Bought: Drink Supermarket, 12th June 2017
97.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2017
78.24/100 – Whiskybase (average from 133 member votes)
Jim Murray, author of the Whisky Bible, gave his 2016 ‘World Whisky of the Year’ award to the Crown Royal ‘Northern Harvest Rye’ (NHR) but specifically to bottle code L5083 N3. My bottle is code L5098 N5, whatever that means. The 5098 sounds quite close to the 5083 Jim Murray had but the N3 and N5 might refer to completely separate stills. Perhaps still number N5 is in a different building where it only has its pipes cleaned every 6 years and shares the premises with a donkey sanctuary. Don’t ask me, I just drink this shit!
After the award Crown Royal didn’t exactly rush to put their prices up in Canada and the US, although I believe it sold out everywhere for a while. Crown Royal knew the NHR was a $22 blend, and so did their market, which wouldn’t tolerate the stuff if it doubled in price. But in the UK we got massively stung and even 20+ months later it’s hard to find the NHR for less than £100 in whisky shops. Thankfully Drink Supermarket had it for £55, which convinced me it was time to grab a bottle, even though I know it’s unlikely to blow my mind (and it should only be £20!). I haven’t tried Canadian rye so I’m killing two birds with one stone with the NHR when I taste it AND get to denounce Jim Murray as a crackpot.
As I researched this blog post I watched the Whisky Vault’s review of the NHR on YouTube. In it they mention Mark Bylok’s blog (here) where he discusses the big variation across the different releases of NHR. He reviews 4 separate batches and gives them scores of 93/100, 88/100, 82/100 and 78/100. So Jim Murray’s bottle could have been 97.5/100 but my L5098 N5 may only be 60/100, such is the inconsistency across the NHR range. Thankfully most whisky producers try harder than Crown Royal to keep a standard flavour across their batches otherwise reading reviews would be pointless. But in the case of NHR, unless you have the same batch number of the bottle being reviewed, take everything that’s said with a pinch of salt.
Here are the Scotch Test Dummies on YouTube with their thoughts about the Crown Royal NHR, which they reviewed before Jim Murray’s award. Since then a lot of reviews have been tainted by an anti-Murray bias so it’s nice to see an honest summary and an above average rating of 88/100 (Aug 2015). I’m not sure what batch it is though:
Bought: Whisky Exchange, 28th September 2016
86/100 – Whisky Bible 2017
82/100 – Whisky Whistle (video review below)
78.06/100 – Whiskybase (average from 20 member votes)
Before Crown Royal shot to fame when Jim Murray awarded the ‘Northern Harvest Rye’ edition his Whisky of the Year 2016 I was mainly interested in the bottle shape. It’s curvy, chunky and would look good on the sideboard. Whether the Harvest Rye deserved 97.5/100 is debatable but the ‘Black’ scores a more modest 86/100, which classifies it as “very good to excellent whisky definitely worth buying”. Jim Murray says “not for the squeamish: a Canadian that goes for it with bold strokes from the off which makes it a whisky worth discovering. The finish needs a rethink, though.”
78.06/100 on Whiskybase might not sound all that great but the ‘Northern Harvest Rye’ has a very similar score with 78.54/100 from 98 votes. The standard ‘Fine De Luxe’ can only muster 72.5/100 from 81 votes so I’m confident that the Black is a step up from that.
Here’s Whisky Whistle with his review on You Tube (December 2015):
Bought: Best of Whisky, Holland, 2nd February 2015
91/100 – Whisky Bible 2015
82/100 – Ralfy – His YouTube review here (Feb 2010)
I’d given my only example of Canadian whisky away as a gift, so I was on the lookout for a replacement. The obvious choice was a full 70cl of Canadian Club, which a couple of supermarkets stock in the UK. But that seemed too easy! With a good selection on the Dutch online shop ‘Best of Whisky’ I spotted the Seagram’s VO for £11.50. With a good review from Ralfy and scoring 91/100 in the Whisky Bible, it sounded like an interesting buy.
91/100 is a great score for a whisky that has been through quite a change in the last 10 or so years. In the Whisky Bible 2006 it scored 85/100 where the author, Jim Murray, was detecting a decline where the whisky had “lost both its distinctive rye character and its claim to greatness”. By 2009 the Bible score had gone down to 80/100 where Mr Murray was saying the ‘VO’ now stood for ‘Very Ordinary’. By 2015 the review begins with “the king of rye-enriched, Canadian, VO, is dead. Long live the corn-dominant VO”. The author laments the loss of the rye-based VO but concedes that Seagram’s new corn creation “is a playful affair, full of vanilla-led good intention, corn and complexity”. Mr Murray goes on to say “thoroughly blended and with no little skill, I am impressed”. He looks forward to seeing how it develops in future years. So do I!