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5 Things You Didn’t Know About Crown Royal Whisky

Crown Royal is the best-selling Canadian whisky brand in the world. First launched to international markets in the 1960s, the brand’s growing popularity is evidenced by record sales of 7.9 million cases worldwide in 2019. This gained Crown Royal the award of the World Whisky Brand Champion 2020. 

If you’ve ever been curious about the brand famously declared ‘Fit for a King’, we explore Crown Royal’s origins, production, and iconic purple velvet bag. Here are five things you didn’t know about Crown Royal whisky.

1. Crown Royal was created to celebrate the Royal Tour of Canada in 1939 

The Royal couple, George VI and Queen Elizabeth on their Canadian tour in 1939.

In 1939, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth made history by becoming the first reigning monarchs to visit Canada for a royal tour, traveling across the country by train. 

In celebration of the royal visit, Samuel Bronfman, a Canadian spirits entrepreneur and president of the Seagram Company Ltd, set out to create a whisky as a gift for the royal couple. Bronfman allegedly experimented with over 600 blends before presenting the first bottle of the future Crown Royal in a cut glass decanter, wrapped in a regal purple velvet bag decorated with gold stitching. 

The whisky Bronfman presented to the King and Queen was an exquisitely smooth blend. The first bottle of Crown Royal was displayed on the royal train as a symbol of the hardworking and genuine nature of the Canadian people.

The royal train transporting the monarchs across Canada was stocked with 10 cases of the whisky for gifts and receptions – quickly provoking rumors of a new unrivaled whisky that was ‘Fit for a King’. 

Until 1964, the brand was only available in Canada before being introduced to international markets including the United States, where the brand quickly became America’s best-selling Canadian whisky.   

2. The spirit is created by blending 50 whiskies 

Crown Royal is a blend of 50 Canadian whiskies, distilled at the Gimli distillery. Located on the shores of Canada’s Lake Winnipeg, in Gimli, Manitoba, the distillery site stretches over 360 acres, with 51 warehouses storing approximately 1.5 million barrels of whisky. 

The production of Crown Royal uses rye, corn, and barley grains (with approximately 80% sourced from the local Manitoba region), combined with water which is naturally filtered through the limestone beneath Lake Winnipeg.

A combination of five different mash recipes and twelve unique column stills at the Gimli distillery produces the individual whiskies that comprise Crown Royal. Each whisky is aged for a minimum of three years, in either new or re-use charred oak barrels. 

Unlike in the U.S. where bourbon whisky can only be aged in charred new oak barrels, Canadian whisky can be matured using a variety of casks, ranging from virgin oak, charred new oak, or re-used charred oak barrels, to Cognac and Cabernet Sauvignon casks. The casks are blended to create the whisky and are also bottled, in Amherstburg, Ontario.

While the Gimli distillery is home to the brand’s production, whiskies for several Canadian whisky brands, including Canadian 83 and Seagram’s VO Whisky, are distilled at the site.

3. Crown Royal is technically not rye whisky 

Rye is a resilient grain, with the ability to withstand prolonged exposure to low temperatures. As Canada often experiences sub-zero temperatures, it is evident why rye is a staple ingredient in Crown Royal whisky. This does not mean that the whisky can automatically be categorized as rye. 

While American rye whiskey must legally contain 51% rye, Canadian distillers mash grains individually and then combine them as different whiskies. There is no legal rule regarding rye quantities that Canada’s distillers must follow, meaning Canadian blended whisky may contain zero, some, or over 50% rye. As for Crown Royal, the exact percentage of rye in the blend is a mystery.

An exception is the Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye expression which is made with 90% rye, and became the first Canadian whisky to be awarded World Whisky of the Year, in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2016.

4. The brand launched the Purple Bag Project 

The Purple Bag project turns donated Crown Royal bags into care pacakages for those in the military.

From the first bottle presented to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1939, Crown Royal whisky has been packed in purple velvet bags which have become a recognizable symbol of the brand. 

Built on an ethos of generosity, the brand’s Generosity Fund has donated millions of dollars to military personnel, veterans, hospitality workers, and small businesses since 2010. 

In 2018, Crown Royal partnered with ‘Packages From Home’ to launch The Purple Bag Project, using the velvet bags for the meaningful purpose of supporting the troops.

The Purple Bag Project sends care packages containing food, toiletries, and even handwritten notes to military personnel overseas – all packed in the iconic purple velvet bags. By the end of 2020, the project has helped distribute 1 million care packages to active personnel, and those affected by natural disasters. 

Crown Royal is continuing their commitment to support the project, with the goal of packing 2 million bags by 2030. For those interested in donating, more information can be found on the brand’s website.

5. Crown Royal presented a decanter to Queen Elizabeth II 

Crown Royal advertises and sponsors motorsports, including the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series since 2006, and horse racing. 

Between 1995 and 2008, the brand sponsored the Crown Royal American Turf Stakes, a thoroughbred race run at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby day. 

In 2007, the brand honored Queen Elizabeth II’s royal visit to the Kentucky Derby, by presenting the monarch with the Crown Royal XR Extra Rare Heritage Blend. A blend of rare, heritage Canadian whisky, the XR was bottled in a custom-made decanter decorated with gold leaf – although never for sale the bottle was valued at $10,000. 

The Crown Royal XR also celebrated the brand’s heritage and creation of the first Crown Royal blend for Queen Elizabeth II’s parents in 1939.  

BONUS: The Flavored Series

Credit: Crown Royal

Okay, so you may know this already. But, Crown Royal’s flavored whiskies have done wonders for the flavored whiskey category. 

Called The Flavor Series, of the flavors on offer include peach, apple, vanilla, salted caramel, and the new Crown Royal Blackberry Flavored Whisky.

Mark Bostock

Since joining Mark Littler LTD as a freelance article contributor in 2019, Mark Bostock has become an integral part of our UK content writing team. His enthusiasm for whisky, particularly independent bottlings, drives him to deepen his knowledge through frequent attendance at tasting events and the thoughtful expansion of his own whisky collection. This dedication not only fuels his passion but also enriches his contributions to our platform, blending expertise with a genuine love for the subject.

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