Thursday, November 8, 2012

Gift Ideas For Canadian Whiskey Fans.

Diageo is the world’s largest distilled spirits company. I call it The Big Galoot, TBG for short. I criticize Diageo for many things, but not understanding American whiskey and mismanaging their American whiskey portfolio is their greatest sin.

Our disagreement, such as it is, isn’t so much about right and wrong as it is about different points of view. I’m Kentucky/Tennessee-centric. I’m all about straight whiskeys, bourbon and rye, where Diageo is weak. Diageo, however, sees the segment as North American whiskey. Their Big Magilla is Crown Royal Canadian Blended Whisky, a brand they obtained in the Seagram’s carve-up a decade ago.

Crown Royal is the only North American whiskey on Diageo’s ‘strategic brands’ list. Those are the big, global brands on which Diageo hangs its hat. Crown is the #1 Canadian whiskey, sells about 5 million cases a year, and is mainly sold in Canada, the United States, and France. Among North American whiskeys, only Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam sell more. Crown probably has a bright future in other global markets too, which is what makes it strategic.

Although Diageo didn’t make Crown a major brand, it has done a good job of keeping it there. One fine initiative has been the Extra Rare (XR) series. The second installment, released earlier this year, is Crown Royal XR LaSalle. It was created from a small reserve of whiskeys from the LaSalle Distillery in Montreal.

The LaSalle Distillery was built beginning in 1924, began distilling in 1928, and stopped distilling in 1993. Andrew MacKay, Crown Royal’s Master Blender, who created XR LaSalle, began his career there.

As a bourbon drinker, I generally find Canadians tasty but way too mild. That’s my taste. I know Canadians have a huge following on both sides of the border and I’m not putting this style of whiskey down. It’s just not my preference, although I enjoy it from time to time as a change of pace.

That said, Crown Royal is among the best and XR LaSalle is a step beyond that; rich, creamy, and fruit forward. I like this whiskey, both as a drink and a gift. The suggested retail is $130 for a 750 ml bottle. That may seem like a lot, but it is a limited edition, and the packaging is impeccable. It starts with an ornate, heavyweight cardboard box, continues with the classic velvet bag, and the decanter-style bottle has a glass stopper. It’s a very nice, genuinely impressive presentation.

Obviously, this is a fine gift for the regular Crown Royal drinker, but any Canadian whiskey fan should appreciate it.

Speaking of great gifts for Canadian whiskey drinkers, Davin De Kergommeaux's Canadian Whisky, The Portable Expert, is simply the best book ever published on the subject. It's the definitive guide to Canadian whiskey. Nothing else even comes close. He explains the history, how Canadian whiskey is made today, and how it differs from other whiskeys such as bourbon and scotch. He gives you a guided tour of every distillery and reviews every one of their products. It's awesome. Suggested retail price is $24.99 in Canada, $22 in the USA. 


BFerguson said...

Davin's book is a must read, even if your general tastes lay more south of the northern US border for spirits. I didn't know what to exactly expect from when I ordered it, but man, Canadian producers have just as great of a background and history of their American counterparts. Appreciated his help once with a question on a odd product, he was more than generous with his information sharing.

Greg said...

Chuck - I picked up a bottle of XR last year while in St. Marteen; I think it's a very nice pour and your description is spot on. I also recently picked up Davin's book and am reading it now...very informative for those that are unaware of the history of Canadian whiskey production.