We continue our spooky season tour of the bottle shelf with another offering from the Sazerac Company (the first we looked at was Old Charter Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey). True story: when I purchased this bottle at my local bottle shop, the guy behind the counter visibly cringed at my choice and told me “good luck with that one”. With that, I was off to a great start.
The Seagram company started as a Canadian distillery called the Waterloo Distillery in 1857, with a man named Joseph E. Seagram joining as a business partner in 1869. He eventually became the sole owner in 1883, changing the name on the facility to Joseph E. Seagram & Sons and grew that business to become one of the biggest spirits companies in Canada.
During prohibition in the United States, the owners of the company reportedly participated in bootlegging operations to bring their product into the US, and as a result paid $1.5 million in fines in 1930 (significantly less than the $60 million the US government asked for). The company was purchased by the Distillers Company Limited in 1924, a Canadian spirits company founded by Russian immigrant Samuel Bronfman who decided to keep the Seagram’s name for the new larger operation.
Post-prohibition, once again able to do business unimpeded in the United States, the Seagram corporation decided to create a couple new brands of whiskey to satiate the American market. The two most recognizable brands they developed were Seagram’s 5 Crown and Seagram’s 7 Crown.
Why were they named that? Well, that remains a mystery. There are a number of apocryphal stories, but nothing that I’d pin my reputation on.
Production of both spirits declined sharply during World War II, and by the end the war had claimed another casualty: the less popular 5 Crown variety of Seagram’s whiskey was no longer produced. However, the 7 Crown version survived and would eventually go on to be one of the most successful whiskies of the 1970s, being the first product to sell 300 million cases in 1983.
Looking to expand their business to the lower end of the price spectrum, Seagram’s introduced the Rich & Rare brand sometime in the 1960’s. The specific history of this brand is about as mysterious as a spooky haunted house on Halloween, with only vague shadows and ghosts of information available on the internet. From what I can find it simply sprung into existence alongside Seagram’s other products and has been on the shelf ever since, like a zombie that just refuses to quit.
The company wouldn’t last, however. In the early 2000’s, the various divisions of the company were carved out and sold to larger beverage manufacturers. The mixers division was sold to Coca Cola who still produces them under the Seagram’s name. The classic 7 Crown whiskey was transferred over to the UK based Diageo. And their Rich & Rare brand was sold to Sazerac, who continue to import and distribute the Canadian whiskey.
Very little can be found about what goes into this spirit, but we do know the high level requirements to be called Canadian Whiskey (as this labels itself). Canadian Whiskey tends to have a high rye content in their mashbill. For example, Crown Royal starts as a grain bill of 64% corn, 31.5% rye, and 4.5% malted barley.
This grain is fermented, distilled in a still, and then put in a barrel to be aged for a minimum of three years (the minimum time to meet the legal requirement for Canadian Whiskey). The only requirement of the barrel itself is just to be made of Canadian wood — new, old, charred, or uncharred… that doesn’t matter. And of course, all of this needs to be done within Canada.
The only thing that we know for sure is that after aging, the spirit is shipped to Sazerac’s Buffalo Trace distillery in Lexington, KY for bottling.
I don’t think I’ve purchased a plastic 750mL size bottle of liquor since college. When I picked it up from the bottom shelf, it brought back memories… but alas, we are not here talk about the poor decisions of young Dan.
This bottle has a rounded rectangular shape, with a rounded shoulder and a stout neck. Overall, it’s about a foot tall. It’s topped with a plastic screw cap, and in the opening of the bottle is a plastic pouring regulator that you might find in a 1.75L bottle.
The sticker label is a muddy yellow color with gold accents and black writing. The logo is a basic “R&R” along with basic info about the product, where it’s bottled, the alcohol content — and a reminder that you just purchased 750mL of this whiskey. I think the most interesting thing about this bottle is that you can redeem the bottle for $0.05 from Iowa or $0.15 from Maine or Vermont.
One nice thing that I can say about this bottle is that it’s easy to grab with one hand.
Oof — the aroma is rough. It’s slightly sweet, but that is overwhelmed by the pungent smell of fresh yeasty bread soaked in acetone. I seriously hope this is not a sign of things to come.
The first sip is welcome after the aroma. Imagine sipping cookie dough… but cookie dough that has a very dull bitter finish. I could sit here and try to pick out other flavors, but it would probably take more time effort than it’s worth — there really isn’t much going on.
The worst part about this is the lingering bitter flavor. It dawdles on your tastebuds like Malort, but instead of just disappearing it feels like it’s actively doing damage. The only way I can describe it is as if you burned your tongue on coffee that is too hot.
Drinking this Canadian whiskey on ice mellows the flavors — which were not all that prominent to begin with. If this was cookie dough when taken neat, the best way to describe the flavor on the rocks is cookie dough where the butter and vanilla are both slightly spoiled. It just falls flat.
The only thing that remains is the bitter lingering finish. On the plus side, now that it’s chilled, it does not feel like it’s burning your taste buds.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
This is like drinking a glass of chilled angostura bitters. Beneath the bitters, you can taste sugar, orange, and ice… in that order. The spirit is nearly non-existent.
I am not sure if this is because the bitterness of the spirit is blending with the bitters, or if they are covering up the already-weak flavor of this spirit. Either way, this is not a good cocktail.
Surprisingly, this is decent.
I think the bitterness of the spirit actually works okay with the ginger beer and creates a halfway decent cocktail. I would imagine that ginger beer with some bitters would taste similar; that said, on a price-per-ounce perspective, the bitters are the more expensive option.
I would not call it a good cocktail… but of the four ways I’ve sampled it, this is the only way that is drinkable.
If you are into masochism, are having drinks with someone you hold a deep seeded personal vendetta against, or you are the kind of person who actually enjoys Malort… then by all means, please go pick up a bottle of Rich & Rare. If you do not fit any of the above descriptions, though, I would avoid this.
It’s hard to find any redeeming qualities other than the price point — and even then, we’ve found some better options on the bottom shelf this spooky season.
|Rich & Rare Canadian Whiskey|
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $11.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 1/5
A brand with a ghost history that should just stay dead.