These blended brands are two of the top-selling whiskeys in the world. In the U.S. market, Crown Royal is the No. 2 selling whiskey brand behind Jack Daniel’s, while Jameson is No. 5. And globally, Crown Royal is No. 3, while Jameson is No. 4.
Each is the leader in their respective category: Jameson, the best-selling Irish whiskey in terms of volume, and Crown Royal, the leading Canadian whisky.
In terms of competitors, the blended Canadian whisky category includes brands like Black Velvet and Canadian Club, while the blended Irish whiskey category includes products like Tullamore DEW and Powers. But because they are both examples of blended whiskey and share a similar price point, it makes sense to compare and contrast them in a versus article so you can make an educated order next time you’re in your favorite whiskey shop or tavern.
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John Jameson had worked as a lawyer in Scotland before marrying Margaret Haig — a member of a powerful Scotch whisky family — and getting into the distilling business. He opened the Jameson Distillery in Dublin in 1780.
Sales of Jameson whisky grew, and by 1805 it was the No. 1 selling Irish whiskey — at the time was the most popular style of whiskey in the world. Sales volume continued to grow until a series of events in the first half of the 20th century dealt a body blow to Irish whiskey’s supremacy.
In retaliation for Ireland’s independence in 1916, Irish products were cut off from Commonwealth markets — including Canada. Then, in 1920, the United States Congress enacted the 18th Amendment to the Constitution — ushering in the Prohibition era in which the production, sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages became outlawed. Soon, American bootleggers began smuggling bottles of whiskey purchased in Canada south to be sold in speakeasies. But the embargo by the British Navy meant Irish whiskeys like Jameson could not get in on the action. So, while Irish distillers suffered, whiskey makers in Canada and Scotland gained market share.
Prohibition ended in 1933. By the end of the decade, the world would be plunged into World War II.
In the runup to the war, the British orchestrated the first-ever trip by reigning monarchs to North America to help raise support for the war effort. One of the people tapped to bring out the welcome wagon was someone who greatly benefited from American Prohibition — Samuel Bronfman, a whiskey maker acting as President of the Seagram’s company.
To welcome Queen Elizabeth and King George VI to Canada, Bronfman created a unique blend of the maturing barrels used to make Seagram’s portfolio of brands. He called it the Crown Royal and offered 10 cases, each hand-cut crystal decanted and encased in a purple velvet bag with gold rope and stitching.
Blended whiskey describes a product that is a combination of various component whiskeys. But while Irish blended whiskey and Canadian blended whisky have much in common, there are some key differences.
One notable difference between these two products is the use of unmalted barley and rye grain in respective mash bills. Jameson Blended Irish Whiskey utilizes unmalted barley in the mash bills for the pot still Irish whiskeys used in the final blend. And Crown Royal Blended Canadian Whisky utilizes rye grain in some of its ‘flavouring’ whiskies to create its final blend.
The spicy black-pepper flavor associated with rye grain against the sweet and floral flavor of unmalted barley and its chewy or leathery mouthfeel are things to look for when tasting these two whiskeys side-by-side.
There is no restriction of rye grain in the regulations for Irish whiskey, and there is no restriction of the use of unmalted barley in regulations for Canadian whisky. But these preferences reflect the traditions of the two nations. And, it should be noted that neither Jameson nor Crown Royal discloses the use of single malt whiskey in their blends — providing a distinct deviation from blended scotch whisky brands.
Distillation & Production
The New Middleton Distillery where Jameson is produced and the Crown Royal Distillery are two of the largest whiskey-producing sites in the world.
Jameson is distilled three times at the New Middleton Distillery in County Cork. The term triple distillation looks excellent on a bottle, but what does it mean?
For the single pot still whiskey, the concept is a little easier to comprehend. Basically, a traditional copper pot still is filled with terminal beer, then distilled into low wines. Those low wines are distilled a second time to make high wines, which are then placed back into the still to distill a third time to keep the heart portion of the run pristine and pure and remove more fatty oils and congeners than would be otherwise removed during a double distillation.
Is this a drastic oversimplification? Sure. But unless we want to create diagrams to describe how foreshots and weak feints are removed and returned to the second feints still, while only the pure hearts of the spirit are kept while the strong feints are kept and added to the strong feints from the subsequent distillation from the feints still, we’ll have to leave it at that.
For a distiller, triple distillation is confusing. And labor-intensive. And expensive.
But it offers broad flavor palettes that can be differentiated throughout the various runs. So, in addition to barreling an incredibly pure spirit, the distiller can fine-tune various levels of congeners, fatty oils and other flavor compounds in various barrels — each of which may have a specific place in the final blend.
We get even more into the weeds when we explore triple distillation in the column.
Here, we have three stills, each one a column still — a large piece of equipment shaped like a tall cylinder with a series of plates running up the length. Steam is fed into the column, and each plate performs a re-distillation. As alcohol vapors move upwards in the column, they increase strength, while non-alcoholic liquid moves downwards.
The first still — sometimes called a beer column — is fed the terminal wash at about 10 percent alcohol by volume. Next, low wines are collected at about 75 percent ABV or 150-proof and moved to a second column. Then, water is added, and in a molecular water-bonding process that lowers the ABV, methyl alcohol, heads compounds and other impurities are removed from the spirit. Then, the collection from the second distillation — called the ‘pinch’ — is fed to a third still — called the rectifying column — that creates a smooth, mellow white new-make spirit at below 190-proof or 95 percent ABV.
Crown Royal does not utilize copper pot stills in the production of any of its components. Instead, the site in Gimli, Manitoba, has 12 different column stills to produce its whiskey, offering various flavors for the blending team to utilize when making the finished product.
Neither Jameson nor Crown Royal has an age statement. However, both Canada and Ireland require whiskey to be matured for at least three years, so we know all of the component whiskeys used to produce each product have matured for three years or longer to produce the final blend.
Ownership, Price Point & Value
Jameson is produced by French parent company Pernod-Ricard. A 750mL bottle of Jameson will cost about $28 and is bottled at 80-proof.
Crown Royal is produced by Diageo PLC — the London-based company that is the largest producer of distilled spirits on Earth. A 750mL bottle of Crown Royal will cost about $29 and is bottled at 80-proof.
Jameson Blended Irish Whiskey
Description: The color is deep copper, the hue straw-gold. Legs are medium at 80-proof.
Nose: An oak richness, with the aroma of smoky embers. A lingering note of figs.
Tongue: Light and delicate mouthfeel, a bit of oak, gunpowder, mild coconut and white vanilla.
Finish: A finish of charcoal with chocolate and vanilla.
Crown Royal Blended Canadian Whisky
Description: In the glass, Crown Royal has surprisingly healthy legs at 80-proof. It has the color of antique gold.
Nose: Aromas of toasted oak, cherry, rose petal, baking spices — allspice.
Tongue: Delicate mouthfeel, with flavors of almond, cherry, honey, toffee, baking spices — clove and vanilla.
Finish: Light and mellow, with vanilla, toffee, chocolate and orange peel.
[Related: Complete Crown Royal Review]
There’s a reason these two brands are among two of the leading whiskey brands on the globe — along with names like Johnnie Walker, Jim Beam and Jack Daniel’s. These two glasses in a side-by-side tasting offer a great learning experience for someone exploring the broader whiskey category.
Crown Royal is an example of the overall ‘American’ whiskey style that describes whiskeys made in the United States and Canada — a style whose taste profile reflects the use of rye grain in its mash bill. Jameson is an excellent example of the historical tradition of the British Isles — the products of Scotland and Ireland that utilize malted barley as the backbone.
Because they share the same price point, it offers whiskey fans the opportunity to decide which taste profile they prefer.