Crown Royal Cask No. 16 (40% alc./vol.)
Peaches, apricots, Concord grapes and Port wine with rye spices, hot white pepper, peach pits and bitter lemon. Fresh-cut lumber. Fruity & Spicy.★★★★☆ From great passion comes great achievement. The conviction that “good enough” is simply not good enough has given rise to great artists, musicians, scientists, and (grudgingly, he says) great politicians too. Occasionally these larger-than-life figures remember humble beginnings, but that is a rare occurrence. When it happens, people take note.It was Sam Bronfman’s bluster and not his humility that people noticed when he was alive. Some forty years after his death, it’s his legendary temper that people seem to remember best. And remember they do, for in the world of whisky he was a veritable giant. Foremost among his contributions was how he raised the craft of blending whisky to an art. His successors follow faithfully in his footsteps with their own commitment to the art of blending.Bronfman’s vulgar outbursts and tempestuous nature also linger on, but in infamy, causing certain hearts to tremble, even now, in Crown Royal’s blending lab. That’s as good an explanation as any as to what drives these folks to keep reaching for perfection. It might just be that Bronfman’s own driven but undeniable talent simply set a good – and lasting – example. Whatever the case, his artistic hand is clear in this most robust of Crown Royals.Diageo master blender, Andrew MacKay, blends Cask No. 16. He led the team at Crown Royal that developed this rich fruity whisky. And MacKay’s whisky pedigree, in just a few short steps, can be traced directly back to Sam Bronfman. MacKay learned to blend whisky working with Crown Royal master blender, Mike Connors. Connors, in turn, developed his own blending skills under the tutelage of Uve von Harpe. Von Harpe was Art Dawe’s protégé at Crown Royal, and Dawe, it is said, apprenticed at the knee of Bronfman himself. Bronfman-Dawe-von Harpe-Connors-MacKay: no six degrees of whisky separation here.Each year in February a new batch of Cognac casks is pulled out of Diageo’s barrel storeage shed at Gimli, Manitoba, and unwrapped in preparation to receive whisky. In 2013, sadly, this was done for the final time. The empty casks (shown in the picture) have been carefully wrapped in plastic since their arrival from France, to prevent them from drying out. These casks are made from a European species of oak known as Quercus robur. Although the geographic range of Quercus robur covers most of Europe and the British Isles, the wood for these particular barrels comes from a forest in Limousin, France. Casks from this region can be identified by the number ‘16’ stamped on each barrel head. European oak is spicier than American white oak and it’s a lot less tannic. And because they have held Cognac, these barrels are also very, very fruity.For more than a decade, it has been very common for Scotch producers to use wine barrels to add subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) flavour to mature whisky, but this is not a common practice in Canada. In fact, Cask 16 is the first ‘finished’ whisky in the Crown Royal range. After having been matured and blended, the whisky is re-barreled into these Cognac casks for a period of marrying and finishing. In the magic hands of Bronfman’s successors, this has created the fruitiest Crown Royal ever. And while overt Cognac notes are nowhere to be found, juicy ripe peaches abound.2013 is the last year that Cask 16 will be produced, and only enough will be made to fill Canadian orders. Travellers to Canada this year may want to pick up a bottle when they see it. Once this batch is gone there will be no more, and that is a loss for whisky drinkers everywhere.Nose: The rich effusions of a crowded autumn fruit market with its hodge-podge medley of fresh-picked over-ripe peaches, fragrant dried apricots, bursting-ripe muscadine grapes, myriad oranges, and sticky black fruit that meld with canned mandarins into an exotic fruit cocktail. Winey notes of Concord grape juice, cream sherry, and sweet red wine enrich the fruitiness with slight traces of spirit. Molasses with smidgens of French cream candy, icing sugar, and Kool-Aid predict sweetness on the tongue. Faint floral bouquets, dry herbs, fresh-turned clay earth, and the familiar scent of Christmas cake, along with hot pine sawdust remind us that this is not an over-fortified Port: It is without any doubt, Canadian whisky. This big meaty nose with its worn-leather overtones and dark licorice swizzle is to Canadian whisky what fruit-forward California Merlot is to Burgundy.Palate: Sweet, rich and creamy with a luscious, filling mouthfeel. The balance leans strongly towards fruit and wine with a complexity that synthesizes peaches, peach syrup, figs, sweet-sharp dried fruits, black fruits, limes, musty grape juice, peach liqueur, cream sherry, hints of red wine, and flashes of Cognac and Port. Wow! That’s a lot of fruit! But it’s held tentatively in check by pleasing bitter notes that include grape skins, peach pits and just a hint of lime pith.The welcome piquancy of hot pepper builds slowly and lingers long. Distinct rye spiciness, reminiscent of spicy ginger ale, adds a tingling bubbly feel to the heat. The rye tones persist with Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, and hints of earthy rye grain, but honestly, unless you look for it, rye is not all that obvious when you taste this whisky. Rather, the fruity flavours remain at the fore, enhanced by the sweetness of fudge, brown sugar, and vanilla, tempered only slightly by bitter lemon and a cleansing zestiness. Floral perfume wafts in and out, as do hints of licorice, and a sweet spiciness reminiscent of clove oil. Sipped slowly, this is a whisky that continues to evolve in the glass and in the mouth.Finish: Medium-long and fading. Hot pepper and spices with just murmurs of sweet baking spices take over in the finish, along with lots of bitter lemon soda, lemon pith, and cleansing citric zest. Still, the fruitiness persists right until the end with dried black fruit and figs. And once the sweetest fruit has begun to subside, hints of fresh oak peek through.Empty Glass: Sweet and fragrant with prune juice, red wine, peaches and apricots, toffee, lots of caramel, and lots of fresh-cut wood, then sweet aromas of balsam, lilacs, and floral perfume. And way in the background, the vaguest hints of stale beer, sour fruit, musty fruit, and French’s mustard.$99.95 at LCBO.Highly Recommended. ★★★★☆Crown Royal Limited Edition reviewed here.Crown Royal Black reviewed here.Crown Royal Extra Rare reviewed here.Crown Royal Fine De Luxe (from 1963) reviewed here.Josh Feldman discovers the joys of Cask No. 16.