A panel of nine experts gave the awards to the brand’s Noble Collection Winter Wheat at the twelfth annual event.
“This whisky won by a landslide, really,” said Davin de Kergommeaux, head judge and founder of the awards.
“It’s very lush in its flavour. It feels wonderful. Lots of weight in your mouth … but the nice thing about this whisky is that it tastes most like itself. It really is synthesized into a single unit, a whole.”
Crown Royal is distilled on a 360-acre property along the shores of Lake Winnipeg in Gimli, Man.
“On behalf of our entire team at the distillery in Gimli and our blending team, and our teams throughout North America, it’s an absolute honour to be named the Canadian Whisky of the Year,” said Stephen Wilson, director of whisky engagement for Crown Royal.
“The Noble Series, it’s always been a chance for our blenders and our distillers to really showcase just the quality of whisky we produce at Crown Royal. So for that to come full circle and for all of those folks to get the recognition they deserve, I’ll tell you, our team has been on cloud nine.”
In addition to the top honours, the Manitoba product also took home Best Blended Whisky and Sippin’ Whisky of the Year (multi-market).
Diageo, the beverage company which owns Crown Royal, also won Distillery of the Year for the Gimli location, and Blender of the Year for its blending lab in Montreal.
De Kergommeaux says Canada has plenty to be proud of in terms of its whiskies, which have three “touchstones,” but thousands of variations.
“It generally starts sweet, like butterscotch. There’s this peppery spice in the middle. Then it finishes with an almost bitterish, like grapefruit, pith at the end,” said de Kergommeaux, never short of adjectives.
“It really is easy to recognize.”
The Canadian Whisky Awards has over two dozen award categories, and other winners included Okanagan Spirits for Artisanal Distiller of the Year, Odd Society Maple Whisky for Best New Whisky, and J.P. Wiser’s Red Letter 15-Year-Old for Connoisseur Whisky of the Year (domestic).
As for Crown Royal’s Noble Series, Wilson says each year is unique, so this year’s winning Winter Wheat is only going to be available for a limited time.
“The reaction to the Winter Wheat, I haven’t seen anything like that. So right now I would say there are no plans (to extend it), but I don’t want to be the one that says that, because you never know,” Wilson said.
“For now, let’s enjoy it while it’s there. That’s what it’s meant to be. That’s what it’s meant for.”
Crown Royal is no stranger to national or international recognition either.
Read more: Manitoba whisky named best in the world
Its Northern Harvest Rye became hard to find back in 2016 after being named World Whisky of the Year in Jim Murray’s annual Whisky Bible.
“It was crazy,” said de Kergommeaux.
“Here’s a $35 whisky that’s the best in the world, and it just cleaned out liquor stores in Canada. I was in New Brunswick at the time, cleared out the liquor stores, cleared out the liquor stores in Ontario, everywhere.”
Northern Harvest Rye went on to win Sippin’ Whisky of the Year at the 2017 Canadian Whisky Awards, while the first iteration of the Noble Series, Crown Royal Cornerstone Blend, was also named Canadian Whisky of the Year by Whisky Advocate in 2016.
“We have an amazing team in Gimli, and they are the heart and soul of why Crown Royal is so special,” Wilson said.
Canadian Whisky Awards
The Canadian Whisky Awards are the brainchild of author and sommelier Davin de Kergommeaux, who founded the awards in 2009.
“I wanted to start an awards program where we really evaluated the whiskies fairly and honestly, and where the judges were competent to assess Canadian whisky. Not scotch, not bourbon and not other spirits, but real Canadian whisky experts,” de Kergommeaux said.
“We had like 65 entries the first year. We’re going to cross 200 next year. So it’s been growing.”
De Kergommeaux says a panel of ten judges are tasked with tasting each submission blind and giving it a score, with the highest scores taking home the hardware.
After the scores are tabulated, they’re sent back to the judges to ensure their responses were incorporated correctly.
“We look for a whisky that people have really thought about. And you can tell,” de Kergommeaux said.