Monday, November 26, 2012

Of Whiskey And Innovation

For a craft that usually prefers to talk about tradition and heritage, and things that never change, whiskey makers have been crowing a lot lately about innovation. For the majors, new product innovation seems to be proceeding on two paths. On one are products enthusiasts love: limited editions, experiments, and ultra-premium expressions. On the other are products enthusiasts despise: flavored whiskeys.

The post here two weeks ago about Crown Royal XR LaSalle, part of Crown's Extra Rare (XR) series, represents Crown's appeal to the enthusiast community. Now the other shoe has dropped, with the introduction of Crown's first flavored whiskey, Crown Royal Maple Finished.

Maple is the natural choice for a Canadian and Crown Royal (a Diageo brand) is commended for not rolling out one more with honey. (They already have Dark Honey under the Seagram's Seven brand.) The packaging is similar to standard Crown, except with a bronze-colored label and a brown velvet bag instead of the usual blue.

They describe it this way: "Crown Royal Maple Finished begins with the legendary taste of Crown Royal whisky. The liquid then incorporates a touch of natural maple flavor achieved through a proprietary maple toasted oak finishing process for added smoothness."

Through questioning, the following translation was elicited. "Crown Royal Maple Finished Whisky is made by adding a touch of natural maple flavor to the whisky and then we introduce it to toasted oak staves and toasted oak chips. The introduction of these toasted oak staves and chips delivers characteristics of the oak to the liquid, one of which is reminiscent of maple. This finishing process also delivers a smoothness to the whisky, worthy of Crown Royal."

The result? If you believe maple syrup is the best part of pancakes, and wish you could drink it straight from the bottle, now you can, plus get a buzz. To describe it as alcoholic pancake syrup may sound pejorative, but not if you really love that flavor. The maple taste is very good, full and rich. Most of it comes from the 'natural maple flavor' but the specially toasted oak staves and chips have a noticeable and positive effect. Identifiable as oak but nicely complementing the maple, they provide added depth with something recognizable from the whiskey lexicon.

Which is good because, without it, there's not much evidence of whiskey here. All distilled spirits, even vodka, have a body and mouth feel that's distinctive to distillates. Crown Maple has that, and the aforementioned oak, but otherwise the whiskey part of this drink is just a rumor.

Still and all, if you really like maple, Crown Maple should work for you. Open this for a party and expect an empty bottle by the end of the evening. Suggested retail is $24.99.

But, be warned, it may bring back some childhood memories.


Justin said...

Next time I will read your review more carefully. I thought the maple in the crown maple came exclusively from maple wood. This stuff is exactly like you describe: drinkable pancake topping. Its not really all that bad, just not what I was expecting.
I think it could really shine in a cocktail, but I do not yet know which.

Vidiot said...

Is this sweet, like a liqueur? There are a few maple liqueurs out there already -- I know of two from Vermont and one from Quebec -- but maple flavor without too much sweetness might be interesting to mix with.

Chuck Cowdery said...

It's classified as a flavored whiskey, not a liqueur, but it is very sweet. I don't have any maple liqueurs to compare it to, so I can't say if it's less sweet, but it's definitely sweet. As for mixing, I tried it on the rocks with a little lemon and even that muddied it up quite a bit, so I'm not sure how when it really mixes, but your result may vary.