I’ll be honest, when it comes to whisky, even the mere mention can summon a crinkled-up face and slight gag reflex tendency from yours truly. I’ve always thought of it as an old man drink, one that is best siphoned from a country-western-type of flask by a toothless drunk. Boy, was I wrong.
I was invited to join in on a Crown Royal Whisky Tasting at Seven Sushi Ultralounge and Skybar in downtown Minneapolis, and I’ll admit, I was more than a tad hesitant. Sure, I was curious but what if I majorly embarrassed myself in front of the whisky connoisseur by asking for a Coca-Cola chaser or, you know, by plugging my nose as I took a sip. It was a real possibility.
Thankfully, the evening’s events not only proved to be tasty, rich and fulfilling but highly educational. Did you know there are actually experts, so precise in their knowledge, that they’re given the title, “Master of Whisky?” Yeah, me either.
Lucky for us, on Wednesday night inside Seven’s swanky lounge, we had the pleasure of learning the history of whisky — and tasting a few variations — from one of only 15 Masters of Whisky, Mr. Robert Sickler.
Sickler told us a brief history of the aged liquor, also known as the water of life, beginning with whisky’s early medicinal purposes. (Whisky used as a healing medicine? I can buy that.) The three key ingredients to whisky are actually quite simple: cereal grains, water and yeast. The complex flavors come later, through years and years of aging in wooden casks.
The first produced whisky was created in gleaming, beautiful copper pot stills — a method that’s still used today, Sickler said.
All whisky begins as a beer. “The only difference between this and the other beer that we make is that there are no hops added,” Sickler said.
Flavors, like vanilla and toffee, come into play during the fermentation process through the wooden casks. Taking a whiff of the whisky, there are plenty of flavors one can conjure. And truly there are no wrong answers.
Sickler said there are 460 aromas in whisky alone. Yeah, like I said, no wrong answers.
In order to be considered actual whisky, it must be aged for at least three years. Crown Royal’s youngest whisky is aged at least nine to 10 years. (Which prompted the question, what happens if it fails? Ten years down the drain? Well, the short answer is no, it’s never happened.)
Crown Royal’s roots go back to 1939 when it was created, as you might have guessed, for royalty. The purple bag and golden crown were designed with the intention of being worthy of a king. It wasn’t until 1964 when the highly successful concoction was made available to the United States.
But enough of the history lesson, let’s get to the tasting. We tried a few cocktails, made with Crown, to kick off the evening. The Crown Royal Black Manhattan definitely packed a punch, while the Crown Fizz was a delightful refreshing drink prepared with lemon and sugar. And then we went straight whisky …
Crown Royal “Original” (aka: Deluxe)
Initial impressions: The scent is definitely a mix of vanilla, spices and maybe even a little maple syrup.
The taste: After one swig, it really goes down smooth, isn’t harsh and leaves just lovely warm feeling as it sinks in, but doesn’t burn. (Sinkler said if it’s good whisky, it should never burn.)
Overall opinion: It’s a nice taste, easy to drink and is what you might expect from a classic.
Crown Royal Black
Initial impressions: The scent is much stronger, it has a bourbon appeal and thanks to its whopping 90 proof, it “stings the nostrils.” (Though not quite as much as Sex Panther, I assume.)
The taste: I won’t lie, this one was a little tough to swallow. There’s a significant amount of heat to it and it’s quite powerful. Sickler suggested cutting it a bit by adding water, and though that helped, it was still too much for my tastes.
Overall opinion: I’m sure it’s the makings of a crazy night but for me, this was a bit much and overpowering.
Crown Royal Reserve
Initial impressions: The vanilla scent was nice and strong with a lovely butterscotch and maple aroma.
The taste: Silky smooth, mellow and velvety with hints of dark fruit with a cinnamon aftertaste that is lovely.
Overall opinion: Delicious. My favorite, by far. It sounds weird but when Sickler suggested the idea of even drizzling it over waffles, I was like, ‘Where’s the nearest IHOP?’
Crown Royal Cask #16
Initial impressions: I could smell toasted peach, a little butterscotch with a nice spice blend.
The taste: Rich with a definite spice and a sweet finish.
Overall opinion: Tasty in small doses with a warming affect and almost hints of pear.
Crown Royal XR
Initial impressions: The XR stands for extra rare and it’s easy to see why. Initially, you’re hit with a woodsy, almost cologne-like scent. Masculine enough, Sickler said, to be tempted to dab a little on your neck.
The taste: Super smooth, big flavor, slightly sweet but a bit too woodsy for me.
Overall opinion: It may be my inexperience with whisky talking here but as one of the most expensive bottles of Crown, it just was too much for me.
The night’s winner for me was the Crown Royal Reserve, but truly it was such an interesting night of discovery that more than anything, I’m eager to try out other whiskies and see if I can change my initial impressions for good.
(And in case you were wondering, my sips may have been small but I managed not to make a “face” through the entire tasting. I chalk that up as progress.)