Many things are synonymous with Canadian tradition. A nation of passionate people, we especially take pride in home-grown brands, including Crown Royal Canadian whisky, a distinctly Canadian brand with a historical legacy all its own and Manitoba roots.
Owned by Diageo, the world’s leading premium drinks business with a portfolio of global brands, the story of Crown Royal’s journey is a unique window into the history of our nation.
In 1939, the Royal Couple, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, made history when they became the first reigning monarchs to journey across North America, travelling the vast distance by train. The event captured the hearts and spirit of Canadians from coast to coast; Canada now had the respect and recognition of the Monarchy as being a significant part of the Commonwealth. Upon hearing the historic news, a Canadian entrepreneur, Samuel Bronfman, set out to craft a whisky suited for the pair.
With perfection on his mind, Bronfman sampled over 600 blends and reviewed hundreds of different types of glass, labels and caps, before cloaking the final product in a purple bag to represent the purple robe of royalty and, fittingly, calling the whisky blend, Crown Royal.
The train carrying the couple was stocked with 10 cases of the exquisite blend. Rumours of the unrivaled Canadian whisky quickly spread and Crown Royal was officially born. The whisky was an immediate success.
Historically, distilleries were located across Canada including the renowned Amherstburg and Waterloo locations in Ontario as well as operations at Beaupre and Lasalle in Quebec. The decision to centralize operations in 1968 at the newer Gimli location, situated on the western shore of Lake Winnipeg, made sense for streamlining production.
Its central location and proximity to the U.S. border, one of Crown Royal’s greatest markets, made Gimli the best site geographically, but it’s access to the natural resources that are key to making Crown Royal sealed the deal. The underground aquifer that supplies Diageo with nearly half a million litres of water per day is an essential ingredient. In their efforts to maintain a clean environment, Diageo thoroughly treats its waste waters and discharges the clean water into Lake Winnipeg maintaining the integrity of the Interlake’s waterways.
This Prairie location also provided proximity to local grain producers. An excess of 250 tonnes of grain (corn, rye and barley malt) are used per day in a continuous 24 hour cycle. Rye and barley malt are purchased from Manitoba and Saskatchewan farmers, while Manitoba farms provide 80 per cent of their corn requirement. Diageo always encourages Manitoba farmers to grow grains and corn in hopes that 100 per cent of their requirements can one day be sourced locally.
The smooth and complex taste of Crown Royal involves an intricate blend of up to 60 different whiskies. Grains such as corn, rye and barley malt are distilled and aged on site in 46 warehouses which, with the new addition in the works, will be able to store more than 1.36 million barrels of aging whisky. An astounding variety of casks line the walls in bonds of 540 barrels, scenting the air with a heady mix of sweet wood and alcohol. The wood barrels utilized for each particular distillate differ and each barrel, new or previously flavoured, will yield a distinctive spirit.
The Gimli plant blends Crown Royal, V.O., Five Star and 83 brands. The facility produces five different distillates – a continuous base whisky which is odourless and a batch base whisky with fruity caramel notes, (continuous and batch refer to their distinct distillation processes), rye flavouring, bourbon flavouring and coffey rye. Gimli has the only coffey rye still in North America, making it unique. Coffey rye is made here for four weeks each year and requires 11 years to mature in new wood barrels. Diageo uses proprietary yeasts that they grow on site for use in Crown Royal.
It is the intense blending process that makes Crown Royal so sought after. A mix of art and science, creating a consistent whisky year after year is an arduous process. The blender’s role is an important one, based on scientific measurements, while the quality control tasting are equally important to ensure consistency of flavour. The product is constantly going through the quality control lab. The completion of every step or transfer to a new container results in quality tastings to ensure the flavours do not deviate.
Diageo produces 350,000 litres of double strength Crown Royal per week. The majority of the finished product, 98 per cent, is transferred into railcars for transport to the Amherstburg plant in Ontario for reduction and bottling.
This past year, Crown Royal celebrated its 75th anniversary, and to commemorate the milestone, the brand released Crown Royal 75th Anniversary Blend, a limited edition Canadian whisky created to celebrate the brand’s original blend and the noble beginnings of Crown Royal.
Today, the legacy of Crown Royal remains how it began, the epitome of Canadian whisky, with a smooth taste and a regal style all its own.