I wish my father had been around to enjoy this whisky. A Crown Royal devotee, he would certainly have been impressed with its structure, elegance and complexity. He also would have ooed and ahhed at the sight of the oversized, shimmering golden crown top and lovingly caressed the silver velvet sack, a historical salute to the iconic purple versions of yore (which, as a kid, I would pinch from Dad's bar to illicitly store my marble collection in the pre-Xbox days of boyhood diversions).
Crown Royal is a brand synonymous with Samuel Bronfman, a man synonymous with Canadian whisky. "Mr. Sam" created the spirit for his Seagram company in 1939 in honour of the North American tour by reigning British monarchs King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. A mere 100 cases were reportedly made of that rich, mellow elixir, personally blended by the late, great Prohibition-era capitalist, who reputedly sampled from 600 barrels to come up with the final composition. Sam spared no expense to make that initial, tiny production run, placing five cases each on royal trains leaving Montreal and Ottawa, respectively, for the Canadian legs of the tour. (He held back 90 cases for personal use – as I would have.) Word of its quality got around and eventually Crown Royal was reproduced and launched as a going concern.
For the whisky's 75th anniversary, Crown Royal master blender Joanna Scandella dipped into the "library" of about 1.7 million barrels to mix and match special ingredients for what she felt would make the most suitable tribute. Most notably, this superpremium blend contains a high proportion of the fabled old stock known in the company as "coffey rye" – named after a still design invented by Irishman Aeneas Coffey – that has been maturing in barrels in Gimli, Man. She also sourced a precious quantity of intensely flavoured coffey rye from the distiller's Waterloo, Ont., warehouse, where Bronfman first made Crown Royal and which ceased production more than two decades ago.
"We really wanted to highlight the coffey rye," Scandella told me in Toronto recently, describing that spirit's flavour as "creamy-chocolate and fruity, but almost banana-like." The Gimli and Waterloo spirits also have been maturing for considerable time in charred oak, which imparts a smooth, caramel-like flavour and texture.
I'd say Scandella deserves to be crowned 2014's best whisky blender on the planet for Monarch alone. It's a tour de force, robust, nutty and more powerful than its 40-per-cent alcohol would suggest, with an invigorating backbone of spice giving structure to its fruity, rich depth.
A one-time-only blend, it's available in limited quantity across the country for a suggested retail price of $75. Grab a bottle before I buy them all.