Most of us have been tempted by Trader Joe’s knock off brands of alcohol. They’re typically much more affordable than the real thing, which makes the mouth of a budget gourmet begin to water. But how is the taste? Are we sacrificing complexity and flavor to save a couple of bucks? The economical choice might be worth it. But then again, maybe not.
In search of answers, I decided to do a double tasting of Trader Joe’s Canadian whiskey and the famous “it comes with a purple pouch” Crown Royal.
First, a bit about whisky, and Canadian whisky in general, then about Crown Royal (and TJ’s knock-off) in particular.
If you’re new to whisky (or you've had one too many) you may not realize that there are two spellings of this grain-based beverage. “Whiskey” refers to the fermented grain mash produced in the United States and Ireland. “Whisky” is the variation preferred by Scottish and Canadian distilleries.
Canadian whiskey tends to be lighter and smoother than American, Irish and Scottish brands. Legally, for an alcohol to be referred to as “whiskey” in Canada, it must be aged at least three years (remember, a decent scotch is typically aged 12 years or longer), and must contain at least 40% alcohol.
Typically, Canadian whiskies are blended, multi-grain liquors containing a high percentage of corn liquor. They also tend to include rye grain, and at times rye whiskey has been used interchangeably with Canadian whiskey. But don’t be confused: referring to Canadian whisky as “rye” is not the same as ordering an American “rye whiskey.” In Canada, rye is typically a minority grain, whereas in a rye produced in the U.S., rye must be the majority grain for it to be referred to as such.
Crown Royal was first introduced in 1939 in honor of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the continent. Today, Crown Royal is the America’s most popular Canadian whisky and is produced in Ontario, Canada, but it wasn’t introduced into the U.S. until 1965.
Nose: Richer, more balanced. Freshly sawn maple hides underneath peppermint overtones.
Taste: Darker, heavier, sharper and more alcoholic, with a short maple finish. None of the buttery aftertaste. My initial impression of Crown Royal, upon opening it, as that of a dark 5 year rum.
Trader Joe’s Canadian Whiskey
Nose: Carmel, maple butter, warmer notes.
Taste: There’s that maple butter again, this time with sugar crystals that dissolve down the tongue. This dram is smooth, with light carmel and maple notes.
Conclusion: If you live in a state like California where liquor goes on sale, and you can purchase either bottle for around $16, have fun! Try both. If I had to choose I would go with Crown Royal every time. But when there’s a marked difference in price, and Crown is more expensive, I would have no second thoughts about purchasing the TJ’s brand.