Review: Crown Royal XO Canadian Whisky / by Jason Hambrey

Finished in cognac casks
Distiller Gimli (Gimli, Manitoba)

This whisky was introduced in what seems to be a replacement for the cognac finished Cask no. 16. It is created from over 50 whiskies which are blended together and finished in cognac casks. So, why 50 unique whiskies? That’s a lot of work for a single regular product, isn’t it? This is basically because there’s so much variation of production at the Crown Royal plant in Gimli, Manitoba – there are a lot of different whiskies produced between 5 different recipes, 3 types of wood (newly charred, ex-bourbon barrels, and refill/reused barrels), alongside a wide range of aging length. The name, “XO” (extra old) , is a tribute to the cognac classification for their spirits, indicating the highest grade of cognac in terms of age.

Review (2014)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L40932N001315251SL143

  • Bottling Date: ~2014

Nose: A hefty bit of rye comes through the nose, interestingly enough because that wasn’t my first impression with Cask no. 16, which I assumed this would emulate. Not so, this is a bit darker and, initially, I thought, less fruity, but after successive tastings I am not sure. There’s a good bit of maple syrup – it’s quite prominent –  it keeps reminding me of an overly crisp waffle soaked in maple syrup especially with some of the grains coming through. Vanilla comes through, and a bit of orange – overall it’s a bit of a dense nose, but it does lighten up as it sits. There are interesting spicy notes – green cardamom (quite prominent), cinnamon, ginger, and toasted black pepper – indicative of the French Oak which the cognac casks were made from. There’s also some nice light grape notes which tend to go quite well with Crown Royal.

Taste: After the pretty dense and dark nose I was surprised to find a light-feeling and delicate whisky enter my mouth. Starts off with some rye emphasis before some light fruit and vanilla come through with some bourbon notes before the end turns to oak and spice. A very interesting movement in this whisky is that it seems to start off quite light before upping both in flavour and feel until the end which feels quite dense and a bit dry. Towards the end there’s a bit of an oxidized sherry-type flavour too. Very nice, I must say – the main knack is that it is just a bit too dry, I think, without something to counteract it.

Finish: Mainly spices – ginger and green cardamom, with some cinnamon mixed in too. There’s a bit of oak in the background and a light orange citrusy background as well, and a bit of nuttiness. Nicely done. It’s slightly dry, but not too dry, and I like finishes that are a bit on the dry side.

I quite enjoy this, and I like this a fair bit more than the Cask no. 16 bottlings that I’ve tried. It’s perhaps most surprising to me how rye-forward the profile is – I expected a bit more of a hybrid with this one. But the fruit, spiciness, and complexity do good work in this one.

Score: 88/100

Value: Average to high. Quite decent for $75. This is a particularly good batch, which puts it on the upper end of average - at the threshold of high.

Review (2015; Blind)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L42812N00114 4451SL143

  • Bottling Date: 2015

Grain and spice heavy, candied orange peel, cola, lime, rich oak, and apple. On the palate, caramel, vanilla, macadamia, and white chocolate. Spice and tannins are also at play, with some excellent complex fruit on the finish.

While still very nice, it doesn't have the depth of the previous bottle I own (above), which shows more spice, complexity, and particularly a better integration of rancio and a bit more of a dried fruit character rather than candied fruit.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average. Decent for $75.

Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Apple, oak, brown sugar, nuts, green grape, fennel, and a variety of dried fruit come together on a slightly tangy and spicy whisky balanced with pleasant brown sugar and sweet potato in the mix.

Still good, but not what it was when it first came out and the oak, finish, and spices shone through quite uniquely.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average. Decent for $75.