Previously, I wrote an article on all the different types of Crown Royal. People are fairly familiar with all the different flavors, at least to a degree, but I was getting a lot of outreach about the some of their other options. Specifically, whiskies in their Signature and Master Series – they were looking for more in depth information on Crown Royal XO vs Reserve vs Black.
You can check out my post linked above for a basic overview of all their whiskies or stay here for an in-depth guide of Crown Royal XO, Reserve, and Crown Black. We’ll cover their flavor profiles, price, ABV, and the different colored bags they come in as well.
Crown Royal History
Crown Royal was created in 1939 as a gift to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England for their visit to Canada. This makes complete sense upon first glance of the bottle and name. I mean… it’s called Crown Royal, the bottle features a crown sitting atop a plush purple pillow, and the glass has nice crossing designs on it.
Crown Royal XO vs Reserve vs Black Overview
|Spirit:||Blended Canadian Whisky||Blended Canadian Whisky||Blended Canadian Whisky|
|Distilled By:||Gimli Distillery / Crown||Gimli Distillery / Crown||Gimli Distillery / Crown|
|Aged:||at least 3 years (Finished in Cognac casks)||at least 3 years||at least 3 years (aged in charred oak barrels)|
|ABV:||40%, 80 proof||40%, 80 proof||45%, 90 proof|
|Mashbill||64% corn, 31.5 % rye, 4.5% malted barley||64% corn, 31.5 % rye, 4.5% malted barley||64% corn, 31.5 % rye, 4.5% malted barley|
The first thing to cover is that these whiskies are all blended Canadian whiskies, and they all have the same mashbill. So, the difference between all of these is going to be aging… but we’ll get to that soon enough.
Blending Canadian Whisky
A large portion of Canadian whisky is blended, and that’s because they tend to do things a little differently than the rest of the world. Here in the US, and elsewhere, we mash our grains together for fermentation, eventually distilling, and then barreling. Canadian Whisky distills and ages everything separately, blends it together, and then bottles it.
Canadian Whiskies tend to distill 100% corn whisky, 100% rye whisky, and 100% malt whisky. Then, they are aged a minimum of three years, blended together and bottled. That’s in contrast to distilling a mash of corn, rye, and malted barley all together. I believe Crown uses 5 different mashbills, so they may have a little variation in the grains they distill.
Crown Royal XO, Reserve, Black – Aged in What? Aged for How Long?
The whisky that comes out of the stills are all the same, so what differentiates Crown XO from Reserve and from Crown Black? Well, that would be the barrels it’s aged in.
There are very few regulations regarding Canadian Whisky, but one of them is that it all must be aged a minimum of three years – same as whisky in Ireland and Scotland.
Now, all of Crown Royal Whisky is initially aged in new or used charred oak barrels for three years. But there are some minor differences.
Crown Royal Black Aging
Crown Royal Black spends three years in new charred oak barrels, similar to bourbon, and it’s bottled at a higher proof, 90 proof.
Crown Royal XO Aging
After spending three years in charred oak barrels, Crown XO is barrel finished in ex-Cognac casks. The ‘XO’ is in reference to an age-statement found on bottles of Cognac that are ‘Extra-Old’, or aged a minimum of 6 years. Check out our Hennessy vs D’usse guide for more info on Cognac.
Crown Royal Reserve
Crown Royal Reserve is Crown’s version of small batch or barrel-select whisky. Premium barrels are hand selected by the master blender. They say less than 1% of barrels are selected for Reserve, and that the whisky is typically aged longer than their standard Crown Royal Deluxe.
How are Crown Royal XO vs Reserve vs Black Different?
There are three main differences between these three whiskies.
First is aging. The barrel and time the whisky is aged/finished in.
Second is proof. Crown Black is bottled at 45% ABV which is 5% higher than XO and Reserve, and most of the other Crown options.
Lastly, they differ in price. Crown Black is the cheapest of the three options coming in at around $25. Next, Crown XO comes in around $37, and lastly is Crown Reserve at about $42. Prices may vary based upon location and individual store.
Crown Royal XO vs Reserve vs Black Flavor Profile
Now that we’ve covered some of the basic differences between Crown Black, Reserve, and XO, we can get to how these differences actually affect the taste of the whisky. On to my favorite part – time to pour ourselves three glasses of whisky and get to drinkin’!
Crown Royal XO Flavor Profile
Nose: A very nutty aroma comes off strongest for me with hazelnut and pecan. There’s dried cherries and fruits, with a bit of caramel.
Palate: Much more fruit forward on the palate. Dried cherries and apricot lead a way back into that nutty profile. Again, maybe, maybe a touch on the thin side, but not sharp. Decent mouthfeel.
Finish: A somewhat dry finish that’s medium in length. The rye is most pronounced on the finish with some citrus and spice, remnants of the dried fruit, and finishing with hazelnut.
Summary: I think this is a great expression of Crown Royal Whisky. The ex-cognac casks add a lot, and in ways that I didn’t quite expect. The remnants of Cognac seemed to have less affect, where as the French oak played a bigger role. It’s a sweet middle ground of whisky aged in ex-port casks which can be overbearing.
Crown Royal Reserve Flavor Profile
Nose: Oak, Vanilla, cinnamon, citrus. A little more here than Crown Deluxe, their standard expression, but not too much.
Palate: More caramel and honey on the palate than vanilla, oak, light fruits like apple and pear and some citrus. Not super thick and rich, but certainly not thin either. More spice on the palate than the other expressions, too.
Finish: The citrus at the end of the palate leads way to cinnamon and pepper, perhaps some nutmeg that was also on the palate.
Summary: This is your standard Crown Royal with a touch more spice, and a thicker, better mouthfeel. The select barrels seem to bring out a bit more of the rye which adds some additional spice. Other than that, they provide a creamier whisky (I know it’s a common way to describe whisky, but I don’t like using that word when it comes to something I’m drinking… but whatever).
Crown Royal Black Flavor Profile
Nose: Oak and vanilla, perhaps a touch of tea, but not much here.
Palate: Also not much going on here. A touch of brown sugar and toffee with a sprinkle of dried fruit. A little on the thin side, but not sharp.
Finish: About what I expected with Crown and the nose/palate. Easy, with some light pepper and spice, but not much going on.
Summary: Crown Royal Black is Crown’s ‘bourbon’ expression, and it has slight similarities with a stronger oak and vanilla than their Deluxe expression, but it doesn’t quite get there. At the end of the day, it’s in line with what Crown is. It’s easy to sip, it’s not off-putting, but it seems like something is just missing. At 90 proof, it’ll work very well in a cocktail.
Which is Better? Crown XO, Crown Reserve, or Crown Black?
I’m going to give a short answer, and then I’ll explain. Without regards to price, I’m picking Crown XO, then Crown Reserve, and, lastly, Crown Black.
Crown Royal, to me, is one of the easiest whiskies to drink. If an 18 year old wanted to drink whisky neat, I’d hand him Crown first. There’s not too much to it, it’s just an easy sip. So with that as the base, I was expecting a little more from each of these three expressions.
Crown Black was a little disappointing for me. It tasted just like their standard offering with more oak and vanilla. However, the upside to Crown Black is that it’s 1. $25ish and 2. 45% ABV which is stronger than their standard, XO, and Reserve selections. It’s easy enough to sip like pretty much all Crown, but it plays it’s best role in a mixed drink or cocktail. For a $25 whisky, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Crown Reserve was more what I wanted Crown Black to be. The mouthfeel was better, and the flavor was turned up just a notch. The two downsides to Crown Royal Reserve are price and proof. I mean, we’re talking $43ish for a whisky that’s 80 proof. Take into account how competitive the $40-50 price range is, and I’m not sure I’m choosing this over so many of my other options.
Crown XO, on the other hand, comes in right around $35, and it was a fun and enjoyable whisky for me to drink. It was much nuttier than I expected it to be. Cognac is aged in French Oak, so the ex-cognac casks that Crown XO was aged in were French. French Oak is known to add stronger chocolate, toffee, and nutty notes. Cognac, a brandy, meaning distilled wine, tend to add those dried fruit notes, but it wasn’t overpowering in this expression. For $35, this was a fun whisky to experience..
Crown Royal Bag Colors
Last but not least, we have to discuss the color bags that Crown Royal XO, Reserve, and Black come in. When you buy Crown at a liquor store, it’s likely going to be in the form of a box. When you open the box, I nice velvet bag holds your whisky. The velvety, purple bag that Crown comes in is well known, but all of their whisky comes in different colored bags, so let’s talk about these three.
Crown Royal Black Bag Color
Okay, this is a what we like to call a ‘gimmie’. It’s Crown Royal Black, so…… yes, the bag it comes in is black as well. No tricks here. You can refer to our pictures above to see the bag and bottle.
Crown Royal Reserve Bag Color
Crown Reserve comes in a beige, taupe, sand colored bag. For sake of saving money, I opted to get a drink at my local whisky bar for the notes instead of the $47 that the liquor store was charging. So, here’s a photo from The Liquor Booth.
Crown Royal XO Bag Color
Crown Royal XO comes in a grey bag. Again, you can refer to our pictures to see exactly what shade it is.
I like Crown a lot, and Canadian Whisky in general, but you need to understand something about it – it’s a boring whisky. There’s not really anything fancy going on here. I mean, they have all their flavors that people love, they now have a 29yr and 18yr that replaced their out of stock XR expressions, but this isn’t a new, fun, exciting whisky to drink.
With that in mind, Crown Royal can be an exceptionally pleasant whisky to drink. It’s easy, it’s smooth, there’s not much too it, but no bite either. Some like that, some don’t. Just have reasonable expectations.
Between Crown Royal Reserve vs XO vs Black, Crown XO was my favorite to drink. All three of these whiskies had that easiness I was just describing, but Crown XO was the most unique and most fun to drink. If you’re looking for a simple whisky to mix, Crown Black is probably your best bet. Crown Reserve is better than Black, but at nearly twice the price, it’s not something I’m going to single out.
Which is best for you….? well, that all depends on what you like and how you like to drink whisky. Or perhaps you’re looking to collect all the different bag colors. Regardless, I’ve never had an off-putting sip of Crown Royal, so feel free to indulge in any or all of these!