Luxury and self-indulgence, we crave it. We travel for it, drive it, hang it on a wall, wear it, eat it or drink it and we spend hard earned money for it. It could be as simple as indulging in your favorite food or as expensive as a $2 million dollar diamond encrusted bottle of the Henri IV Dudognon Heritage Cognac. All of them, in one way or another, are elegant delicacies of living rather than necessity. Until now – the latest expression of Crown Royal XR has arrived.
The precious amber liquid finds its home in a bottle that looks like a regal crystal decanter. The bottle is wrapped snuggly in the trademark velvet bag that fits into a royal blue box. Simply beautiful. You’d half expect Indiana Jones, the only man in the world who can outrun machine gun fire, to snatch it out your hands with his whip and ride off into sunset while sipping from the bottle. Not because it looks like treasure but because the beloved liquid inside is rare. Extra rare. This is the last of its kind from a distillery years past and worthy in a museum.
Crown Royal’s story starts with Samuel Bronfman. He predicted that prohibition would be short-lived and approached it as a business opportunity to step in the day it ended and fill a huge thirst for whisky. In 1923, Sam and his brother Harry, bought the Greenbrier Distillery and moved it from Louisville Kentucky to LaSalle Quebec, a borough of Montreal. The brothers expanded their first distillery with upgrades and patiently waited. They let their whiskies mature instead of selling them for quick profit. After a merge with Seagrams (1928) and the end of prohibition (1933), Samuel Bronfman personally developed a blend of his whiskies to pay tribute to the 1939 royal visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. This stopover marked the beginning of the Crown Royal legacy.
On the quiet corner of Lafleur and Wanklyn in LaSalle sits the old distillery. It looks like a collection of seasoned warehouses but when you look closer, the architecture for these plain buildings has a very pleasing Art Deco design. It’s more than just a rudimentary structure. “They did not spare expense in constructing it,” says the author of Canadian Whisky the Portable Expert, Davin de Kergommeaux. “It struck me that they put a lot of care into building those warehouses, and the distillery in general. Everything is brick and it was not just slapped up. Rather, they included a lot of design features,” observed Davin over an email conversation.
All of the warehouses at the distillery are decorated with horizontal striped bands grouped in three, but the front building has a round corner gives the building a sleek appearance for a warehouse. The Art Deco glass blocked windows on the facing side are stacked in a set of three. This attention to detail was usually reserved for apartment buildings and major downtown architecture, not warehouses. “This is typical Bronfman – attention to detail and the highest of quality,” explains de Kergommeaux. “Right next door there is a [Labatt] brewery so you can still smell mash and imagine it’s an operating distillery. In the old days the smell of fermenting mash used to give the highway a sweet aroma. The distillery is right near the road to the South Shore [of the St Lawrence River] and the highway dips down well below grade so the locals nick-named it “The Whisky Trench” because it always smelled of mash.”
However, if a distillery puts this kind of streamlined touch to an otherwise plain warehouse, you can easily conclude that even more detail and dedication went into the whisky stored inside. Andrew MacKay has been Crown Royal’s Master Blender since 2002 and the latest expression marks the second entry in what one hopes to be a continuing series. Selected remaining rare whiskies have been carefully blended to create luxury in a glass. “For MacKay, the new installment of XR marks a personal legacy. The LaSalle Distillery, which opened in 1924, is where he began his career as an apprentice and refined his passion for blending whisky before ultimately taking on the title of Crown Royal Master Blender,” explains Crown Royal.
“LaSalle holds a historic place in the whisky world and is incredibly special to me, because it’s where I first learned about creating memorable blends,” said MacKay. “To be able to incorporate these Extra Rare LaSalle whiskies into the new Crown Royal XR is an honor and I hope loyal adult Crown Royal drinkers enjoy it responsibly – whether toasting to a monumental anniversary or simply gathering with friends and family on the weekend.”
The whisky still maintains the classic smoothness of Crown Royal but the sophistication has been amplified. This is because the fine water surrounding the distillery gives these final batches of whisky a full-bodied richness. Knowing Crown Royal, you can expect spicy Canadian rye notes to balance with aged oak aromas, caramel and vanilla.
For the whisky fan, there is no other alternative if you want to experience Crown Royal XR’s blend of rare whiskies from the LaSalle Distillery. It’s a high-end limited edition whisky that isn’t exclusive to only collectors with a reasonable $130 price tag. My only words of advice: if you do get your hands on a bottle and Indiana Jones comes knocking, then buy a pet snake. Indiana Jones is afraid of snakes.
LaSalle Distillery photo courtesy of Davin de Kergommeaux
Crown Royal historical source: Davin de Kergommeaux – Canadian Whisky the Portable Expert. McClelland and Stewart, 2012