My Very Own Crown Royal
A truck load of luscious butterscotch chocolate bars oozing onto dark ripe fruit, lively spices, clean crisp oak, simmering white pepper and citrus zest. Big, big whisky.A year ago, when Dave Broom and I traveled to Gimli, Manitoba to see where Crown Royal is made, we had no idea what awaited us. Our host, Dwayne Kozlowski led us on an extended tour of the distillery then asked if we’d like to taste some of the more than 50 whiskies that go into making Canada’s best-selling blend.What really got our attention was the Coffey rye – rye whisky distilled in North America’s last remaining real Coffey still. Rich, spicy, fruity and floral, it was stellar.“This is so great you should bottle it on its own,” we enthused when Diageo’s Canadian Vice-President, Pauline Rooney popped in to say “Hi.”Pauline has gone on to become a bigwig in the US Diageo organization and chairwoman of the Kentucky Distillers' Association. Before she left Canada, though, she passed on our love of Crown Royal Coffey Rye to her brand managers. By December they had launched a single-barrel pilot project in Texas, and they chose to release this special whisky at 103 proof - 51.5% abv. Yes, barrel strength Canadian whisky.The whisky, dubbed “Hand Selected Barrel,” became an instant success. So much so, that what was intended as a reward for Crown Royal’s most loyal customers in Texas, is spreading right across America. As the name suggests, Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel is sold in barrel lots to individual liquor stores. Since it is single barrel whisky, each store’s version is unique.I was feeling pretty good to have helped come up with the idea, so imagine my delight when I was invited to celebrate the success of Hand Selected Barrel by picking my own barrel for distribution to media. On a cold Gimli day I was back at the distillery tasting samples Kozlowski had pulled from various barrels in three warehouses. I nosed carefully and sipped slowly, both at full barrel strength and with the whisky diluted to about 23%. They all were great but I had to choose one.In the end I picked a barrel that was filled to brimming with butterscotch, fruit, zesty spices and searing pepper. I’ve not given it a score. It’s my barrel and I feel a certain ownership that could influence my objectivity.A huge thank you to Crown Royal. As an independent reviewer, I don’t accept payment for experiences like this. It is part of the learning that feeds my work as a whisky writer. I am very grateful, however, to the people at Crown Royal who valued my input and provided a great learning experience for me and I hope for themselves too.Thanks to Mark Gillespie at WhiskCast.com for the bottle photo.