was first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent, a region in the Middle East that includes modern Iraq, Egypt, Syria and Israel. For thousands of years, milled barley has been used as a flour for breads and the roasted grain as a coffee substitute. It is also used to make beer and blended with wheat and corn to make Scotch whisky. In fact, it is the most important grain when it comes to whisky production. As with other whiskies, the presence of barley gives Canadian whisky a toasted caramel-toffee flavor.
Crown Royal Flavors
Crown Royal produces many varieties of blended Canadian whiskies that are designated to one of three categories: Signature Series, Master Series and Flavor Series. There is also a collection of Retired Whiskeys that may still be available for purchase (if you're lucky), but they are no longer in production. The latter group includes Crown Royal XR Red and the Cornerstone Blend.
The Signature Series includes the previously described rye-whisky-that's-not-a-rye-whisky, Blender's Mash, and Crown Royal Deluxe, which most closely represents the original handcrafted for the King and Queen of England. Another notable member of this group is Crown Royal Black, blended with the same characteristics as the original, but with a higher proof and depth of dried fruit and maple notes.
The Master Series includes Crown Royal Wine Barrel Finished, Crown Royal Reserve, Crown Royal XO and Crown Royal XR. The primary difference between these blends is how they are aged. The XO blend, for example, is aged in cognac casks to produce a smooth whisky with notes of dried fruit, spice and vanilla. The Reserve blend features rye with the sharp, bright undertones of clove and cinnamon.
The Flavor Series contains several varieties of specific flavors identified by their titles – Apple, Peach and Vanilla flavored with Madagascar bourbon vanilla. The Texas Mesquite and Salted Caramel blends get their unique flavors from Texas mesquite wood and creamy salted caramel, respectively.
Crown Royal Price
Crown Royal is well known as the best-selling blended Canadian whisky in the U.S. , consistently from year to year, ever since it was introduced to America in the mid-1960s. Pricing varies depending on region and the blend, as well as any other market conditions that might affect production. Here's a sampling of the current average prices you can expect to pay for Crown Royal:
- Crown Royal Deluxe Canadian Whiskey 750 ml: $29.99
- Crown Royal XO Canadian Whisky 750 ml: $49.99
- Crown Royal XR Canadian Whisky 750 ml: $139.99
- Crown Royal Black 750 ml: $31.99
- Crown Royal Bourbon Mash Canadian Whisky 750 ml: $29.99
- Crown Royal Vanilla Canadian Whisky 750 ml: $24.97
- Crown Royal Texas Mesquite Canadian Whisky 750 ml: $29.99
Blending Whisky in Cocktails
Many people enjoy sipping Crown Royal as-is, neat or on the rocks. But these blended whiskies also lend exceptional flavor and character to other forms of libation. The Washington Apple cocktail, for instance, is a concoction of Canadian whisky, sour apple schnapps and cranberry juice, garnished with a slice of apple. Crown Royal blends higher in rye content pair well with vermouth for the classic Manhattan or an Old-Fashioned. Here are a few more possible combinations for inspiration:
- Redcoat: Canadian whisky, grapefruit juice, lemon juice, maraschino cherry
- Maple Leaf: Canadian whisky, lemon juice, maple syrup
- Harlequin: Canadian whisky, sweet vermouth, orange bitters, grape
- Marlene Dietrich: Canadian whisky, orange curacao, bitters, lemon, orange
- Vancouver Breeze: Canadian whisky, grenadine, lemon juice, orange juice, Kümmel, lemon zest
Karyn is a seasoned herbalist, book author, columnist and freelance writer who specializes in holistic living and natural health. She has written for numerous magazines, including Natural Living Today, Real Woman, The Herb Quarterly, Your Health, American Fitness, Mother Earth News, Better Nutrition and Natural Pharmacy, and her books are published in seven languages. Karyn also blogs for Mother Earth Living.