Distiller Exclusive – Introducing Crown Royal Cornerstone BlendBy Jake Emen
Canadian whisky has been on the upswing recently, with enthusiasts happily exploring the range of high-end offerings from brands such as Forty Creek, and other interesting Canadian releases, such as Alberta Rye Dark Batch. Yet, the category needed something for the mainstream drinking public to latch onto. Therefore, the rise of Canadian whisky became official “booze news” when Crown Royal’s Northern Harvest Rye was tabbed by Jim Murray as his 2016 World Whisky of the Year.
That came as a surprise to many, signaling both the growing diversity of Canadian whisky as well as its potential to exceed preconceived notions and expectations of the category. While so often relegated to the role of a sweet, simple, mixing whisky, producers up north have been turning out some far more complex and dynamic whiskies.
Proud to be Canadian whisky
“Canadian whisky isn’t seen as this derisory term anymore which it had been for quite some time, as second class to bourbon or Scotch,” says Ewan Morgan, national director of Diageo Masters of Whisky. “Whereas now, people think there’s a lot of really interesting stuff coming out of Canada, [and say] ‘I’ll give it a shot.’”
Crown isn’t resting on their laurels, either. Their latest release, Crown Royal Cornerstone Blend, is the first in their Noble Collection, which will continue on as an annual limited edition series. The release was of course in the works long beforeNorthern Harvest gained all of that recent attention, however, it comes at the perfect time to capitalize on it.
“Winning the award was great, but they maybe looked at that and thought… let’s keep going and doing what we’re doing,” says Morgan. “This is a testament to something that was in the works way before that came around.”
Morgan reveals that the brand is taking an approach with almost two distinctive families of whisky. On one hand is their flavored releases, such as Regal Apple and Maple. “Then everything on the other side of the camp, looking at the great liquids that we have in inventory, and some of the aged stock we have in inventory and how they can play together,” says Morgan. “And using more of a percentage of the coffey rye which we only make for a month of the year.”
Cornerstone Blend is unique blend of three different whiskies, including that coffey rye. The whisky also has a rather intriguing story of origin, literally traversing the Canadian countryside to be safeguarded before its eventual release.
The plan behind Crown Royal Cornerstone Blend
“Our master blender said we need to have a contingency plan in case something goes wrong here and we’re left with no flavoring whiskies,” explains Morgan. For instance, if a warehouse fire or flood destroyed their stock of a particular whisky, there was no reserve supply elsewhere and the brand would have been left entirely empty handed.
The whiskies were made at Crown Royal’s distillery in Gimli, Manitoba, and aged for a minimum of eight years in first-fill American oak casks. The barrels were then dumped, and the whiskies were transferred via train tanker to separate warehousing at Crown’s Valleyfield facility.
Once there, the whiskies were put back into barrel for another year. They were then dumped and blended together, sent bank on tanker train to Gimli, and then barreled yet again. This time though they were barreled in older “D” barrels, which after already having been used for many maturation cycles, are seen as “inactive”. In other words, they’re storage vessels which don’t impart much or any additional flavors to the whiskies inside. “They didn’t want any cask activity, they just wanted them to marry,” says Morgan.
Three barrels and two cross-country train trips later, and Cornerstone Blend is the result. The blend consists of 61 percent “bourbon style” whisky (60 percent corn, 36 percent rye, 4 percent malted barley), 33 percent of a high rye (96 percent rye, 4 percent malted barley) whisky, and 6 percent of Crown’s coffey rye, featuring the same mash bill as the bourbon style whisky but distilled with Crown’s famed coffey still. The youngest whisky in the blend is eight years, and while it’s undisclosed which component that is, it’s likely the “bourbon style”, as it’s the bulk of the blend.
For a brand as large as Crown, Morgan says this is a “miniscule release”. Bottled at 40.3 percent ABV, Cornerstone Blend will hit shelves at the start of April 2016 at a recommended price of $59.99.
It’s a smooth, well-balanced dram – with fruits, vanilla, rye spice, baking spices – which manages to be both distinctively Crown, while also standing apart as something entirely new. If Canadian whisky is indeed having its year in 2016, this is an excellent way to start.
Crown Royal has more whiskies you still need to try!