Crown Royal Fine De Luxe from 1963 (40% alc./vol.)
A complex synthesis of ginger, clove oil, hot white pepper, cedar lumber, prunes, with fresh spring lilacs and pansies and wilted tobacco. Caramel, vanilla, and cleansing citric pith. Rich & Oaky. ★★★★★
This splendid old Crown Royal was part of a collection dating back to the early 1950s. Robust yet elegant, forthright yet subtle, complex yet integrated to the point of symphony, it was sheer indulgence on the palate. The Waterloo distillery where this ambrosial delight was made is gone now, converted to condos, offices, and parking lots. However, this particular bottling remains as the apogee of the blender’s art, and nothing short of Sam Bronfman’s legacy of quality and taste.
When Seagram’s built an extensive new distillery in Gimli, Manitoba in 1969, they were responding to burgeoning worldwide demand for Canadian whisky. But by the early 1980s that demand had waned in favour of white spirits. The writing was on the wall for the future of the famed Waterloo plant. But unlike many other commercial enterprises, Seagram’s was in no hurry to turn its back on its heritage. Indeed, the company struggled to keep the Waterloo plant operating, at least to some degree, until November 1992, when finally, all operations ceased. A few months after its closure a fire quickly destroyed any lingering nostalgic hope that this noble old plant might one day reopen. Truly, this old Crown Royal from 1963 is bottled history that can never be remade. And yet, almost 50 years after its youngest component whisky was distilled this vintage bottle was so inexpensive to buy.
People often send notes to canadianwhisky.org wanting to know the value of an old bottle of whisky. That’s a good thing in one way, but not so good in another. Since I do collect old Canadian whisky, it’s nice to have first chance to purchase a rare old bottle. But often when I tell people how much, or rather how little their old whisky is actually worth, they are left disappointed, wondering if I am just low-balling them in hopes of getting a bargain.
There are two reliable sources of information for the current values of old bottles. The first is the results database of whiskyauction.com, a high-volume German website that keeps records of past sales dating back to 1997. Here, the bottles are listed alphabetically by country making it pretty easy to find what you are looking for. There is also a search function. But the prices on this site are European prices. Should a Canadian collector find a comparable bottle in Canada they will certainly pay more in comparison to these European prices.
The other source of pricing information is the ubiquitous e-Bay. Someone wanting to establish the value of an old bottle can search Canadian whisky on e-Bay to see what’s for sale and what the bidding is like. The results are often surprising, and unless you are a collector, downright disappointing. For example recent sales have included a 1937 Canadian Club which sold to the only bidder for $150. A 1952 Wiser's Oldest in a round bottle drew only 6 bids and sold for $66.67, and a bottle of Canadian Masterpiece from 1959 listed at $95.00 drew no bidders at all. Generally speaking, Crown Royal gets more interest than most other brands. Recent sales on e-Bay include a 1965 which sold for $87.29 and one listed as 1958 which sold for $103.32. Rare bottles, that is unknown ones, often draw no interest at all.
Incidentally, sellers often date their old tax-stamped whisky incorrectly, so be careful. The date on the tax stamp (see inset above) is the date that the youngest whisky in the bottle was distilled, NOT the date it was bottled. So if the whisky has an age statement, don't count backwards from the date on the tax stamp to figure out what year it is from. It is from the year stated on the tax stamp. As well, whisky is not considered to age in the bottle, so a 15-year-old whisky from 1952 is still 15 years old.
For Canadians buying whisky from outside the country there is also another twist. It’s called the law. It is illegal for consumers to have whisky shipped to Canada. If we pick up a single bottle on our travels, and have been out of the country long enough, there is no problem bringing it home. However if we drive across the border to pick it up and return the same day then we have to pay duty on it. This also requires producing a receipt since the duty is based on the purchase price. Duty varies from province to province. In Ontario, for example, you can end up paying double since the duty and other charges can be as high as 100%. Luckily, although the ’63 Crown Royal bottle I sourced has an American label on it, I found it right here in Canada.
Nose: A complex delight from the very first whiff of gingerbread and fresh-cut dry cedar lumber to the vague citric notes that reveal themselves on exhaling. While prunes and other black fruits sit front and centre, fresh red apples, caramel, vanilla, sweet peaches-and-cream corn, and vague hints of sweet-and-sour sauce come forward as well, only to be bolstered by clove oil and the whole gamut of rye spices. It has a dark complexity that only decades in the barrel can produce. This fills your nose with the dusky scent of leathery tobacco leaves hanging wilted in the kiln, and fresh sweet caporal cigarette rolling tobacco. And then there are lilacs and pansies, the prototypical floral aromas of well-aged rye. The nose of this 100% Waterloo whisky is a little more robust than Crown Royal XR, which it resembles, and is much creamier and fruitier than today’s De Luxe.
Palate: Rich and creamy with sweet caramel and vanilla that is kept in strict control by a base of citric pith and the vaguest hints of oak tannins. Tingling hot white pepper evolves into even hotter cinnamon, hints of ginger and in the middle, clove oil, keeping the palate bright and alive. These joust, but playfully, with vague almost musty river plants, and a cleansing, cooling white grapefruit pith. The clean crisp oak of the nose is prominent here as well, though this whisky is so complex and tightly integrated that individual notes can just pop out for an instant’s recognition before re-joining the blend. The whisky is lush and full-bodied with a vaguely milk-chocolate feel.
In addition to the luxuriant corn-derived mouthfeel, this whisky showcases the full range of typical rye spices including cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger. Then come the breadth of undefined fruitiness and the sweet floral notes of pansies, violets, and lilacs. But there’s even more! There’s an almost fragile brittleness found only in old Canadian rye. It is much creamier and lusher than Crown Royal De Luxe, with lots more wood and dark fruits. It is also woodier, creamier, more pithy and much spicier than Crown Royal Reserve. Tasting next to Crown XR provides a marvelous revelation as notes of nutmeg waft from the 1963 Crown Royal. Although prunes are obvious right from the start in the vintage Fine De Luxe, it is not nearly as lushly fruity as Crown Royal Cask 16. The elegance of the old timer is better reflected in today’s Crown Royal Limited Edition, although this youngster is somewhat sweeter and its fire just a tad hotter. Next to the 1963 edition, Crown Royal Black tastes more of bourbon than rye. It’s amazing how whiskies show so differently when tasted in different company.
Finish: A medium fade on citric zest, pith, and vague peppery fruitiness leaves you wanting more. It certainly does not have the staying power of the modern Crown Royals.
Empty Glass: The morning-after glass just gushes with caramel, then slowly come hints of dry lumber. Unlike Crown XR there are no balancing sour notes, not that the Crown Royal blenders ever dreamt that someone might be intent on smelling their creation the morning after, never mind talking about it!
This bottle was sold by a collector for $75.00. Old bottles of Crown Royal often sell on e-Bay in the $30 to $100 range. Considering the flavour, those are bargains indeed.
Very Highly Recommended. ★★★★★