Few are the whisky blenders who reveal much about the components that go into their final products. They either choose not to or can't because the mixture changes as they chase an exact flavor while working with an ever-fluctuating mix of spirits. Crown Royal is debuting it Noble Collection by stating out front the three whisky types that go into the Cornerstone Blend.
Cornerstone marks the first in a series of limited-edition whiskies planned for annual release. The thrust of the Noble Collection plan is to let distillers and blenders experiment by coming up with different expressions. Each will be made available nationwide for limited periods.
The first expression showcases what the company considers whiskies integral to its flagship Crown Royal. They include rye, Coffey rye and Bourbon-style whisky. Canadian law dictates no strict mash bill of the kind that regulates American straight whiskey and Scotch malts. Along with tasting the Cornerstone Blend itself, we had a chance to sample the components separately.
All three were distilled at its Gimli facility—not a Lord of the Rings character, but a distillery the company owns in Manitoba. The spirits were shipped elsewhere for aging. The company attributes spiciness to its rye whisky, aged in virgin oak. The Coffey rye, said to offer creamy smoothness, is made in an aged and unique Coffey still, rescued from its shuttered Waterloo distillery. (Aeneas Coffey was an early developer of the column still.) Many Canadian rye components meant for blending are single grain. But the Coffey rye has a varied mashbill, mostly made up of rye. Likewise, the third liquid in the blend uses a mix of grain, except that it follows the corn-rich Bourbon recipe.
As advertised, the rye component is quite spicy and a little tart, but not without its sweet charms. By contrast, the Coffey rye starts out velvety and lush before letting on to its rye spiciness. The Bourbon style is sweet, not in a corn-syrup way, but much more like dark berries. The rye quotient seems to high as well. The experience of tasting each element was not only fun, it illuminated how they factored into the final product.
Crown Royal Noble Collection Cornerstone Blend (80.6 proof, or 40.3 percent alcohol by volume; no age statement; $59.99 a 750 milliliter bottle)
APPEARANCE: Rich copper color, with medium-speed, teardrop legs.
NOSE: Floral and fruity aroma (with cherry and berries), with a spice topping and honey underlayment.
PALATE: Comes off very spicy at first with white pepper and anise, but proceeds to the floral notes of the bouquet. Displays bread dough and Bourbon-like notes before becoming candied with cherry and a bit of citrus. A hint of anise.
FINISH: The cherry candy grows on the finish and is joined by peach notes and some woodiness.
CIGAR PAIRING: La Bohéme Encantador Turin (Dominican Republic; 5 inches by 46 ring gauge; $10.50; 91 points; June 2016 Cigar Aficionado) The very peppery start of this box-pressed robusto calms down to show more of a sweet and floral character before an anise finish. Surprisingly, this match of like flavor results not in simply pouring on more of the same, but in adding a quality previously not in abundance: heartiness. The cigar's pepper quickly transforms savoriness. The whisky's candied, floral notes bloom into a more evident anise presence. Together, the La Bohéme and the Cornerstone show off caramel and toffee. A well-played synthesis.