Cigar Aficionado

Crown Royal Celebrates With Monarch 75th Anniversary

By all accounts the 1939 tour of Canada by King George VI and his consort Queen Elizabeth was a rousing, but grueling success. In the first visit by a reigning British monarch to one of the empire's dominions, they traveled to every province, where they charmed crowds of hundreds of thousands, while laying cornerstones and unveiling monuments.

Along the way George, now known for overcoming his stammer (see the film The King's Speech), gave his longest-ever radio address. The recently crowned royal couple not only did much to shore up support for the monarchy, but a short sojourn to the United States bolstered relations there at a time when global war was on the horizon.

Almost as recompense for a month of official duties, they received a special gift that would eventually be shared with the rest of the world: ten cases of Crown Royal Canadian whisky loaded on to their train. Samuel Bronfman, president of the spirits giant, which was then the Seagram Co., commemorated the royal visit with a blend crafted after sampling some 600 whiskies. The packaging process was also painstaking. Before it was finally poured into a bottle in the shape of a crown and swathed in a velvet bag, colored purple for royalty, hundreds of choices had to made.

Today, having just introduced a 75th anniversary tribute to the event, Crown Royal master blender Andrew MacKay says that for a visit of such magnitude you present the guests with examples of "the very best products of the country—in this case whisky."

He reveals that after all the sampling for the original whisky, the key component that gave Crown Royal its well-known smooth, but flavorful character was the emphatic use of whisky from the Coffey rye still at the company's Gimli, Manitoba distillery. Canadian whisky is a blend of different samples made in a variety of different stills (pot and column variety) with different mashbills (some rye heavy, others Bourbon-like). The Coffey still is a dual-column still, one of the first examples of continuously operating distillation. In the Gimli case, it is used specifically to distill whisky with very high rye content, which is then aged in new oak. It creates an intense, but smooth flavoring component in a blend alongside whiskies of less heft. That flavor MacKay describes as creamy and fruity.

So three years ago when the blender was charged with creating Crown Royal Monarch 75th Anniversary Blend, a one-off in a very small release, he went directly to that source and tapped it extensively. "We were looking for something Crown-like, but heavier and richer."

Explaining that the limited nature of the edition allowed him much more leeway, MacKay says, "It was a one-time shot, so we were able to play with it," without the responsibility to make whisky for a long time at a large volume. "We could never keep that level of Coffey rye going. With this we had no consideration for the future—a rare, if happy, event." (The company has not revealed the size of the release.)

MacKay also enjoyed the same latitude in picking the other whiskies in the blend, which he says come from only 20 batches, some of which were made on stills that have been shuttered for years. "They are old inventories. Oddball pieces. These are the places you can use them and have fun using them."

The original Crown Royal was created under similar product limitations. Only 100 cases were made at the time of the royal visit. The 90 that weren't packed on the royal train went into the company vaults. Within two years they were gone. MacKay surmises that whisky was exhausted by in-house sampling and possibly used as gifts for customers. At that point, the decision was made to go into regular production, although war had begun in Europe and distribution was limited to Canada. It wasn't until the 1960s (most probably 1964) that the purple velvet bag became familiar in the United States.

Since then the company has introduced several brand extensions (such as Crown Royal Black, Reserve, XR and Maple Finished) with color variations on the velvet bags. The Monarch edition comes in a silver/pearl velvet bag and has a gold crown stopper. The bottle is slightly broader and taller than the original and has etched details in the glass. It is further enclosed in a box with magnetic closure and a numbered certificate of authenticity.

Crown Royal Monarch 75th Anniversary Blend (80 proof, or 40 percent alcohol by volume; age; $75 a 750-milliliter bottle)

APPEARANCE: Rich amber and reddish copper color; quick, thick legs.

NOSE: A combination of heady grain notes, honey aromas, a floral bouquet and some olive greet the nose.

PALATE: The comparison to the standard Crown Royal (smoothness) is unavoidable, but the contrast is also marked as the toffee notes, caramel, honey, graham cracker and vanilla all come out heftier and more out front. The fruit flavor is a mysterious wild card that flirts with grapes, orange, cherry and a tropical demeanor.

FINISH: The hurrah is medium to long-lasting and introduces a Cognac-like floral character to the above mix.

CIGAR PAIRING: Barracuda STK By George Rico (5 inches by 50 ring gauge, $8.00, 89 points, June 2014 Cigar Aficionado) A pigtailed robusto with a slightly firm draw. It’s a medium-bodied smoke that imparts a toasty, herbal quality as well as touches of spice and cereal. We chose pairing for the cereal component (which balances well), but the surprise was how well the herbs and spices shined under the influence of the whisky. The Monarch also has the toast speaking louder even as it snatches some fruit notes from the Barracuda's jaws.

Monte by Montecristo Jacopo No. 2 (6 1/8 inches by 54 ring gauge, $9.25, 92 points, February 2014 Cigar Aficionado) This box-pressed torpedo is draped in a gorgeous, oily wrapper. It burns and draws evenly, delivering leather and spices, with a refined chocolate note on the finish. Curious to see how the Monarch would fare against more full-bodied flavors, we picked the Monte and were delighted to see that the whisky lit up proudly to the comparison. The leather notes chime in with a decided resonance. The spice notes are there, but understated. The chocolate finish on the cigar speaks right up with that nutty, candy-bar effect that is so longed for in a pairing.

"Good idea. It seems like the kind of dram that will reach out to spectrum of different smokes." —June 20, 2014 17:49 PM
"Love it and Crown Royal coming from town just north of me (Gimli). We will have to feature it at our cigar club. Cigar Box Winnipeg. " —June 20, 2014 15:50 PM