He's been representing Diageo for over 15 years, focusing on Crown Royal since 2015. He's an expert in whisky history, production, barrel management, and maturation. You'd be hard-pressed to find someone better to talk about the top-selling Canadian whisky in the US. So we did!
Please introduce yourself. What is your name, and what do you do?
Stephen: I'm Stephen Wilson, the Director of whisky Engagement for Crown Royal. My focus is to bring the Crown Royal story to life through in-depth education, experiences, and events that illustrate our history, explore our production processes and share the stories of the men and women who make the Crown Royal whiskies so special.
Please tell us more about Crown Royal as a brand and a product - when and how did it start? How has it evolved into what it is today? What makes it special?
Stephen: Crown Royal has a rich history dating back to 1939. The whisky came to fruition as a gift intended for the King and Queen of England. To this day, the heart of the brand is rooted in generosity.
One of the many things about Crown Royal that inspires me is its complexity. Many folks may not realize that Crown Royal utilizes several different mash bills and multiple distillation techniques, which results in five individual component whiskies. They are aged individually in new and previously used American oak casks before being expertly blended to create Crown Royal signature whiskies.
The science of distillation and maturation, combined with the art of blending, is what allows Crown Royal to offer a family of whiskies that has something for every palate.
Crown Royal is a versatile liquid, crafted to be enjoyed neat, on the rocks, or your favorite cocktail – from a simple Crown Royal and Ginger to my personal favorite, the Manhattan.
How did you end up in the Spirits industry and work your way up to become the Director of whisky Engagement?
Stephen: Communication and connection have always been at the center of everything I do. In 2006, I transitioned my focus from the broader hospitality industry in New York City to host The Johnnie Walker Journey, a one-of-a-kind, multi-sensory event that toured through the US.
This shift allowed me to focus more on the brand side of the Spirits industry. As that role grew, I started focusing on PR, media, consumer, and trade education across the Diageo portfolio.
In 2015, I was invited to focus solely on Crown Royal. I leaped at the opportunity because it meant spending as much time as possible with the incredible men and women on our distillery, maturation, and blending teams. They are the heart of our brand, and their passion and knowledge are second to none.
I'm able to tie together what they do day in and day out and bring that to life across North America for our consumers and trade partners.
The manipulation of space and time.
How would you describe Crown Royal in three words?
Love From Canada.
What is your favorite music, and what drink goes with it?
Country music and Crown Royal Reserve, neat. There's definitely a song in there.
What would you eat and drink for your last supper?
A peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a Hal's Black Cherry seltzer and a pint of Jeni's Darkest Chocolate ice cream.
Assuming Crown Royal is your favorite, what's your second favorite (Canadian) whisky?
Johnnie Walker Black Label. What can I say? I love the classics.
What makes Canadian whisky so different or distinctive? Why is it a great choice?
Stephen: One of the things I love most is that Canadian whisky laws permit distillers and blenders the freedom and flexibility to be creative, innovative and allow their craftsmanship to shine through – from blends to single malts, there are flavor profiles for every palate.
Crown Royal's portfolio is - royal. Can you tell us more about Crown Royal Fine De Luxe, the Flavor Series, and Higher Marques, such as XR, XO & Reserve? What do they have in common? What makes each of them unique? For whom or what occasions are they intended?
Stephen: Crown Royal Fine De Luxe sets the standard and defines our signature house style. It's rich and flavorful, with hints of oak, vanilla, light fruit, baking spices on the palate, and our unmistakably smooth finish. It can be enjoyed neat, on the rocks, or in your favorite cocktail.
Our flavored whiskies showcase innovation and creativity through extraordinary blends that are carefully selected and infused with high-quality ingredients to bring out each flavor.
We use crisp Gala Apple flavor for Crown Royal Regal Apple, the rich flavor of Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla for Crown Royal Vanilla, and the flavor of juicy Georgia peaches for Crown Royal Peach. All three are fantastic on their own and mixed. Crown Royal Regal Apple also makes for a great shot; Vanilla can be paired with food to unlock its flavors, while Peach is excellent with iced tea.
The Higher Marques focuses on showcasing the skill and craftsmanship of our distillers and blenders. When we explore Crown Royal Reserve, we experience an elevated blend that is velvety, smooth, and mellow, with defined oak tones and rich, spicy flavors of baking spices and vanilla.
Crown Royal XO allows us to experience firsthand the blender's art and the influence of the barrel. We take a Crown Royal whisky that's blended to perfection and finish it in barrels that once held Cognac. The result is a rich, flavorful whisky with fruiter, spicier notes, and a long, pleasant finish.
Crown Royal XR has always been one of my favorite series. It focuses on the history and liquid credentials that make Crown Royal so unique. XR stands for Extra Rare, and these whiskies should be enjoyed in the present before they are gone forever.
What are good food and Spirit pairing options for these? Which one's your favorite and why?
Stephen: I have a sweet tooth, so I tend to favor pairing whisky with dessert—one of my favorites: dark chocolate with Crown Royal XO. The bitterness of dark chocolate compliments the richness of the whisky.
For savory dishes, I love to use Crown Royal Black. It pairs well with sausage or a nice flavorful cheese like Camembert.
Crown Royal Fine De Luxe pairs very well with pork tenderloin or even with your favorite chicken dish.
One of my favorite ways to enjoy Crown Royal Apple is alongside glazed salmon topped with caramelized apples.
Many seasoned whisky drinkers don't like flavored whiskies, but on the other hand, they're getting more and more popular. Why? What makes Crown Royal flavored whiskies different from the rest?
Stephen: Often a flavored variant is the best introduction to whisky for a first-time adult consumer. At Crown Royal, we've always championed innovation and flavor within the Canadian whisky category.
Crown Royal whiskies are carefully selected, blended, and infused with the desired flavors for each variant to create these extraordinary blends. Our flavored whiskies are high in flavor and made with premium ingredients, resulting in signature smoothness and depth.
For the record, I know many seasoned whisky aficionado who enjoys an occasional flavored Whisky.
What does the future hold for the brand? We hear there's something new coming up: an 18 YO whisky. Can you tell us more?
Stephen: Crown Royal continues to grow and evolve, pushing all of us to ask, "What's next?" Since you mentioned Crown Royal 18YO, it's my pleasure to provide a little preview. This whisky is elegant, sophisticated and defines modern luxury.
Our Master Blenders have searched expansive warehouses, selecting the best of the best whiskies, each aged a minimum of 18 years and expertly blended. On the nose and palate, it's unmistakably Crown Royal, with creamy vanilla, rich orchard fruits, and baking spices giving way to a long finish.
*This is a sponsored post by Crown Royal.