September 2010

Loyalty to the Crown

By: Fred Minnick


Black is not just a color; it's a status. The Japanese revere black as a symbol of nobility, rank and strength. It catches your eye and makes you notice tuxedos, limousines, designer shoes and handbags. Cadillac and Lexus commercials always show black cars, exploiting the color's natural, subconscious marketing power that has long been associated with the finer things in life. And now black is associated with Crown Royal, perhaps the most iconic spirit of past 100 years.

New Crown Royal Black joins the brand's family of Canadian whiskies, show here at Mission Liquor in Sacramento, CA.
Launched in March 2010, Crown Royal Black has given whisky enthusiasts a 90-proof product aged in charred white American oak casks. Its caramel notes, a rich texture and Crown's typical smoothness make for an interesting complex finish that cannot be found anywhere else. This is the right flavor, the right name and at the right time, says Steve Beal, Senior Master of Whisky for Diageo North America.

"Brown spirits are strong right now, and Crown Royal is the leader of the pack," Beal says.

Steeped in tradition since its creation for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1939, Crown Royal products transcend every demographic boundary, according to Beal. "Some people say 'I'm not drinking whisky, I'm drinking Crown,'" Beal says. "Even though it's a Canadian whisky, it's part of the American fabric." 

He's seen customers create clothes and blankets from the patented purple Crown Royal bags and paint their cars in honor of the deep Crown purple. Now that a new color, Black, has been added to the mix, how will the Crown loyalist react? Will they create Crown Purple and Crown Black plaid?

Beal says he won't be surprised by whatever they do. But one thing is for sure: Traditional Crown Royal drinkers are not switching to Crown Royal Black; they are adding it to their liquor cabinet. "Crown drinkers are very loyal. They are not switching from Crown to Black," reports Beal. "Crown Royal Black is what they enjoy when they're stepping up and stepping out. New consumers are coming to Crown because of Black's rich flavor, novelty and versatility."

Since coming onto the market, Crown Royal Black has won the hearts of mixologists and consumers alike. Beal credits this to the American public's longing for brown spirits and classic cocktails, such as the Manhattan and the Beautiful. That, and Crown Royal Black, makes one heckuva gift.

"We saw a big spike in sales around Father's Day," Beal says. "Crown Royal Black is more than just a gift. It's about feeling like you're a king all the time."

A U.C. Davis Tradition Is in the Black

A popular bottle shop in downtown Davis, CA, Aggie Liquor and Deli takes its name from the U.C. Davis football team, which itself is a nod to the school's lauded agricultural heritage. If proprietor Jass Singh continues his reign as the de facto stop for keg runs and replenishment of spirit reserves, however, the name Aggie might become more associated with social lubricants than the gridiron.

 U.C. Davis is renowned for its viticulture program, so it stands for reason that much of the LDA student body boast refined palates. According to Singh, their whisky of choice is Crown Royal.

"Crown Royal is actually very popular here in town. We sell quite a bit," says Singh who believes most patrons enjoy the Canadian whisky on the rocks and the occasional free shot. So much Crown Royal moves through Singh's shop, in fact, that he's able to offer volume discounts to his patrons who purchase multiple bottles or cases. Moreover, he's able to keep his prices comparatively low. "Right now, we are cheaper than almost anybody in this area," says Singh with a grin.

Singh has owned and operated Aggie Liquor for the past 11 of its 30-year existence and is understandably proud of the improvements he's brought to the location, which is only a stone's through from downtown Davis. Likewise, he puts a premium on customer service and is happy to recommend products to customers seeking to elevate an occasion. Lately, this has included introducing his patrons to Crown Royal Black, the latest iteration of the Canadian whisky line.
Aggie Liquor and Deli in Davis, CA, features a prominent Crown Royal display, reflecting the brands strength and popularity.

"They like the new one, it's a little stronger, which the students like, you know," he says with a wink and adds "It's not hard to drink, it goes smooth."

Given Singh's success with Crown Royal products, he's able to offer the spirit at an average of $5 less than his competitors. "I just bought like a hundred cases, mix and match," says Singh, who points out that Crown Royal Black is a welcome addition. "We've done pretty well with it." —Daedalus Howell

Rodeo-Ready Royal

"It's got a very nice nutty flavor, a little bit of like brown sugar and a little more fruit in it," says Zeph's One Stop owner Vince Ciolino of Crown Royal Black. "Everyone seems to like it. It's a good mix with Collins mix and Squirt-they're really making some inventive drinks out of it."

Co-owner Vince Ciolino steps out of the Crown Royal Saloon at Zeph's One Stop.
With partner Bill Sites, Ciolino has grown Zeph's to Salinas, CA's most iconic bottle shop. Its retro-vintage roadside signage certainly helps, as does its stock of wines and spirits, which is lauded for its breadth and depth. Prominently presented in the middle of the voluminous shop is a large display for Crown Royal.

"Here in Salinas it's kind of like the signature drink; Crown Royal is one of the basic staples of Salinas," says Ciolino. "We move quite a bit of it. I'd say throughout the year we probably move 30 or 40 cases just in the store by itself." Add the annual California Rodeo Salinas, for which Crown Royal was a major sponsor and it's another story entirely.

"Crown Royal stepped up to the plate and really did a lot of advertising. The rodeo looked so dressed up this year compared to other years. It was really noticeable in the signage and posters," says Ciolino.

Last July, the landmark rodeo celebrated its 100-year anniversary and Crown Royal was there to raise a glass . . . well, more than a glass, more like many glasses according to the rodeo's Marketing Manager, Maggie Roth. "Sales were definitely up," says Roth, who adds, "They're definitely a great sponsor and very well received by all of our consumers."

Indeed, Ciolino has noticed a residual up-tick in sales of the Canadian whisky at his landmark location. "It seems like it's stepped up since then and sales have been up ," says Ciolino. "Like I said, it's a normal thing in Salinas. The people will drink Crown rather than like say other brown stuff, like Jack or whatever."  —D. H.

Crown Royal is a major sponsor of the California Rodeo Salinas, one of the country’s largest. This year, 175 cases of Crown Royal, 50 of Black and 22 of Reserve were used.

Man on a Mission

When Sardool Dhillon left his native home in the Punjab province of India, he probably couldn't have predicted that he would eventually be running a successful liquor store and delicatessen in the capital city of California. Yet, 22 years after his arrival in the States, Dhillon is the proprietor of Mission Liquor and Deli, a popular Sacramento neighborhood stop, not least of which because its owner keeps it well-stocked with Crown Royal.

"They just like it," says Dhillon with a smile. He echoes the oft-repeated observation that the smoothness for which Crown Royal is known results in equally smooth mornings-after. "It doesn't stay in system too long," he adds with a laugh.

Dhillon's favorite is Crown's XR label, which he enjoys on the rocks, though, the new line, Crown Royal Black, has caught not only his eye but that of his clientele as well. Moreover, Dhillon has noticed a growing trend amongst his stateside Indian compatriots. "A lot of Indian people celebrate weddings with Crown Royal," explained Dhillon, who added the whisky makes for a popular reception cocktail.

Dhillon purchased Mission Liquors and Deli in 1999 and in the past decade is pleased to have consistently high sales of the respective Crown Royal lines. "Yeah, we move a lot," says Dhillon with a firm nod.  —D. H.
Sardool Dhillon shows off the Crown Royal display at Mission Liquor and Deli in Sacramento, CA.

Bar Manager Jeff Ng says Crown Royal is a hit at Pandora.
San Francisco's Royal Surprise

Nestled in the heart of San Francisco, in a soon-to-be-gentrified corner of the infamous Tenderloin, sits a world of wonder: Pandora Karaoke and Bar. East meets West in this karaoke bar extravaganza. "We are a fusion of both American and Asian style . . . a giant karaoke fun house," says Jeff Ng, Bar Manager. "It's like Epcot, for drinkers."

 Private rooms, sponsored by liquor brands have colorful décor. The Outdoor Room, with green indoor-outdoor flooring and wooden benches, is a unique twist for a bar. The newly created Crown Royal Room is sure to be a popular spot, with plush purple couches, curtains, lining and a giant throne. How much more royal does it get?  —Liza Gershman 

King of Koreatown

In Los Angeles's Koreatown neighborhood, home to not only Korean-born immigrants, but also their second- and third-generation adult children, Crown Royal has reached icon status as the spirit of choice both on- and off-premise. THE TASTING PANEL took a tour of this vibrant and bustling neighborhood with Steve Lee, Asian Market Specialist at Pacific Wine and Spirits, and learned that in Koreatown, Crown Royal is king. "The brand is so recognized in this community," Lee explains, "It's everywhere. The first thing you order anywhere is the Crown Special Reserve."

As we walk into Dooballo, a massive, multi-venue nightclub stocked with a light-up dance floor and nearly 40 private suites, signs of Crown Royal-as well as remnants of the previous night's party-are everywhere. A bottle-service-only account, Dooballo is typical of the experience consumers in Koreatown are looking for. "It's in our culture that when we get together, we do it in private areas," explains Lee as he gestures to a karaoke machine tucked in the corner. "We like drinking and singing, and Crown Royal on the rocks, as a shot or chased with beer."

Although the brand is not yet experiencing the incredible success in Korea that it is in this Southern California enclave, many Korean tourists and business people come to Dooballo to experience the latest in Korean American trends. "People come here on business and always want to try Crown Royal, because when you travel overseas, you want to try the local stuff," says Lee. "Koreans like to try something new all the time, and people will always upgrade to the new Crown products as well," he continues, explaining that while customers are trading up to Crown Royal Special Reserve, he also anticipates a similar up shift with Crown Royal Black.
Daniel Rhee, owner of Assi Supermarket, has a special display for Crown Royal, indicating the brand's dominance.

At nearby Assi Supermarket, an entire display devoted to Crown Royal in the middle of the store's liquor department, indicates the brand's dominance. "Brand loyalty to Crown in this community is fierce," explains Lee, "and once a brand develops in this market, it is around for a long time."

Selling 1,500 cases of Crown Royal Special Reserve per year is a strong indicator of the brand's success in the market, which Lee and Assi Supermarket owner Daniel Rhee predict will lead to success with the brand's newest Black expression, thanks in part to a younger generation of Korean American drinkers.

"Younger drinkers are moving away from vodka and tequila, and their trends coincide with the larger Korean community, says Lee. "They're coming home." 
Rachel Burkons
Crown Jewel of the Inland Empire

With a name like Liquorama, this Upland, CA liquor store sounds more like an adult playground than anything else. And it's true; with a massive selection of beer, wine and spirits, Liquorama is the Inland Empire's go-to source, and Crown Royal customers are finding plenty to be pleased with. "I like that Crown Royal is not a typical Canadian whisky," says John Solomon, Liquorama's owner. It's got flavor, and is the perfect cigar whisky," he says, recommending a Padron Aniversario cigar as the ideal accompaniment.

According to Solomon, Crown Royal Black is making waves with his customers who are looking to take the next step in their Canadian whisky education. "It's still in its infancy, but it's a nice progression up to the higher ranks," he comments, adding that the vast majority of his Crown Royal customers are men over the age of 35. "It's perfect for the person that's stepped up from inexpensive bourbon, and the bold, spicy flavors, thanks to being aged in charred-oak carrels, is what really sets it apart."  —R. B.
John Solomon and Liquorama Spirits Buyer Mike Esse have found Crown Royal Black an easy upsell. "We can upsell to a higher-quality Crown product, because we sell so much of it already," says Solomon.

THE TASTING PANEL, 6345 Balboa Blvd, Ste. 111, Encino, CA 91316
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