When you raise the glass to your nose, if you do it right, you get an impression. It’s oaky, sweet, young, fruity, syrupy. An image arrives. An image that gets clearer the longer you sit with it. My grandfather’s barn on a humid summer day – the musk of the vegetation and wood and the dry hay in the old loft – the compacted Alabama clay floor. This is the image I get when I drink the right 20 year old bourbon. It’s hot, oaky and complex. The harshness seasoned and polished by charred wood but still jagged – still raw, difficult and elegant.
When I ask friends to taste whiskey with me, sometimes when they’re really honest, they’ll say it all tastes “like burning.” I’ll try and explain the nuances of the oak and the grain and the char and they’ll stare blankly back and nod. The glazed look I get is a reminder that no one wants to hear about my grandpa’s barn. This is valuable wisdom. Some people taste whiskey and some people drink whiskey, and this is as it should be. The world (or let’s say, the spirits industry) is diverse enough for everyone to find their bliss.
There were no barns – out the window or in the sales pitch at the penthouse of the London Hotel in Midtown Manhattan last night for Diageo’s rollout of Crown Royal Vanilla. An elegant spread of white tulips, a green screen Photo Booth, cocktail stations and a view of Central Park from 54 floors up at Golden Hour set the stage for comedian JB Smoove to lead a taste test for the new Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla and Canadian Rye Whiskey fusion from Crown Royal.
Flavored whiskey started its rise a few years ago with Fireball. Then came Jack Daniel’s Honey. Perhaps you know of Pritchard’s Sweet Tea Whiskey or Jim Beam Apple. Crown Royal Vanilla breaks from this tradition slightly. It tastes like Vanilla to be sure – like all the way down- like a depth charge of vanilla. However, it’s not cloyingly sweet like a liqueur, and the unmistakable Crown Royal background is sturdily anchored in the whiskey palate. At 70 proof I’d liken it more to Grand Marnier or Disarono, in that it’s interesting enough for a beginner spirit drinker to sit with and enjoy without the “tastes like burning” problem. Call it a gateway drug to the hard stuff.
For my money, Crown Royal Vanilla works best for cocktails. It especially shines next to fall flavors like cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and maple syrup. There was a delicious fall spiced punch that it did especially well in. A dressed up less sweet Crown & Coke was delightful (using Hella Cola, a vanilla bean, and soda water). It was also served as an autumn boilermaker neat with a pumpkin ale. I can’t wait to pour it in some horchata or a chai latte. I can also imagine it working well in an Irish coffee – a boozy cream shake – or hard rootbeer float. I tried it with some Cassia Kreme syrup from Drink More Good and some seltzer from my Soda Stream and it makes an easy, dangerous sipper. There’s a place on my shelf (and in my heart) for challenging booze, and, it turns out, there’s also room for a pleasant vanilla whiskey. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Sometimes there’s no need to overcomplicate it. I’m grateful for the experience, and the reminder.
Crown Vanilla and Hella Cola
· 1.5 oz. Crown Royal Vanilla
· 1 oz. Hella Cola Cocktail Syrup
· 3.5 oz. Club Soda
· Whole Madagascar Vanilla Bean
· Wedge of lime, optional
Directions: Fill a highball glass with ice, add Crown Royal Vanilla, Hella Cola Cocktail Syrup and Club Soda. Using vanilla bean as a stirrer, gently stir drink for several seconds and leave vanilla bean in with straw. Drop in lime wedge without squeezing (optional).
Article: Tyler Lyle