Probably the two biggest selling Canadian whiskies, representing two contrasting interpretations of the corn-rye blended mash bill style of Canadian whisky cry out to be compared head to head. Here I am stuck on an airliner over the Atlantic for 8 hours with an airline bottle of each. It's time.
Davin De Kergommeaux, in the beginning of Chapter 7 of his landmark book Canadian Whisky, The Portable Expert writes
"The Canadian approach to making whisky is to develop the different flavor elements separately and then bring them together to create the final product that is new and unique, while at the same time evincing the brand's house style. A new Gibson's whisky will always be creamy and voluptuous; Crown Royal will always have elements of bourbon and vanilla; Canadian Club will always be known for its fruitiness..."
How will these two low cost base expressions evince these big brand's house styles?
Canadian Club 6 40%
$13-$15/750ml in NYC area for a NAS labelled version. This 6 year age statement labeled miniature came off an airline beverage cart.
Color: Pale Amber
Nose: Soft vanilla fudge, medicinal alcohol, distant cedars.
Palate: soft sweet creme caramel, and fruity notes of prune and apricot, yielding shortly to a surprising amount of spirit heat for a 40% abv. spirit.
Medicinal rubbing alcohol flavors make an unwelcome intrusion at the mid-palate. Grapefruit citrus and evergreen scented oak show at the turn to the finish. The finish itself is rather nice - soft and malty with gentle cherry malt and wheat flavors - and of a surprising duration given how light the flavor signature is up front. However the rubbing alcohol flavors of grain neutral spirits that appear in the nose and mid-palate spoil the show for me. Drinkable, particularly mixed, but not worthy of recommendation for sipping neat.
Crown Royal 40% "Fine De Luxe Canadian Whisky"$24-$28/750ml in NYC area
Color: Pale Amber
Nose: Bourbony notes of corn driven stewed peaches, nougat, creamed corn, soft vanilla cream soda,
Palate: sweet bold opening with gentle tangy pink grapefruit citrus and vanilla cherry-cream fudge and some creamed corn flavors meeting a pleasant effervescent spirit heat. The mid-palate blooms with herbal and pine notes joining the vanilla fudge sweetness. Some rubbing alcohol notes of grain neutral spirits are noted, but only slightly - they aren't as distracting as in the CC 6. The
turn to the finish has the soft cherry malt and vanillin notes creamy, sweet, meet a muted grapefruit bitterness and a hint of tannic bite. The finish is gentle, malty cherry vanilla sweet with lingering grapefruit bitter notes and is medium short. Not an epicurean experience, but distinctly sippable for a blend and full of characteristic Canadian whisky flavors of the corn base whisky school. My main complaint is the waft of grain neutral spirit rubbing alcohol in the mid-palate - but it's not a fatal flaw for me. Unusually, for me, Crown Royal is much more vibrant and fully flavored freshly poured, without the period of airing time that I usually find mandatory when dramming.
I don't need to paint this out, right? Canadian Club 6 is the bottom rung on on a substantial ladder of CC products which include some seriously premium selections. It hits a very low price point put promises to have some of the flavor profile which has established this line for over a century. However it is unbalanced by too much raw alcohol flavor. It is clearly intended as a mixer and that's all its good for. Crown Royal, another classic and bottom rung on a big series is clearly meant as a sipper. It's almost twice the price, but the premium appears justified. I enjoyed sipping it neat and will certainly do so again.
Update: I realize I should compare Canadian Club Classic 12 with Crown Royal for price parity. That would be a fairer fight. I'll have to revisit this in a future post.
(Note: airline plastic cups are pictured depicting color for fun - as part of the airline theme of this post. Such cups are useless for drinking whisky, however. All aromas are lost and the flavors are seriously muted. I know, I tried. I carry a mini-glencairn "perfect dram" glass for such situations).