By Father John Rayls
Crown Royal Distillery is located about 1.5 hours north of beautiful Winnipeg, Manitoba in Gimli near the shores of Lake Winnipeg one of the ten largest freshwater lakes in the world. Along with the 6,000 residents of Gimli, Diageo (owners of Crown Royal) are currently aging 1.56 million barrels of whisky on 360 acres in 50 warehouses. Let that barrel number sink in a while. It’s truly staggering. Bottling is no longer done on this site, but most of the aged whisky is shipped east before being released for retailing after bottling. Canada is a very nice place that’s filled with lots of very nice people and Manitoba, in particular. You’ve probably heard of “Canadian Nice”. It’s simply a part of the culture. Just like the people who live and work there, Canadian whisky reflects the culture of niceness. Don’t think of the loud guy at the head of the table, but rather the quiet, self-confident individual holding court somewhere discreet away from the spotlight. It’s nice and smooth and consistent. The bottom line truth about almost all whisky from Canada is – it’s all about the blend. This is especially true of Crown Royal.
Crown Royal distills about 50 different whiskies to achieve the desired final flavor by crafting a specific blend for a specific flavor. (Please see Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel for the exception and it’s my favorite Canadian). The 50 different whiskies are further divided into 5 distinct categories:
All five categories are not always used, but in most cases they are all included to varying degrees. In addition, the Canadian Whiskey Rules are flexible and few in number. They consist of two absolutes: 1) It must be aged for a minimum of three years; 2) it must be aged in oak. In addition, the mashbill (there is some debate about this term in Canada) must be from cereal grains, aged in barrels smaller than 700 liters, and mashed, distilled, and aged in Canada. Generally, rye is used for flavoring and can be any percentage (normally a small; one) in the mashbill. However, Canadians often refer to all of their whisky as rye (a historical term) which causes some confusion for other North Americans who are accustomed to less freedom and flexibility in their whisky-making. One additional uniqueness is that the whisky is aged and then blended before bottling to secure its specific flavor profile. Canadian whisky can also add flavoring and coloring up to about 9% and Canadians reuse their barrels many times which helps promote their smooth bottle after bottle consistency.
Crown Royal was originally developed in 1939 to honor the English King George VI and Queen Elizabeth who were the first reigning monarchs to visit Canada. Approximately 10 cases were given and stocked their train for the tour. It wasn’t released to the US market until the 1960’s and Texas led the way. Supposedly, the Canadian oil workers in Texas demanded their own whisky designed for their tastes. It’s interesting to note that it is still the best selling whisky in Texas. Crown Royal is also the best selling Canadian whisky in America. The unique bottles and presentation bags are still the identifying calling cards for Crown Royal.