Review – Crown Royal, XO, Canadian Blended Whisky, (No Age Stated), 40%

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There are certain words that carry an innate potency. When you hear them spoken, the mind immediately begins to stir, and in due course, the particulars associated with the words are brought to remembrance.

For example, if I were to say “double-decker bus,” right away you might imagine a giant, candy-colored transport filled with tourists and navigating the narrow streets of an ancient and gray city, stopping along the way at places like Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, and the Tower of London.

If I were to mention the R.M.S. Titanic, perhaps it is that your mood would change as you contemplate the icy waters of the northern Atlantic consuming more than 1,500 people aboard the infamous ocean liner heralded as the ship that not even God could sink. Or maybe your mood turned sour because you thought of Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslett, and a certain song by Céline Dion. If this is more the case, then I’m truly sorry for bringing it up. Allow me to make haste toward a different image.

What comes to mind when you hear the word “gumbo”? For me, I see a product born in Africa but raised in Louisiana. I see images of the coastal American south beginning to coalesce like spirits conjured by a voodoo priestess. I see snakes winding through patches of swamp grass, Spanish moss hanging from primordial trees, well-used and rusting fishing boats tied in harbor, and open fires cradling kettles filled with simmering stews of shrimp, chicken, or beef and the holy trinity of southern vegetables—onions, bell peppers, and celery.

You know what doesn’t come to mind when I say “gumbo”? Canada.

Now don’t get me wrong. Canada is a wonderful place. It’s just that eating gumbo made in Canada is sort of like flying an American flag made in China. For purists, it’s tantamount to sacrilege. I’m led to assume that the folks at Campbell’s know this, but they found themselves in a bind. Like any business savvy company, they intended to market their product as “authentic,” but when the labels rolled out, the lawyers stepped in. Pointing to the fine print of the trade agreement, the lawyers reminded Campbell’s of the requirement to prominently display the product’s Canadian origin.

And so they did.

Along the same lines, I used to feel the same with regard to Canadian whisky as I do now regarding Old Glory being produced and sold by a communist state. In other words, I used to think that Canadian whisky could never be considered as authentic as other whiskies—at least not as legitimate as Scotch or Bourbon. But that’s because my only interaction with the country’s booze was with the likes of Canadian Club. But over time, I tried others, and in so doing, I became aware of my incredible wrongness. Canada does indeed have some really great distilleries producing some really great whiskies.

Then there’s Crown Royal. I’ve tried several different renditions from this well-beloved distiller, but I’ve not found love for any of them. And yet, today has delivered something altogether different—the XO edition—and it is changing what comes to mind when I hear the words “Crown Royal.”

The nose of this delightfully creamy dram is one of toffee edged with dark chocolate and sprinkled with toasted oats. This much concentrated sweetness would typically cause me concern because it suggests a syrupy character that I do not prefer and yet have found to be characteristic of most Crown Royal editions. But here, the nose is not heavy, but lighthearted, and such lightheartedness communicates something crisp will follow. And it does.

The palate is oak spice, baked apples, oats, and vanilla. There’s a tad bit of nip near the end of the savoring, but it comes along at just the right time with a measure of dryness that helps to keep the syrupy character at bay.

The finish is quick, almost hurriedly so, leaving behind a trace of the oak, apples, and oats.

I know this stuff has been around for a while, but with every invocation of the Crown Royal name, I’ve shrunken from any desire to give it a whirl. I thought I knew what to expect. Good or bad, I’ve arrived to the party—or better yet, a sample of the XO was brought to me from the party. Obligated, but still giving it an honest go, I realize now that Crown Royal deserves its status as an authentic favorite for many. And since this is true, then maybe, just maybe, we should try a spoonful of Canadian gumbo, because you just never know.