Smoth’s Rating: 8.7/10
Let me give you a quick summary of the questions I know you have about Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye: Yes, I actually found a bottle for myself, and no — it’s not the world’s best whiskey. But you know what? It is pretty damn good, and worth a try if you can find some.
If you’ve heard about Northern Harvest, it’s probably because Jim Murray (whiskey guru who’s annual picks cause enormous fluctuations in the whiskey world) named Northern Harvest his “World Whisky of the Year 2016.” He noted that calling it a “masterpiece” was hardly sufficient to describe Northern Harvest. And while I respect Jim’s opinion, I certainly don’t know if I’d lavish it with that kind of praise. More apt, in my opinion, is appreciating that this is a real step-up for Crown Royal, who have produced a solid, well rounded, flavourful rye at an extremely affordable price.
Northern Harvest Tasting Notes
One of the things about high-rye whiskeys is they tend to be divisive among drinkers. For those who prefer punchy, spicy drams, a high-rye whiskey will do just the trick. For those who like subtlety and refinement (I’m looking at you, Speyside drinkers) they can tend to be a bit coarse.
At 90% rye grain, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking the Northern Harvest would alienate some drinkers – especially given it’s 45% ABV, a bit more muscular than your traditional Crown Royal. Once you take a sniff, however, it quickly becomes apparent Northern Harvest tends toward restraint.
In the glass, it looks a few shade darker than Crown Royal proper. On the nose, any further comparisons disappear, as Northern Harvest evokes a complex balance of light floral notes, nutmeg, orange rind, and baking pie crust. One thing is apparent about Northern Harvest before even taking a sip – it’s not going to be a disappointment (regardless of whether it’s “The World’s Best.”)
After a sip, the rye makes its presence known in an incredibly approachable way. There’s a bit of allspice and a hint of ginger, with a kick of black pepper to remind you you’re drinking a rye – just without the aggressive bite. Norther Harvest also tastes of worn wood, applesauce, sweet orange, and – perhaps most profoundly – like vanilla crème brulee, with the toasted sugar and all. The finish is long and sweet, with the higher proof adding a nice throat-warming touch.
So – is Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye the world’s best whiskey? No. But let’s look at it under a finer lens. With it’s surprising complexity, wonderful flavor and impressive refinement (all for around $30) you could seriously make a case for this being the best Canadian rye under $50, beating out serious competition. What’s certain is – if you can find a bottle amidst all the hype – Northern Harvest is definitely a whiskey worth sipping slow.