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Saturday, January 25, 2020

Some Whiskey Royalty

Got some whiskey royalty today. I've got Chivas Regal 18 year old, the latest – and last? – release of Crown Royal XR, and the newest wrinkle in the rags-to-riches Elijah Craig story, the new Elijah Craig Rye.

Crown Royal XR – We've been thrilled by the XR releases since 2012, when I had the opportunity to taste this exceptional whisky at WhiskyFest New York. It was one of the short-list, fingers-on-one-hand, if-you-only-have-one-tonight pours of that festival. Crown XR is blended using the very last barrels produced at Crown's LaSalle distillery in Montreal, which closed in 2003. These are old barrels, and we're told they're “the last of the last, the best of best. The barrels are empty, the final bottles are filled, the remaining traces of this spirit never to be tried again.”

They even sent out special glasses with this sample, the Sempli Cupa-Rocks. I have to admit, it may be helping launch this pour into the air, because I'm smelling caramel and dried fruit already. Time to get to it. 

Crown Royal always smells rich and sweet, but the XR has been blended with those LaSalle whiskies to a deeper level, a more complex composition. These whiskies are the master works of the Crown Royal blenders, and the results are obvious. There's light caramel (no burnt sugar, just browned), sweet nut aromas verging on marzipan, and a blend of wood aromas: cedar, aged oak, a hint of cherry. The sweetness that comes across in waves is a melange of the caramel, vanilla, salt water taffy, and a teasing hint of Juicy Fruit gum, like a cocktail in a candy store.

That is one of the sharpest Canadians I've ever tasted. This Crown doesn't pillow your palate, no lush sweetness to fill your mouth. No, the first thing that hits your mouth is structure, a squared wooden framework for the whisky to follow and fill. There's a heat and spice that would be expected in other whiskeys, but comes as a bit of a shock for Crown Royal. The rye is forward, the oak is firm. But the familiar Crown lushness, the beauty of the blend is there, behind closed doors that teasingly open as the whisky warms on your palate. There's a long finish that is warm, peppery, and lined with more of that oak, verging on astringent but not quite reaching it, then relaxing to a lingering note of cedar and, right at the end, some dry cocoa.

If you avoid Canadians because you find them too soft, or one-dimensional, if you find them too apologetic... this may be what you're looking for. It's almost unCanadian, but in a most beguiling way. Farewell, LaSalle. You did your work well. (The glass is fun, by the way, but the way it spins on the table requires some thought about where you set it down!)

Tom, the Chivas, and Pippin
Chivas Regal 18 – This bottle of Chivas just showed up in my mail back in December, unexpectedly. Usually I get samples with the expectation that I will try to write about them somewhere (hey, it's not my fault if these people can't manage their expectations), which I either do or don't; stories happen, they can't be forced. When I queried what was up with this – re-launch, new cocktail recipes, change in concept? – I was told, quite pleasantly, that no, they'd just sent it for me to enjoy during the holidays.

Well, I did, sharing a pour with my buddy Tom Linquist while smoking some salmon for our Christmas celebration. It was good, but shortly after that I was hit again with the sinus infection that's been at me since November. Now that I'm clear, I thought I'd have another look. Good blends are a good thing. (The Chivas 18 Gold Signature has a suggested retail in the $60-$70 range, so we're definitely not talking about buying it because it's cheap.)

Layers of fruit in the nose: dried pear, a bit of berry brightness, even a hint of quince jam. There's some chocolate-honey brickle in there as well, fresh and sweet, along with the maltiness – and just a bare wisp of smoke that I thought I smelled while doing that salmon, but how could one be sure? – that would have Ron Burgundy mumbling about scotchy-scotch-scotch.

Smooth and roly-poly on the tongue, this has a bit of heft to it, not light and skittish. The malt bedrocks things, with a light woodwork of oak about it. There's heat, and that tap of peat, just a nudge to let you know it's there. But you know what I like about this? A quality I've noticed in the Jameson 18, and, come to think of it, in the Wiser's 18 – is there something about 18 years in the barrel? – that could be called roundness, or integration. There's nothing that gets in the way of your enjoyment here, nothing that calls out “Looka me over here, isn't this cool?!”, nothing that irks or particularly pleasures to the point of distraction. Like those other two bottles, I could drink this stuff all day, and never get tired of it, or bored. There's something to be said for that. Actually, there's a lot to be said for that. That's well-made whisky.

Elijah Craig Rye -- Elijah Craig bourbon has been part of my regular drinking rotation for a long, long time. It was the first whiskey I "discovered" on my own, without it being recommended to me, and I told a lot of people about it. I was accidentally responsible for getting it booted out of the PA State Stores for about a year, 10-odd years ago, and for that, I apologize (less said, the better). It's one of the few whiskey's I've "bunkered": when the change was made away from a 12 year age statement, I bought some up (I have one bottle left). It's a favorite, and I've watched every change.

This one is clearly a big change, bringing out a rye under the EC label. I've always seen this as a "step up" line for Heaven Hill, and we'll see if it's a step up from Rittenhouse and Pikesville. Heaven Hill sent samples out with a small loaf of rye bread, which is cute, and interesting. It's also kind of special, because the bread was baked by their master distiller, Conor O'Driscoll. (I've had his baking chops independently confirmed; this was not a stunt.)  I noted on Twitter that when I took a bite of bread, and then a sip of whiskey, that "The whiskey positively detonates with flavor when it hits the bread; first time was shocking…now I'm hooked." Lets get a bit more detailed.

I'm out of the bread; too good to waste. The whiskey, however, does smell like Heaven Hill: lean, pared down, Parker Beam-style. The rye is there, with the mint and spicy hard candy notes I'd expect, and some oaky flooring under it. There's some sweetness that comes with the hard candy, but it's bright and almost brittle.

The rye flavor really blows up on the tongue, but it's not hot, even at 94° proof. The Crown XR at 80° is hotter. This rye is quite pleasant, actually, bouncing around your mouth with bountiful mint, grass, rye oil bitterness, and oaky spice. The finish goes on and on, barrel-rolling flavors as you breathe it home: mint, now rye, now oak, now spice candies, back to mint, more candies, and finally whispering away on dry mint and oak.

Folks, I gotta tell an MSRP of $30, I may have found my new house rye. I'll have to try this in an Old Fashioned, but I'm feeling like Bo Peep in Toy Story...

*You asked for Conor's recipe, and Heaven Hill was good enough to send it. Enjoy!

1.5  cups rye flour
3 cups unbleached bread flour
1.5 tsp salt
1.75 tsp instant yeast (1 sachet)
1 to 1.5 tsp caraway seeds (optional)
1 tbs molasses
2 tbs butter, melted
1 cup buttermilk at room temperature
0.25 - 0.5 cups water at room temperature


Mix both flours, salt, yeast, and caraway seeds in the bowl of an electric mixer.
Add melted butter, molasses, buttermilk, and 0.25 c water
Mix with the paddle attachment until the dough comes together in a rough ball. Add another 0.25 c water as necessary to ensure all the loose flour is collected in the ball.
Switch to the hook attachment and mix on medium-low speed.
Continue to knead for 5 to 6 minutes. The dough should be elastic and tacky but not sticky.
Lightly oil a bowl with oil, then transfer the dough to the bowl. Roll the ball in the bowl to coat it with oil.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave to ferment at room temperature for 1.5 to 2 hours. The dough should double in size.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently to degas.
Form the dough into a loaf shape, then transfer to a lightly-oiled and floured loaf pan. The dough can also be formed into a boule for subsequent baking on a pizza stone.
Loosely cover the loaf with plastic wrap. Dust the wrap with flour first to prevent it from sticking to the dough.
Proof the loaf at room temperature until it doubles in size and rises a couple of inches above the rim of the pan.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F and position a rack on the middle shelf.
When the loaf has proofed, bake it for approximately 45 minutes, rotating it front-to-back about halfway through.
Remove the loaf from the pan as soon as it is finished baking. It should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool the loaf on a rack for at least an hour before serving.



jefffrane said...

I picked up the Chivas 18 for Alex's birthday this year. He let me have a taste because he's a good man but the bottle went home with him and I must have shed a tear or two. Wonderful stuff.

Lew Bryson said...

I forgot to mention, Jeff... Oregon is one of four states to get the initial release on that Elijah Craig Rye (along with Georgia and the Carolinas). I think you'll like it.