December 12, 2013

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Our man on the barstool salutes the glory of Crown Royal

THIS IS THE TIME OF YEAR WHEN A MAN’S THOUGHTS TURN to brown liquor. Having been a single man for the better part of a decade, I am accustomed to one of the great privileges of being unmarried with no family nearby—being able to celebrate the best parts of the holidays and retreat from the worst parts with an old-fashioned tumbler, a few cubes of ice and a generous pour of whiskey. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with friends and occasionally flying out to the Arizona desert to sit around with the boring, old married people that still admit to being part of my family. Over the years, I’ve also had more than my share of single-man, hotel-bar holiday parties, which can be spectacular in their understated, minimalist glory. The greatest joys I have found in these solo holiday festivities are the complete absence of judgment and generous helpings of freedom to enjoy my favorite holiday beverage: Canadian whisky. 

Two points need to be made here. First, this is  my personal preference of holiday beverage. I do not drink eggnog for the same reason I do not drink pancake batter. Second, Canadians spell whisky in the Scottish fashion, without an “e”, unlike spirits from the U.S. or Ireland, where the “e” is included.

Canadian whisky, like bourbon, is a uniquely North American spirit and Crown Royal is the world’s most popular brand of Canadian whisky. Crown Royal is aged in charred, white American oak barrels for a minimum of three years before being placed into huge blending vats where whiskies of various ages come together to produce a consistent blend from year to year (the bottle label can only carry the age statement of the youngest spirit used). 

That’s why a bottle of Crown Royal produced today is likely to have the same taste profile as a bottle purchased 10, 20 or more years ago.  After blending, the whisky is returned to barrels to allow the newly combined whiskies to merge, mellow and settle before being bottled and slipped into those iconic purple velvet bags. 

While I cut my whisky tooth on the original version with its smooth, almost creamy taste and slight hints of vanilla and oak, I quickly switched to Royal Crown Black when it was introduced in 2010. Crown Black makes me want to sit in an old leather chair, smoke cigarettes and listen to the scratch and pop of old Tom Waits vinyl on my RCA turntable with its 20-year-old needle. Crown Black is higher proof, with a concentrated flavor reminiscent of bourbon, but with a rich texture and smoothness that invites my eyes into a long, slow, comforting blink after each sip.

While I’m partial to sipping my whisky neat or poured over a few crystal-clear cubes of ice, there are those who prefer theirs mixed with a little of that sweet Southern serum, Coca Cola, to create the legendary Crown and Coke. I was recently convinced by Marie Walther, bartender extraordinaire and manager at The Palms, to try their Royal Apple Martini made with Crown Deluxe, Apple Schnapps and cranberry juice.  While I was concerned my man card would be stripped from me unceremoniously if I were spotted holding this muted, pastel beverage, I have to admit it was tasty, which is not terribly surprising since it did have a generous pour of Crown in it.

Sensing my aversion to fruit flavors mixed with whisky and knowing my slavish devotion to breakfast foods, Marie convinced me to try the distillery’s most recent addition, Crown Royal Maple Finished Whiskey. She brought the bottle over for me to investigate and when I removed the cap I was whisked away to a kitchen where Mrs. Butterworth and Aunt Jemima were doing whiskey shots over a batch of flapjacks and syrup. 

My first impression was that they went a little heavy on the “natural maple flavor,” regardless of what they did with their toast and their oak, but the good news is the smell dissipates quickly and come drinking time, the pent-up pancake rage has mostly passed and you’re left with a smooth and credible whisky that smells like maple syrup but tastes predominantly of smoky caramel. 

I’m hooked, whether it be Crown Black over ice, Deluxe with a splash of Coke, or Maple with a shot of OJ and a strip of bacon, Canadian whisky is my jam. Peace out.


December 12, 2013

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