Crown Royal

I’ve had a bottle of Kirkland Signature Blended Canadian Whiskey sitting on my liquor shelf for a while, and I’ve been looking forward to trying it. But, when I was about to open it one day, I realized that its royal purple label with gold accents was meant to resemble Crown Royal whiskey, what is probably the single biggest brand of Canadian blended whiskey in the US. Having never tried Crown Royal, I didn’t want to taste Kirkland’s take on the category until I knew what they were comparing themselves to.

Having more than a few bottles waiting to be tasted, written up, and photographed, it’s actually been a few months until I’ve had a spot in my budget, time to shop for, and an opportunity to taste the so called “legendary import” that is Crown Royal whiskey. Since I’ve really been looking forward to that Costco bottle though, I knew I couldn’t put off trying out Crown any longer.

Box Logo
The simple exterior packaging of Crown Royal

Everything about Crown Royal tries to impress upon you that it is, in fact, royal. It comes in a royal purple box with gold and red accents. The box its self eschews any busyness, except an embossment of the gold trim to make it resemble a rope. There’s no cluttered text, no excess of logos, slogans, or other gimmicky advertising hoopla to be found. The manufacturer has kept the box just about as simple as possible, as if to try and keep the buyer from being distracted. Once the box is open though, things start changing.

SackHaving never had Crown Royal, I was a bit surprised to find in the box not a bottle, but a cloth bag cinched with a golden yarn. Like the box, the bag is royal purple, with gold stitching, and the Crown Royal logo stitched into one side. It’s made of soft cotton cloth, using a weave that looks like canvas but is much more supple and doesn’t seem as tough.

GlowIn the bag, the bottle is the exact opposite of the box. The labels have a splotchy background meant to look like yellowing parchment, and are completely packed with imagery and text. The front label has pictures of curtains with tassels, a crown on a pillow, a logo, calligraphic font slogans, and a scroll. The back is filled with all the various legal, corporate, and advertising texts you’d expect a liquor bottle to have, but the label its self is rather small, so it seems to be swimming with text. The bottle is sealed with a mostly clear plastic seal, but around the bottom a purple ring is adorned with golden crowns all the way around. The cap is a heavily molded plastic monstrosity meant to look something like a crown (but which doesn’t really succeed in doing so.) Even the glass of the bottle its self is almost completely covered in an angular filigree.

The whiskey its self is medium golden brown amber color. Poured into a brandy snifter, it somehow seems darker in the glass. The scent is rather indistinct; you can tell that the whiskey was aged for some period of time in wood, but there’s no indication of how long, what kind of wood it was, or any flavor that the wood may have imparted. There’s no discernible grain scent of any kind. The strongest odor is that of alcohol, but even that seems somewhat mellow.Glass and bottle.PNG

Taken neat, there’s not much more to the flavor than there is to the scent. There’s a nondescript wood flavor, but it’s not especially strong. There is the taste of alcohol, and it is thankfully not overpowering. Other than that, there’s not much. I don’t taste barley, wheat, or corn. There’s not fruitiness from a cask, nor are there flavors of nuts or spices or toffee. There is a sort of a toasty finish, but it is very, very mild, and on the occasional sip I’ll get a very very vague hint of another flavor, which I’d like to say it rye, but it’s so weak I can’t really be sure.

The whiskey is very dry, with no sweetness to be found anywhere, but also nothing savory, sour, tangy, or bitter, either. There’s no smoke, no earthiness, no salt. The one good thing to be said about the mild mannered nature of this spirit is that it’s also very smooth; there’s just enough burn that you can feel it on the edges and back of the tongue, but just so. It certainly doesn’t reach the point of being unpleasant, but there’s also not enough there to really enjoy the sensation either.

After being open a while Crown Royal does come to life a bit, but all the new flavors are still just whispers of hints. Everything that developed as this whiskey oxidized has to be described with I think. I think I may have tasted corn at one point. I think I tasted some cinnamon. I think I tasted some oaky flavor one time. One of the only things that I know I tasted was the beginnings of nuttiness, which often comes from the heated surface of a whiskey still. That particular taste’s time in the spotlight was short lived though, as as the flavor evolved it developed the little that it did and then faded away. The same is true of a flavor of spices that waxed and then waned.

With all the guff one hears about blended whiskey from the cork sniffing peanut gallery among single malt fans, I think it may be safe to say that the mild nature of all the flavors in Crown Royal could be due to the fact that it is blended for consistency overall, and not to enhance any particular set of flavors within it. I am curious however about what I’ll find after my palate has developed and I come back to a new bottle (this last drops of this one are nicely filling a tumbler as I write this.)

Poggio Basso Grappa del Piemonte

Grappa wasn’t at all on my mind when I went to the liquor store the other day. In fact, I Full Bottlewas hardly aware of the existence of grappa, having only heard of it while watching Mario Batali cook on one of his various shows. He added some to whatever it was he was cooking, and explained its origins. According to chef Batali, grappa come from the cast off grapes that nobles threw out after making wine. The peasants would take these waste solids and referment them into a strong concoction they called grappa. Grappa now is still made from grape skins, and is then distilled into a clear spirit.

This Grappa del Piemonte comes in simple but distinct bottle. While most liquors that come in a 375mL bottle are short and squat, this one comes in a tall thin bottle that’s as tall as most other spirits. It has a label that appears simple at first look, a plain rectangular two tone sticker with a logo and a name. Upon further inspection though, there’s the image of what looks like still, and the cap is a hollow glass bubble like you’d see on an inexpensive decanter. So while I wasn’t looking for grappa, this bottle caught my eye in the store. Once I’d read “Grappa” on the label, I knew I’d be buying some, as I’de never tried any before.

Poggio Basso’s grappa had me worried when I first opened it; pulling out the synthetic cork it smelled like something decomposing. I poured some into a glass and the scent didn’t change. My first sip didn’t make anything better, it burned my lips quite a bit. That, however, wasn’t the grappa’s fault. After taking a moment, I realized I’d become dehydrated during the day, and my lip was chapped. The burning wasn’t from the drink per se, but because I had a small wound and I’d put alcohol in it. Ouch.

My next sip was quite a different experience. Even at 40% alcohol by volume, this Grappa del Piemonte is very smooth, it leaves only a pleasant tingle on the tongue. Its flavor is also complex; it tastes like raisins, grape seeds, and grape stems. It also has a creamy taste that takes me back to my childhood. My mother used to sometimes give me these little whitish fruit flavored lozenges. They were semi-hard, but as they warmed up they would soften and become chewy, with a creamy texture to match their taste and color. One of strongest aspects of this drink’s flavor is just like those candies, and drinking it takes me right back to the feeling I had being a small child eating those sweet things.

I wouldn’t say that this liquor has an especially strong taste, it’s certainly not overpowering on its own, though it is definitely dominant. Every once in a while I’ll mix it with something else, it it almost always becomes the main flavor. Even Jägermeister, mixed with more Jäger than grappa, didn’t stand a chance when put up against this seemingly unassuming Italian brandy.

While mixing it I found that I usually prefer it on its own, but one exception is drinking it chilled with Master of Mixes cherry grenadine. It goes fantastically well with the fruit flavors in that grenadine, and takes to the sweetness well too. If you do chill it, you’ll find that it’s quite easy to float a layer of grappa on top of the grenadine. The rich red syrup with a crisp line separating it from the crystal clear grappa makes for quite an attractive layered shot.

The dry, fruity creamy flavor of this grappa goes quite well with sweet and fruity things or on its own, but after having had it for a while, now I’m curious what it would taste like if I cooked with it. I imagine it would go well with the tang of tomatoes, I think I may try adding it to some tomato sauce, or even better, put some into some home made salsa. Yum!