Northern Lights – Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye 40%

This wasn’t the 1st, 2nd or even my 3rd time sampling this particular whisky.  However it was an exceedingly apt way to kick start our Whisky Ladies evening exploring whiskies with a Northern Lights connect.

As soon as the bottle came out, a fellow Canadian couldn’t help but recall her youthful follies with a quintessential Canadian drink – Rye and Ginger aka ginger ale.

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye 40%

  • Nose – Maple, very sweet, light rye yet accessible, sparkling cider, juicy fruit gum
  • Palate – Ginger, sweet, bit spicy then  back to sweet
  • Finish – Short, sweet, light wood

It made us think of making a terrific Old Fashioned or Manhattan.

Whisky Ladies Northern Lights:

You can read about other tasting adventures with the Northern Harvest Rye here:

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“O Canada!” Crown Royal Canadian Harvest Rye 45%

When Crown Royal’s Northern Harvest Rye sky rocketed from obscurity to celebrity hood… it was hard to believe my home province of Manitoba produced a dram that flew off the shelves around the world.

While rumour had it the original idea was to have it be a ‘one time thing’ (though high volume), given its popularity it didn’t take long for Crown Royal to pump out more.

And this particular bottle? While I can’t guarantee its from the same batch that led to it becoming the World’s Best Whisky of 2016, it certainly is from around that time and purchased in Manitoba…

So what did we think?

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye 45%

  • Nose – Fresh honey, lightly roasted spices, a zest of lemon, tobacco, caramel, fresh polished furniture, pineapple (with a debate on whether it is more like tinned pineapple than baked or honey glaze roasted), candied orange, very sweet, beneath it all a bit of white chocolate
  • Palate – Initial swig was very rye, some wood, spice, a bit tingly, then started to take on other qualities like Japanese pickled ginger, it was clearly young but not the least bit harsh, and while a bit bitter, this simply gave it some character
  • Finish – Bitter cereal finish, then sweet
  • Water – Just made it even smoother, not needed but can certainly continue to hold its own with a splash

We hadn’t thought we would find this whisky so interesting – yet every minute the aromas shifted. We all found it most enjoyable… even those who tried Northern Harvest Rye previously were pleasantly surprised.

And as a start to our evening? A perfect pick!

Pst My father picked this up in Winnipeg for under $40.

What else did we have in our “O Canada” 150th Celebration?

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“O Canada!” 150 years Whisky Celebration

Most folks know I’m Canadian… though I’ve called India home for more than a decade.

And with Canada celebrating its 150th anniversary, it seemed fitting to have an evening devoted purely to Canadian whiskies…. before it was the  end of 2017!

What made the final cut are two whiskies I’d tried before and two which were completely new to me!

Followed by a wee nip of Barrel of Sunshine Liqueur 30%, courtesy of our friend’s at Shelter Point.

So there we were, middle of December, Christmas lights twinkling, glasses clinking and merriment all around.

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Speed Tasting – Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye 45%

During monsoon, we had a remarkable experience “Speed Tasting” where we rated five different drams in the space of 15 minutes with approximately 2-3 minutes per dram.

We had no idea what we were sampling… This was my 2nd dram and merely known as whisky “B”…

Our first part was tasting in silence and rating

What were my hasty impressions?

  • Nose – Sweet, fruity, yoghurt, young and fresh, light spice, quite piquant, a bit of grass and a quality almost like agave, then shifted to sweet – like candy floss or bazooka gum or juicy fruit or banana candies or… (you get the picture!) –  returning later it was pure honey sweet
  • Palate – Much spicier than the nose indicated, almost harsh on 1st sip, peppery, then settled down and became sweeter and smooth
  • Finish – Holds for a bit but quite linear
  • Character & Complexity – Bright, young, and dropped its spice to become insanely sweet

Our 2nd part was brief discussion with a wee bit of guessing…

Impressions – most thought this may be rye. We also thought it wasn’t your ordinary rye and may be matured in something quite different – perhaps cognac cask.

None of us gave this top rating however it certainly wasn’t last.

And the reveal?

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye 45%

I’ll admit that I’m not so familiar with rye whiskies… and I certainly didn’t pinpoint this as Crown Royal’s Northern Harvest Rye, even after we were given a short-list of options. Admittedly, I’d had it only in passing with no proper tasting so far. What I remembered most was an almost ‘ginger ale’ quality which I didn’t connect with this experience.

And what did Jim Murray have to say in his 2016 Whisky Bible when awarding this dram?

  • Nose 25/25 – The rye is not just profound and three dimensional, but has that extraordinary trick of allowing new elements to to take their place: rarely does ulema honey and manuka honey link arms when rye is around, but they do here, yet never for a second diminish the sharpness and presence of the grain;
  • Taste 24/25 – Salivating and sensual on delivery, hardly for a second are we not reminded that rye is at work here. And it makes itself heard loudly through the stiff backbone from which all the softer, sugary notes emanate. Crunchy and at times bitter, though in a pleasant controlled way from the grain, rather than from a questionable cask.
  • Finish 23.5/25 – Quietens rapidly, though only for a moment or two before the spices begin to pulse again and vanillas take up their comfortable positions;
  • Balance & Complexity 24.5/25 – This is the kind of whisky you dream of dropping into your tasting room. Rye, that most eloquent of grains, not just turning up to charm and enthral but to also take us through a routine which reaches new heights of beauty and complexity. To say this is a masterpiece is barely doing it justice.

And the official Crown Royal tasting notes?

  • Nose – Baking spices, cereal, light wood spices
  • Palate – Gentle oak note, rich butterscotch, spiced vanilla, develops into soft peppery notes
  • Finish – Smooth and creamy

A few folks may know that Crown Royal is from my home province of Manitoba. Or that in 2016, I had the pleasure of touring their plant in the very picturesque Gimli with my parents.

Gimli (Photo: Clarina Taylor)

What were the other whiskies “Speed Tasted“?

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Speed Tasting Whisky

One fine monsoon weekend, a few folks decided to get together for a lighthearted whisky activity.

Keshav Prakash, of The Vault Fine Spirits, took complete charge and decided we would play a whisky game in 3 parts:

  1. Individual rating
  2. Discussion with comparisons and speculating
  3. Reveal and revisit

In front of us were 5 drams, pre-poured and covered. The rules were simple:

  • Label our rating sheets with our initials and corresponding whisky letter “A… B… C…” as per our table mat
  • Sample each whisky then rate out of 5 on its nose, palate, finish and overall character & complexity
  • Individual activity only – strictly no speaking, comparing impressions or ratings
  • 15 minutes only start to finish then pencils down! Just like in an exam…
  • Beyond that no rules – could get up and walk around, write down more than just the score, whatever worked to achieve a complete rating within the allotted time!

The clock started, the covers came off and the whisky speed dating began…

Part 1 – Speed tasting and rating 

Now… I must confess… I could not rate without documenting my impressions. Long ago I made a conscious decision to not numerically ‘rate’ whisky. So I have never ‘trained’ myself or had the ‘discipline’ of putting hard numbers next to the different elements.

So I pulled out my handy whisky tasting notebook and busily began to scribble random thoughts. That helped sharpen focus and give me enough to then make a split second assessment of each.

Part 2 – Comparing, discussing and guessing

The first question was – are all of these whiskies? Yes.

Then whether some were bourbon, most thought two were ryes… With our votes on which could possibly be which.

Talk turned to some of the different characters – one reminded of cognac cask matured whiskies. Another had peat. We took a stab at guessing some were not Scottish…

Then we shared our individual top rated dram with the overall “winner” the 4th whisky (D) as it had the most character with both sherry and peaty elements.

Photo: Keshav Prakash

Part 3 – Revealing…

This is where the real fun began… three were Jim Murray’s 2016 Whisky Bible winners, one was an Irish grain and the winner? A house blend made by accident more than design!

What a surprise and what a treat!

Click on the links above to ready my hastily scribbled notes compared with Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible or official tasting notes, where applicable.

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Getting distracted in a Winnipeg Liquor Mart…

It started off innocently enough… “Let’s go pick up a few things for tomorrow’s open house!”

My sister and her partner kindly host a gathering when I’m back in my hometown of Winnipeg. This time her partner suggested we head over to the local “LC” (Liquor Commission) and grocery store to stock up on a few drinkables and edibles for the celebration.

Cue wide-eyed kid in a candy store dazed expression… because the array of wines, beer and other liquid libations available in your regular old liquor store in Winnipeg far outdo your local Mumbai “wine shop”. They also have multiple tasting corners to try before you buy – I’m a HUUUGE fan of this concept!

First I was introduced to a “Growler Bar” where you re-fill your empty growler (1.89 L) or howler (946 ml) with beers on tap. Naturally everything is available to sip before you commit.

Growler Bar (Photo:

Growler Bar (Photo: Liquor Marts)

Then I was distracted by the whisky section and a helpful lass who shared tales of her adventures with craft distilleries in BC… which turned from various whiskies to other offerings…

Fort Richmond Liquor Mart

Followed by further digression to another sampling counter where I revisited the delightful Caorunn gin. Which lead in turn to an exploration of:

  • Dillon’s Unfiltered Gin 22 40% (Batch 18) from Ontario – remarkably nuanced with 22 botanicals weaving together to awaken your senses with a teasing perfume
  • Spain’s Gin Mare 42.7% with its Mediterranean flavours of olives, rosemary, thyme, basil and mandarin is bolder and shouts out to be transformed into a wicked martini

Dillon's + Gin Mare

Apparently my father’s quest to obtain Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye was remembered! “Hey you are the one that lives in India and writes about whisky, aren’t you?”

Rather than hoard bottles, when Northern Harvest Rye initially flew off the shelves after Jim Murray catapulted it to his global top spot, Canadian liquor stores were re-stocked with the remaining 200 cases at the same price… with free samples being generously shared so the public could enjoy. How utterly Canadian, eh?

While we were decidedly delayed in completing our simple shopping list, what fun to while away some time with friendly knowledgable staff while sampling a few interesting wares not readily accessible in Mumbai!

Any local liquor store that you enjoy visiting?

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Singapore Saturday Sipping… Crown Royal, Bruichladdich, Springbank + Kilchoman

It was one of those sociable Saturday evenings in Singapore…

It also happened to be the home of a fellow malt aficionado and ex Mumbai tasting group member. On my last trip we took on an eight dram marathon at The Auld Alliance. This trip we swapped such revelries for a family and friends affair with great company, delicious food and… yes… a whisky or two or three!

I will openly admit, it was a fully social setting so it wasn’t like I jotted down tasting notes until the last… when we decided to have a little impromptu ‘tasting’ experience to close the night.


Official CrownRoyal website

However, formal tasting notes or not… we still covered four rather distinctive whiskies in one evening!

Shortly after I arrived, a mystery glass was brought out as a teaser. What did I find?

  • Nose – A sparkling quality like having a whiff of proseco or sparkling apple cider
  • Palate – Some spice yet overall smooth, vanilla – clearly not Scottish, not bourbon, not having the sophistication one associates with Japan…
  • Finish – Sweet spice wood then fades away

The ‘punch line’ was that this particular bottle just so happens to be from Gimli, Manitoba… my home province in Canada. And – you guessed it – was Crown Royal’s Northern Harvest Rye which has literally flown off the shelves globally thanks to Jim Murray’s recent recognition of it as 2016 World’s Best Whisky.

The bottle was snagged in the US by a friend’s brother and brought to Singapore… part of the stash that will be coming into India soon. Gotta love globe-trotting whisky!

Overall what did I think? Honestly – it is not bad for a Rye and really quite excellent for $30 whisk(e)y but… come on… world’s best whisky? Seriously?

The Organic Scottish Barley (Whisky Lady)

The Organic Scottish Barley (Whisky Lady)

With this start to our evening, our host then pulled out the Bruichladdich The Organic 50%:

  • Nose – That overripe fruit to the point of being rotten
  • Palate – Young, a bit of spice, sourness
  • Finish – Still a bit ‘queer’

Just not aligning with my mood for the evening… I simply could not wrap my palate around the extra over-ripe quality.

So our host took pity on my pickiness and out came a reliable dram – Springbank 10 year 46%.

  • Nose – Pear, a hint of peat
  • Palate – Yum – cinnamon and nutmeg, rich oak, a bit nutty
  • Finish – Dry, sweet, salty

Khanna (food) then became the focus… was happily consumed and our evening was winding its way to a close. As the deserts and tea came out… so too did a bunch of glasses for a semi ‘proper’ tasting session. What did we sample?

Kilchoman (Whisky Lady)

Kilchoman (Whisky Lady)

Kilchoman Machir Bay 46%

  • Nose – Honey, cough syrup, leather, medicine and surgical wipes, fruity like peach and grape, very light not a hint of peat, vanilla, sweet, like an apple orchard, quite youthful
  • Palate – Peaty, sharp, black pepper, young, woody, bitter cinnamon bark, a little oily, star anise
  • Finish – Dry wine, a rawness
  • Overall – While not mature and still a bit raw it is also like a procosious youngster – lots of promise, worth checking out and quite remarkable for such a young whisky.

Our host shared tales of his visit to Kilchoman’s distillery and shared how it ‘transformed’ expectations of a young whisky. I was again reminded that for me at least, the Kilchoman Coull Point stands out.

What fun to revisit a few whiskies… and a perfect close to a most enjoyable trip to Singapore.

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Murray makes Manitobans proud!

Speaking as a proud Manitoban gal, I’m always delighted when anything from my home province makes its mark positively beyond its borders.

However as a whisky explorer, I must admit Rye has never been my thing and the humble Crown Royal from my old backyard Gimli, Manitoba took a back seat long ago…

That said, I’ve begged family and friends to pretty please snag me an extremely reasonably priced bottle of the Northern Harvest Rye from the local Manitoba liquor store to be collected on my next trip to Canada… I’m always open to have my scepticism refuted! And happy to bring the novelty of Manitoban whiskey to Mumbai, Maharashtra.


So what is all the fuss? Skipping merrily past many marvellous Scotch whiskies, Mr Murray has established a clear non-Scottish top 5 with:

  1. Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye (Canada) – £47  (Manitoba sells for only CND 32.99!!)
  2. Pikesville Straight Rye (USA) – £33
  3. Midleton Dair Ghaelach (Ireland) – £180
  4. William Larue Weller Bourbon (Bot.2014) (USA) – £65
  5. Suntory Yamazaki Mizunara (Bot.2014) (Japan) – £45

As for the Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye, here is what Mr Murray has to say along with his rating of 97.5/100:

Rye, that most eloquent of grains, not just turning up to charm and enthral but to also take us through a routine which reaches new heights of beauty and complexity. To say this is a masterpiece is barely doing it justice.

And here are what the folks over at Crown Royal share:

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye combines the distinctive flavor of Canadian rye grain with the unmistakable smoothness of Crown Royal for a truly exceptional Canadian whisky.

  • Nose – Baking spices, cereal, light wood spices
  • Palate – Gentle oak note, rich butterscotch, spiced vanilla, develops into soft peppery notes
  • Finish – Smooth and creamy

So there you have it folks. As for this Manitoban? My father managed to ‘score’ a bottle from our local liquor store… which has wound its way back to Mumbai for an upcoming session with the Whisky Ladies.

I also had a chance to sample this whiskey:

Check out the other Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2016 winners here!

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