I have in front of me two bottles of Crown Royal, both Christmas gifts. One is the standard Deluxe edition, the familiar bottle adorning countless liquor cabinet shelves across the continent. The other is Cask No. 16, an ultra-premium edition finished in cognac casks. It is unclear from the company literature whether there is any difference between the composition or age of the blends, or if the cask finish is the only distinguishing feature, aside from price. Deluxe sells for $28.95 whereas Cask No. 16 commands the unlikely price of $99.95.
Straight from the bottle the differences in aroma are immediately apparent. Deluxe is light, woody, leafy, sweet, and spirity. By contrast Cask 16 is rich, dark, sugary. The more obvious rye notes have been muted in Cask 16. The unmistakeable Crown Royal profile is still present, but less dominant.
Deluxe comes across the palate sweet and minty. There is a distinct herbaceous element, almost agave-like, along with the more typical Canadian caramel notes. Mid-palate it becomes slightly oaky. The finish is rather short.
Cask 16 takes a more supple, subtle approach. One notices the silky body before any of the flavours. The leafy rye notes have all but vanished. After a couple of seconds a very dry fruitiness develops, and persists into the lengthy finish. I’m reminded somewhat of the dry fruit and nut character of Forty Creek. The brown sugar notes from the bottle are much less evident in the mouth. This whisky seems to need some time in the glass to reach its potential. The whole thing is a very subtle, elegant affair.
Both whiskies fall into the medium-bodied range though Cask 16 is considerable thicker and heavier in the mouth.
Deluxe is front-loaded and short on the finish whereas Cask 16 is much the opposite; it takes more time to develop and the finish is where it shines. The dry raisin, brown sugar and gingerbread notes in the finish are very pleasant and well-balanced.
Given time, Cask 16 shows its pedigree. I underestimated it at first. Give it a swirl to coat the glass and then sniff it after a few seconds; gentle spice, sugar, and dried fruit waft up to greet you. Likewise the flavour becomes more assertive after some minutes in the glass. This is Crown Royal at its most luxurious, if not most complex.
Deluxe seems to display more obvious rye and, strangely, oak elements in its composition. It is quite soft itself on the palate and really doesn’t give up much to its more expensive brother. In fact the differences between these whiskies are much less than one might expect, given the price difference of over $70. It is not nearly as significant, for instance, as the difference between Gibson’s Sterling and Gibson’s Finest Rare, or Alberta Premium and the Limited Edition bottling. Nevertheless, the differences are present and undeniable. After drinking Cask 16, Deluxe seems to have no finish whatsoever. The dried fruit element is also sorely missed. Deluxe also comes across far more spirity, with more obvious alcohol. It is, in any case, a top-quality blend. Mass produced it may be but put it up against any basic blended whisky and I think it fares quite well.
To conclude, Cask No. 16 might not knock your socks off, especially when taking price into account, but it certainly rewards patience. Canadian whisky is a subtle spirit to begin with, and one must keep that in mind when judging the quality of one as silky as this.