Cigar Aficionado

Crown Royal’s French Connection

A sixth edition has been added to the Crown Royal Canadian whisky line, this one a craft addition with a Cognac-wood finish that mimics the terminology of the brandy region in its name: Crown Royal XO.

In Cognac, the term XO (extra old) designates a brandy blended from eaux de vie of at least six years, but in practice they typically average at least two decades (the appellation is set to soon change its age requirement to at least 10 years). This Canadian blend states no age designation, however.

Like all of the Crown Royal line it has characteristic smoothness, but the Crown Royal XO displays an extra kick of fruit that smacks of its brandy-wood finishing in casks made of French Limousin oak that bonds well with cigars.

Crown Royal was first created in 1939 to commemorate a tour by Britain's King George VI and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, who would be queen mother to the present Queen Elizabeth II. Despite its connection to the ruler portrayed in the recent film The King's Speech, the whiskey never stuttered. The line would grow to encompass Crown Royal Black, Reserve and XR, as well as an example finished in maple wood.

The new packaging is reminiscent of the other Crown Royal bottles, save for having broader shoulders and gray and gold coloring. The familiar velvet bag that all Crown Royal nestles in has been changed to gray with gold accents.

(Cigar pairing notes on next page)

Crown Royal XO (80 proof, or 40 percent alcohol by volume; no age statement; $49.99 a 750-milliliter bottle)

APPEARANCE: Very deep copper hue and fat, slow legs.

NOSE: Caramel with a bit of olive oil comes out first, followed by some carob notes and a whiff of dried fruit.

PALATE: Fruit flavor, especially that of a cherry pie, is all over the tip of the tongue. As it spreads across the palate the notes first get tarter and then heartier with vanilla, caramel and a hint of chocolate.

FINISH: A real spiciness—especially cinnamon and Christmas spices—comes on as soon as the initial sweetness vanishes. That quickly mellows out and you get a soothing vanilla finish of some length.

Espinosa Habano Belicoso (5 1/2 inches by 52 ring gauge; $6.65; 89 Points; Cigar Insider August 27, 2013) A thick, attractive belicoso with some large veins. It starts out with cereal notes and an oaky, wine-barrel woodiness before a minty and spicy finish. A striking effect occurs right from the start as the cigar blossoms into heartier flavors, which it immediately gives over to the whisky. The Crown Royal grows in body and heartiness, showing off its vanilla notes. The whisky also expands in spiciness.

Rocky Patel Vintage 2003 (5 1/2 inches by 50 ring gauge, $7.95, 91 points, Cigar Aficionado, October 2013) This tasty cigar burns and draws evenly, showing a toasty, creamy smoke with leather, nougat and rich tobacco flavor. Balanced and elegant. As these equally weighted elements dance well together. The whisky draws out the understated leather of the cigar. The Crown's fruit becomes even bolder.