Crown Royal Northern Harvest – I’m Back! Update February 22

At the beginning of February I posted about the most recent LCBO release of Northern Harvest, replenishing Ontario stocks by about 4500 new bottles. That was followed over the next week by additional releases of 2000, 3000, 800, 500, another 2000 and probably a few hundred or possibly thousand that I may have missed. All totaled, a minimum of 12,8000 bottles were released across the province of Ontario over the first week of February.

It’s now three weeks later and there hasn’t been any new product since then and stocks are sitting at 720 bottles today (February 23). A staggering 12,000 bottles sold in three weeks! I had suggested at the beginning of the month that there was pent-up demand for this expression but that now seems like an gross understatement. Aside from a couple of outliers, the majority of the stock is now sitting in smaller stores in markets well removed from the major Ontario ones, further suggesting that the urban demand for Northern Harvest is still strong and will likely continue of LCBO manages to obtain another tranche of the dwindling producer stock.

Also of note, most of the pubs I’ve frequented of late now have a bottle displayed and available, so there’s also been a commercial stock allotment set aside in addition to the retail. So I’m now asking, what happens next? Will the retail price rise and/or will there be empty shelves once again? LCBO, in general, doesn’t bump their prices based on demand but will based on currency fluctuations and import duties, so the $CDN32.60 price isn’t likely to move. What’s more likely is that Northern Harvest will join the throng of LCBO products with no inventory and no guidance on when more will become available.

This is a disappointing policy with the LCBO, that they cannot state or even estimate when they expect an out-of-stock item to be replenished. If there’s no producer stock available, I completely understand but as a courtesy to us consumers can’t this be communicated? Yes, they posted signs in the stores related to shortages of Northern Harvest, but nothing on the website. In addition, there are hundreds (maybe thousands?) of out-of-stock items listed on their website with not a single note related as to whether the item will be replenished and if so when, or if it will be delisted. Case in point, this just happened with Springbank 10 year. It was out-of-stock for months then a few hundred bottles were released last summer, they sold, there was  zero stock for a few more months and then suddenly the item vanished from the website. This does not serve us, the people who use the service provided by the LCBO. That’s us, the people of Ontario, the ones who own the LCBO.

Happy foraging!

 

 

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Crown Royal Northern Harvest – I’m Back!

Since the beginning of January there has been no Crown Royal Northern Harvest available at the LCBO, presumably because the stocks had run dry.

This:

Northern Harvest LCBO Apology Card

…has become this:

Northern Harvest I'm Back Jan 30 2016
Enter a caption

…due to a whopping 4559 (!)  bottles finding their way onto the shelves across Ontario today (Jan 30).

This begs the question, has the hype died down or is there a simmering pent up demand that will erupt in a Jim Murray-fueled avalanche of sales? I’m leaning towards the latter, given that LCBO is now actively using Mr. Murray’s name on the price card to draw interest. I will track inventory over the next few days to see which way the public is leaning but I see no reason to think that the demand is even close to sated.

Still, despite how one might feel about Mr. Murray, the hype and the rush for stock, oh and the whiskey itself, at $32 this is a fantastic buy for a high quality rye whiskey. Even if you’re not even close to convinced that it’s the ‘best whiskey in the world’, it easily makes a great Manhattan as my wife and I found out last week.

One last thought on the dubious title that Northern Harvest currently bears: if it truly is the best in the world then it should, naturally, be of comparable quality to previous years’ winners, right? Given that, I will happily trade a bottle of Northern Harvest for a bottle of last years winner, Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry 2013. Any takers? Anyone? Please, don’t all rush to take me up on the offer.

I thought so.

Happy foraging!

What’s Under Your Tree? (A Story of Whiskey Karma)

A month ago when all the Crown Royal Northern Harvest commotion began (or was it more of a frenzy? a furor? all of the above?) there was a spike in demand so large that could have completed many, many railways. And while the availability of Northern Harvest continues to be elusive as the LCBO continues to sell out, sometimes within minutes of opening, of its daily release of 500-1000 bottles, some of us lucky enough to have captured a bottle or two are be content with our good fortune.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote how, out of blind luck, I stumbled across a non-empty shelf of Northern Harvest at my local LCBO. There were precious few bottles remaining on the shelf and while the collector in me wanted to clean out the shelf, my better nature resisted and I bought two bottles. I left the remainder, hoping that some other fortunate souls might share in the joy of finding some Northern Harvest right where they least expect it. So I felt good about finding the whiskey, felt good about sharing the bounty, and happily went about my day.

Four weeks later, the good karma that I had unwittingly set in motion returned.

Under the Tree

My wife and I are spending Christmas at her parent’s place this year, and much, much to my surprise, I found this delightful bottle in a present from my mother and father in-law. They had been reading my blog and knew the value of this whiskey but had, unsurprisingly, had zero luck finding a bottle whenever they checked the LCBO’s around where they live.

My mother in-law, inspired by how I had made a point of leaving something on the shelf for the next guy, became determined to find a bottle for me. Further inspired by how I had found my bottles by simply looking for bottles hiding in plain sight, she had a plan. She began to call each of the local stores to simply ask if they had any available. After a few stores replied with fatigued and understandable “no’s”, one store whose online inventory showed zero, said that yes, they were showing 80 bottles in stock yet the clerk she was speaking to was certain there was none on the shelves. Sensing opportunity, my mother in-law forged ahead, asking the clerk if they could please go back into the store room and physically check if the product was actually there.

A few minutes later she was rewarded with a “yes it’s here, but we can’t hold any for you”. Indeed it was there, hiding in not-quite-so plain sight.

“So if we come down to the store you can pull a bottle for us?”

“Sure, I can do that.”

No concern she thought, there was almost no chance that 80 bottles that weren’t even on the shelf yet would sell during the twenty minutes it would take to drive to the store. Mother and father in-law were off to the store and a few days later, I found something wonderful under the tree for me on Christmas, along with a wonderful story to accompany it.

Thank you, Patricia and Dennis.

So what was under your tree this year?

 

Happy foraging!

 

Can Crown Royal Meet Demand?

It’s been about three weeks now since Jim Murray’s annual proclamation about the ‘Best Whiskies In The World’. Here in Ontario, the LCBO has struggled to meet the truly remarkable demand for Crown Royal’s Northern Harvest created by Mr. Murray. Since the announcement three weeks ago, the LCBO has been restocking between 500 to 1000 bottles per day (usually closer to 1000) and still consistently sells out the entire amount within 24 hours.

crown-royal-shelf

This is amazing. Considering that stores in smaller communities that receive a hundred bottles still sell out in a day speaks to the lengths that some people are willing to travel to get their hands on a bottle. The LCBO is following a strict no reserve and no specialty order policy for this item and yet it still doesn’t last a day on the shelves. According to the Toronto Star, people are even purchasing locally to send to friends and family outside of Canada due to the international unavailability and demand. Apparently the world wants this rye as much as we do.

So it begs the question: how long before there’s no more supply? No doubt there will be an additional demand spike over the holidays, both as gifts and for general sharing, exacerbated further with the seasonal price reduction. But by the numbers, LCBO had just over 45,000 bottles on hand in November, and has secured a further 56,000 either being delivered now or over the next couple of weeks so even at the current burn rate, we should be set for a few months.

The take-away here is that if you’re looking for a bottle either to add to the collection or are just curious and want to try it (which at the current price point I strongly recommend), rest easy: there will be bottles. Patience may be called for but the supply will trickle down and make it to you, eventually. The LCBO has “committed” to ensuring supply year-round which I’m not exactly sure is going to be possible, but at least over the next few months Northern Harvest will be on the shelves and will be available. Don’t miss it while it’s here.

Happy foraging!

Tasting: Crown Royal Northern Harvest

My first tasting post, on account of the Jim Murray-fueled scarcity of this whiskey.

Northern Harvest Tasting

Crown Royal Northern Harvest 45% ABV

Canadian Whiskey; Gimli, Manitoba, Canada

Colour: Rich Orange.

Body: Syrupy. Clings to the glass with an iron grip.

Nose: Restrained. Sherry, woody and cinnamon like from French oak, slightly sour but soft cereal notes. Candied orange peel. Opens up significantly with just a couple of drops of water.

Palate: Very oily. A sweet wash of stone fruits, mostly apricot. Dusty. Remarkably smooth with little heat. Hard to believe it is 45% ABV.

Finish: Warm spices, nutmeg, ginger, and a little cherry as if from a bourbon. Very long. The alcohol is felt here but still feels far less than the ABV suggests.

Overall: Did someone get Macallan in my Crown Royal? The harmony of the flavours here elevate this Crown Royal offering to, ahem, regal heights. Even though the mash bill is 90% rye, the rye character of this whiskey is subdued, resulting in something quite unique.

So…’Best Whiskey In The World’? Truly I think it’s foolish to say that for any whiskey. This is an excellent whiskey, with a rich and unique character. It is rye-like, scotch-like, and bourbon-like, nurturing traits of each of these great whiskies. It is though greater than the sum of its parts and should be enjoyed for the unique character it offers.

Happy foraging!

Forager’s Luck?

While I was out grocery shopping today, I decided to do a quick look in my local LCBO, setting expectations about as low as possible. Earlier this morning I did a check of online inventory and no new bottles of Crown Royal Northern Harvest were showing as released today. It kind of made sense, that there probably wouldn’t be any distribution on Sunday, so there shouldn’t be any new inventory for sale on Monday. However…

LCBO Surprise

There it was, filling that particular allotment of shelf that had been empty for so many days (and would no doubt continue to be empty after these four were gone). And on top of the surprise, the price was even discounted by a couple of dollars! I felt the same forager’s rush like when I’m out in the woods and I stumble across a particularly prized wild mushroom or other wild delicacy.

I suppose that in this case the lack of updated inventory on the website and app was clearly a good thing as no one knew where the new stock would be showing up. So no lineups, no speculators, no bulk buying. Go figure. Right place; right time.

As I was checking out my two bottles at the cashier, the manager explained that the store had received four cases today and this was the last of it. No idea when more would be arriving. I was so tempted to go back and pick up a third bottle, but no, I remained principled and left some for the next guy, just like the person before me had left some.

New to the Collection
The new recruit joins the team. He’s a little short but comes highly recommended.

So later today I’ll open a bottle; the other will go into storage. And although I don’t normally post tasting notes, I will make an exception and post soon.

 

Happy foraging!

 

 

 

 

Northern Harvest, The Fallout

I mentioned in my last post that I would update my LCBO Alerts page as new stock of Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye, AKA ‘The Best Whiskey In The World’, became available in Ontario. That may be more difficult than I anticipated. There is still significant stock at the LCBO warehouses and it is being released as we speak, just not in any predictable fashion.

From the LCBO website there were about 1200 bottles released today across the province, about 400 in Whitby and, curiously, 200 in Collingwood. Collingwood is a small resort town of about 20,000 people so why so many bottles would be for sale there is a bit of a mystery. Given that Toronto’s population is about 100 times that of Collingwood, I suppose  that we can expect a proportional amount to be on it way here. Sadly, even if I wasn’t exaggerating, I don’t think that 20,000 bottles would satisfy the insane demand that has been created for this whiskey. Let me explain.

crown-royal-northern-harvest-rye
The only bottle of Northern Harvest I have even seen.

This morning I saw that an LCBO outlet about a 20 minute drive from where I live would release 42 bottles. Okay, if I get there early enough I should be able to grab a bottle or two. I arrived twenty minutes after the store opened to find that they were already sold out. In fact, after talking with the manager, I discovered that there was already a line up at the door when they opened, and one person actually tried to buy five cases of this very limited stock. The store manager proudly told me that they refused him, limiting all purchases to two bottles so that the stock could be shared a little more fairly. Indeed kudos to the manager, but when will the madness end?

I will keep my eyes open for more, and with luck I will be able to sidestep the speculators, the resellers, and the just plain greedy. I hope.

Happy foraging!