Royal Reserve Canadian Rye Whisky (40% alc./vol.)

February 28, 2013


Prototypical light and smooth 1970s cocktail whisky. Starts small, gradually becoming complex but subtle, with brittle rye, hot pepper, creamy toffee and lemon zing. Spicy Rye. ★★★☆

Royal Reserve was a major Corby brand when the distillery was still located on the banks of the Moira River in Corbyville, Ontario. Throughout the 1960s and ’70s Corby’s promoted it as light and smooth with a hint of woody character. Value pricing may have contributed to strong sales back then, but today’s plastic bottle certainly does nothing positive for the whisky’s image. As someone once said, “I want to know who invented plastic whisky bottles, and where they were hanged.”

Since Corby’s has moved production to Walkerville, Royal Reserve has fallen into the shadows somewhat, so the whisky now waits as a pleasant surprise for the rye drinker in search of a crisp mixing whisky.

Cocktails are cool again and Royal Reserve is a typical old-time Canadian whisky from the cocktail’s hey-day. It’s mixing whisky, yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s without substance. Where punch and power define so many of today’s sipping whiskies, Royal Reserve stays clearly in the camp of subtle elegance. When light and smooth defined the best whiskies, Corby’s put enormous energy into making theirs the lightest and the smoothest without sacrificing complexity of flavour. Happily, the team in Walkerville continues this tradition.

Nose: A rich and somewhat complex nose emerges slowly from an almost silent start. First to appear is dusty rye with faint cloves, ginger and cinnamon in tow. Toffee soon follows then a contrasting inkling of pickles. This is a ’70s Canadian rye whisky nose to be sure: tightly integrated with slowly growing intensity, though it never really becomes overly expressive. Rather, it’s all about subtlety, nuance and balance. The scent of walnuts adds a new dimension as do whiffs of pine needles and a vague suggestion of bicycle tires, but really this is all about mild but assertive hard rye.

Palate: Starts out quite light and sweet and almost watery, with burnt sugar right off the bat then sweet toffee and a hint of ripe fruit. The slight bitterness of rye grain, hints of dry oak, and the feel of French’s® mustard complement a mouth-coating creaminess. Hot pepper and sweet rye spices dominate, but not enough to hide a vague and ever-present hint of brittle rye along with some zingy lemon zest.

Finish: Medium length. Develops slowly then fades from heat to sweet with zippy rye spices. A refreshing bitterness balances the glowing pepper.

Empty Glass: Not much at all except some vague hints of caramel and black licorice.

$23.40 at LCBO.

Recommended. ★★★☆


34 Responses to “Royal Reserve Canadian Rye Whisky (40% alc./vol.)”

  1. Heidi:

    Just love this! When I travel to Canada I always make sure I buy a couple extra bottles to bring home. I am unable to buy it in Arizona.

  2. Lee D Bissonnette:

    Where can I find it in South eastern Mass

    • Davin:

      Sorry Lee, I just don’t know. Maybe ask at a larger liquor store.

  3. tim n:

    How about RnR Gold – WOW – now there is a whisky worth seeking out. It would be a shame to mix this one so leave the Canada Dry in the cold room. No plastic on this one.

    I do recall enjoying the standard RnR at bush parties when I was 16 years old. Stickers in the back window of pickup trucks…

    • Davin:

      Yeah, R&R Gold is another good whisky, but as far as I know only available in the U.S. and in Alberta.

  4. Jun:

    This is one of my favorite. Sometimes it is on sale at $18. I prefer it to the more expensive ones like Wiser, Alberta Spring, Gibson Sterling and Forty Creek. The bottle itself looks cheap though.

    • Steve:

      Alberta Springs and expensive should never be used in the same sentence.

  5. tim n:

    Hmmm I had no idea it was only available in Alberta and the US. Lucky for me in Edmonton then. Any idea why it is not available in the other provinces?

    • Davin:

      I think R&R is more generally available. It’s the “Gold” version that is harder to come by. My guess is that there is more selection in Alberta because you have private liquor stores there.

      • tim n:

        What I really wish we could get in Alberta is Bulleit Rye and Russell’s Reserve Rye. I spoke with a liquor rep and he thought they weren’t available due to limited supply…

        • Davin:

          Do you have Rittenhouse 100 proof in Alberta? It’s very good rye. $34.80 at LCBO.

        • Tim n – I totally understand your desire for the Bulleit 95 as it’s one of my absolute favs. But of course hard to come by. And I agree with Davin – the Rittenhouse 100 is a steal for the price – and makes an outstandingly punchy Manhattan to boot!

  6. tim n:

    no, i’ve never seen that one – i’ll look it up next time i’m in ontario. the only 100 proof i’ve seen out here is cc100 which I’ll prob try one of these days

  7. Tim B:

    Without question my favorite. I only buy it in the glass bottles-$20 bucks a 26er. Bought it all the time when I lived in Ontario and have continued to do so in Alberta. I kind like the old school mystique that seems to have grown around it over the years as well.

  8. Darren Gody:

    Who is the decal/sticker supplier for the rear labels on Corby Royal Reserve R&R bottles?

    • Davin:

      Honestly Darren, I have no idea, but any decent print shop could do them.

  9. John:

    Found a bottle last night with a 1976 date on the seal. My first rye whiskey experience and it was good

    • Davin:

      Sounds great. Some of those old bottles are really special.

  10. Rob:

    I love this whiskey,and the fact that it has awesome stickers on it, I have a old guitar that i bought for really cheap because it was really beat up, but some money into it and coverd it in R&R stickers and i love it.

  11. Brent:

    Had this in ’85 while in Alta. Back in Oz and can’t get it. Was a lovely drop. Would love to aquire some for a memory lane trip !

  12. Sailor Joe:

    Not bad at all. Whisky’s like this have their place.

  13. Derek:

    How much is this worth? “RR Royal Reserve rye whisky CORBY made 1971″? And does it go bad? Someone wants to trade me this for an antique boat motor and claims it is worth over $1000 is that possible?

    • Davin:

      Sorry but old Canadian whisky does not go up in value very much. It is worth $30.00, maybe $40 at most. I have several of these old R&Rs and I just open and drink them. There is no collectors’ market for them at all. NO, it is NOT possible.

      • Chris:

        Does the RR taste any better because of age, or is it the same old RR I love?

        • Davin:

          It is more robust and richly flavourful. Whether it is “better” is up to you and your palate.

  14. Rich:

    I had to look up this particular whisky on a website that specializes in reviewing wiskeys as this is what we used to buy when teenagers in order to get drunk on the cheap.

    I was surprised to see the positive reviews on it… I always just assumed it was a cheap low-quality whisky, turns out I’m wrong!


    • Davin:

      Hi rich,

      If you like it, that’s all that matters. And don’t let the whisky snobs tell you otherwise!

  15. Jack:

    I grew up in Corbyville, my first job was at the Corby distillery before the original facility was closed and production moved to Windsor. I expect a lot of the older residents still miss the pleasant roasted grain smell that would permeate the town on cooking days. A lot of care and pride went into the production of RR, it was a real shame to see it leave the town that spawned it. To their credit the quality and taste has remained consistent, objectively it is a fine rye whiskey notwithstanding the nostalgia I have for the brand.

  16. JP:

    I love the plastic bottle. Its lighter for transport, not worried about dropping it and it takes up less room. My favourite whiskey regardless of price.

  17. Whiskey:

    The best mixing whiskey out there… Gets a bad rap because of the plastic bottle… But if but keeps the price down I’m okay with it!

  18. Dan:

    Is Royal Reserve available in a Texas Mickey and how would I obtain some??

    • Davin:

      Check with a liquor store in your area.

  19. crystal:

    we found a bottle’s from 1981 with numbers on it -12706257 and 44070

    • Davin:

      Nice find. Open and enjoy as it is not worth much to sell.

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