Crown Royal XR LaSalle Canadian Whisky
Prune juice, sweet sherry, and black fruit, with spicy heat, clean oak, and a delectable mix of clean farm smells deep in a coniferous forest. A dash of black licorice accents a rich creaminess. ★★★★☆In 1924, Saskatchewan’s Bronfman brothers paid $11,000 to buy 11 acres of land near the Lachine Rapids in the Montreal suburb of Ville LaSalle, Quebec. Prohibition was in full swing in the United States in the Twenties. Still, the brothers, on a tour of Kentucky bourbon country, also bought Louisville’s silent Greenbrier distillery. Yes, they bought when others were selling or simply abandoning their distilleries. But the Bronfman boys had big ideas. No sooner had they purchased Greenbrier than they dismantled it and moved it, piece-by-piece to their vacant lot in LaSalle. There was no such thing as prohibition in Quebec, and Greenbrier’s stills were soon hot again with whisky spirit.Harry Bronfman had already built and operated a distillery of sorts – really a compounding plant – in Saskatchewan, so he took charge of the re-construction. Walking around the LaSalle site today, however, it is clear that Harry’s younger brother, Sam, had a lot to say about how the plant was built. Sam, you see, was a stickler for quality. He lived by two maxims: “Buy the best,” and “Go first class.” Looking at the remaining brick warehouses, even now his attention to design and architectural detail are obvious. Yes, figuratively speaking these buildings still have Sam Bronfman written all over them.Meanwhile, some 630 km west in Waterloo, Ontario, Joseph E. Seagram’s hugely successful distillery was suddenly struggling. Most of its customers were in the US, and with the introduction of Prohibition in 1920, that market evaporated. They still had their Canadian customers, and sold what they could sell to American bootleggers, but Seagram’s legitimate distributors south of the border were gone. Unable to sell enough of their 1.4 million gallons of maturing whisky, Seagram’s sons began looking for investors. And so, three years after they moved the Greenbrier distillery to LaSalle the Bronfmans bought Seagram’s Waterloo distillery for a $1.5 million song. The Bronfmans adopted the Seagram name for what would become their far-reaching whisky empire, and soon it was emblazoned on their water tower in LaSalle.And it was at Seagram’s Waterloo plant in 1939, that Sam Bronfman himself came up with the magic formula for Crown Royal. This whisky took Canada by storm, so much so that it eventually outgrew the aging Waterloo distillery and production shifted to a new plant in Gimli Manitoba. But Waterloo had a certain aura, a mystique, so when Diageo, which now owns the Crown Royal brand, was searching for some ultra-premium whisky they went to the last surviving barrels from Waterloo. These were then blended with Gimli whisky to make Crown Royal XR. XR was another show-stopper, to the extent that, at least in the US, supplies have now been exhausted. What to do?Andrew MacKay has inherited Sam Bronfman’s mantle as the blender for Crown Royal. Although the LaSalle distillery ceased production in 1996 the warehouses are still in use. Mostly they contain whisky from Gimli or Diageo’s other distillery in Valleyfield, but MacKay knew that tucked away there were also some original barrels of whisky, distilled right there at LaSalle.It’s not that these barrels had been “lost.” Each year’s grain crop has a different flavour profile depending on many environmental factors, the big one being the weather. As a result, each year the formulas for individual whiskies are tweaked and those barrels that don’t get emptied before the switch over to the new formula are set aside for some future use. That’s what happened in with these old barrels of maturing rye.When MacKay tasted the whisky in these barrels he realized that he had a batch of luscious, delectable rye flavouring whisky on his hands. Even as supplies of Waterloo whisky were dwindling, MacKay was tinkering away over a bench in his tasting lab blending samples of these whiskies with others produced in Gimli. The result? A brand new ultra-premium Crown Royal, this one called Extra Rare - XR LaSalle.So far distribution of XR LaSalle is limited to the US, but before Canadian whisky lovers get too bent out of shape it will eventually come back to Canada as well. Here is how MacKay explains the delay in releasing Crown Royal XR LaSalle Canadian whisky in Canada: “We are fortunate to have the last remaining cases of Crown Royal XR Waterloo available in Canada. While we look forward to having the Crown Royal XR LaSalle available in the near future, our focus is currently on the XR Waterloo, therefore no launch date can be confirmed at this time.”So there’s your hint. If you want a bottle of the original XR it can still be found on Canadian liquor store shelves. But don’t wait too long. And when it’s gone we’ll happily switch to the new XR LaSalle. Mad dashes by Canadians to the US to pick up a bottle of LaSalle are not necessary, but American connoisseurs wanting a last crack at XR Waterloo might want to consider a trek north in the not too distant future.Although it bears the same cachet, XR LaSalle is not an echo of XR Waterloo. Where the Waterloo whisky showed classic rye, caramel, butterscotch, the cleanest dry wood, and hints of peppermint, LaSalle is fruit right out of the gate. As much as XR Waterloo was elegant, XR LaSalle is bold. Waterloo developed slowly in the glass and in your mouth while LaSalle, like many heavy weight whiskies tells its story in précis, then brings you back to ponder the nuance. If XR was wine, Waterloo would be a long-cellared Grand Cru Burgundy, LaSalle a bursting-bold California Merlot.Nose: Very fruity with prune juice and cream sherry leading the way. Wonderfully complex with farmy hints of cow barn, cooked pork, and the most fragrant barnyard aromas, coupled with a mild but persistent fragrant anise – almost like licorice allsorts. Dark fruits dominate without swamping balsam, sweet wood and hints of pitchy pinecones. Peach or apricot-like aromas soon wash into sour pickle juice and ester-sweet solvent. Rich in spices, Christmas pudding aromas exude sticky cooked black fruit. Yes, it’s a big nose.Palate: Rich, creamy, mouth filling, and jam packed with prune juice and fresh peaches. The palate departs from the nose in tones of spicy hot pepper, and cords of scrumptious clean oak in the middle. As the oak moves further forward than in the original XR it loses some of its crispness and elegance. Rather, its velvety texture caresses but stimulates the palate like citrus peel, yet without the citrus notes. Some odd things begin to appear, for there among the hot rye spices, vegetal notes almost reminiscent of sage, tease the tongue, while amidst the creamy sweetness, tart green fruit takes playful stabs at a complex range of maple essences. A broad range of rye spices – cloves, cinnamon, ginger, perhaps nutmeg – bolster a long peppery burn. Lovely stuff this.Finish: Long, warm and spicy, with hints of clean oak. Initial notes of dark fruit dissolve into stewed peaches.Empty Glass: Only mildly fruity, emphasizing more of the rye whisky notes – camphor, cloves, mint, and sweet & sour sauce. Mildly oaky overtones evoke age while hints of toasty fried potatoes enhance stronger caramel aromas.Suggested retail price in the US $129.99Highly Recommended. ★★★★☆Here is what Chip Dykstra - The Rum Howler - thinks of Crown Royal XR LaSalle.The original Crown Royal XR from Waterloo Distillery is reviewed here.Crown Royal Black is reviewed here.Crown Royal Cask 16 is reviewed here.Crown Royal Limited Edition is reviewed here.Vintage Crown Royal Fine DeLuxe from 1963 is reviewed here.