I forget who it was that wrote it, but I remember reading an opinion somewhere that suggested you should only read critics who come with photos and names attached. The argument being that you get to know their strengths and weaknesses, and that if you hate the miserable swine, at least you’re extended the courtesy of knowing whose downfall you’re praying for.
I happen to agree entirely. Take us at Malt, for example. Broadly speaking there’s a lot of consensus, and our outlook’s pretty much in harmony, but we’re still a scrappy, dissident gaggle of individuals at heart, each foibled in our own idiosyncratic way. I’m essentially useless if you’re spending over £200. Mark’s a genius when it comes to digging down into the facts, but he’d drink battery acid if it came from a first-fill wine cask. And Jason’s better than Diageo’s marketing team for bringing life to dead distilleries, but anything he says about Tormore you can take with a pinch of Himalayan Pink the size of Lot’s wife.
The same, naturally, is true when it comes to the folk who scrawl about whisky to earn a crust. You can love ‘em, hate ‘em, or love ‘em and hate ‘em, but they all crack the nut in a slightly different way, and it’s up to you, dear reader, to establish which horse is right for your particular course.
So if you want to know how they drink in the backstreets of Beijing, or what the best grog match is for coconut water, you probably want Broom. For a worthy history of which Scotch distilleries still use worm tubs, and when the other places packed them in, MacLean’s your man. You’ll have a Buxton knocking about, because everyone loves a list, and – cue predictable intake of breath – you might just have a copy of the Whisky Bible too. (Mostly for the same reason.)
Namedropping The Man In The Hat into online whisk(e)y discussion is a little bit like hurling a chicken into a convention for starving foxes. A great deal of reaction is likely to be stirred, all of which will be largely along the same theme, and none of which will be positive for the chicken. Being diplomatic, you’d describe him as ‘a controversial figure’. But since when has the internet ever been diplomatic?
Anyhow, this isn’t going to be a fresh addition to the online canon of bible-bashings. Quite enough theses have been nailed to the door by this stage. Gloss over the boorishness and the unscrubbed-oven phraseology, and if nothing else the Bible is a wordy snapshot of a large chunk of what whiskies are globally available.
My reason for bringing it up at all is the central tenet of Murray-malcontentment; his presumptuousness in declaring such-and-such bottle “The Best Whisky In The World”; his imposition of absolutes upon a world of opinions. Possibly his most famous – certainly his most consequential – was when Yamazaki’s Sherry Cask scooped top gong. But to most peoples’ minds, peak outré was hit the year afterwards, when the title was given to Crown Royal’s Northern Harvest Rye.
The internet’s reaction to that one can be summarised by the rude word of your choice. Frankly even the folks at Gimli don’t reckon Northern Harvest’s as good as whisky gets, but neither they nor Diageo were bonkers enough to look a gift cash cow in the mouth. Cue “Scotland Thrashed Again!” headlines from non-whisky-drinking journalists, and a frantic scramble by the online whiskerati to see who could damn Northern Harvest in the most witheringly brutal of terms.
The bizarrely polarised upshot of all this fuss is that anything you read about Crown Royal Northern Harvest suggests that it’s either one notch up from the blood of Christ or one notch down from Toilet Duck. Because no-one can seemingly bring themselves to review it simply as what it is: a mid-priced bottle of 90% rye-recipe, 45% ABV Canadian.
It’s only just received general UK distribution, and is available on the Whisky Exchange for £50, or £27 for a half-bottle (which is what I went for – I’d already added the Starward 10th Anniversary to cart, and I wanted to nudge myself into free delivery territory). So two-and-a-bit years after the kerfuffle I’m finally sitting down with a glass. Just call me Mr Up-to-the-minute.
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye – review
Colour: Burnished gold.
On the nose: Sweet, firm aromas of green apples and sugar crystals straight away. Sourdough rye bread and earthy, soily grain. Cut grass, ginger and candied lemon. A smatter of germoline. It’s clean and crisp and on the delicate side. Could do with a little more assertiveness for interest.
In the mouth: That clean crispness continues on the palate. It’s rather sharp and a shade prickly, so it takes a moment for the sweetness to steal in. Honey and Granny Smith rind are the headlines when it does. Gingerbread, light clove and duskier rye notes lurk to the rear. The whole thing’s hard enough to crack your teeth on, but the delicacy of flavour and the light-medium body makes for a rather spiky experience.
I mean … it’s fine. It’s not rubbish, but it’s about as close to being Best Whisky In The World as this post is to the Nobel Prize for Literature. £50 is steep – for my money it should be priced in line with Diageo’s Bulleit rye, or Hiram Walker’s Lot 40.
But yeah. Basically, it’s fine. I’ll not be pouring it down the sink, or afraid to share it with friends. I probably won’t replace it when it’s gone. None of which adds up to a terribly exciting review, I admit, but that’s not really the point, is it?
The point is that announcing something to be awful just because someone you don’t especially like has declared it to be outstanding isn’t really helpful. Nor is the inverse of that. The point, I suppose, is to judge the whisky as it is in your glass, not simply as it’s scribbled in someone else’s book, or typed on someone else’s twitter feed.
Though, now I think about it, that’s rather a dangerous point for a reviewer of whisky to conclude on …
Lead image provided by The Whisky Exchange along with the commission links should you be interested in purchasing a bottle of this rye whisky. These commission links help us with our costs but transparency remains very important to us.