Emily and I are hosting our first Thanksgiving dinner this year; it was just going to be the two of us until she found out our dear friend the Greene Bastard intended to go it alone at a hotel buffet.
"We have to invite Maxwell."
"I don't know anyone named Maxwell."
"Yes, you do. He's your best friend."
"Are you referring to the Greene Bastard?"
"His name is Maxwell."
"Yeah, sure, as far as his mom and the government are concerned. I know you're not his mom, because he's older than you are, and also shorter than your DNA would suggest. So are you telling me you're a secret government superpolice agent? I think that's what you're telling me. I think a secret government superpolice agent is telling me for whom to cook turkey in my own home! At-ti-ca! At-ti-ca!"
And so on and so forth until I relented and Emily wrecked the Greene Bastard's holiday. Instead of letting him wallow in one of the great privileges of being a single man with no accessible family, she compelled him to come waste an afternoon off with lame old married people. I've had my share of one-man hotel bar holiday parties. They are glorious. The best part is obviously the paper towels. Hotel bar bathrooms always have paper towels that are thicker than my bath towels. The second best part is that no one will judge a single thing you do all day.
When's the last time you had an unjudged Thanksgiving with friends and family? Last year the judging started before I even got my coat off—How did I not freeze to death in that rag? Maybe if I had an actual job I could start saving up for some wool or at least thicker cotton—and I didn't hear the end of it until somebody finally slipped a sufficiently restful dose of tryptophan into my 11th whiskey.
I have no particular plan for what I'm going to feed the Greene Bastard—turkey and stuffing and whatever, I'll figure it out; this may get me fired, but I'm not the kind of sucker to let Big Food Media scare me into sweating the details all month long—but I can promise two things: I will pour him good drinks and I will not judge his coat, his lifestyle, or even his stupid haircut.
This means I need to get an extra day's worth of judging out of my system before he gets here. You'd think that'd be easy for a man who (nominally) reviews things for a (nominal) living, but it's tough for me to unleash my full wrath on most of the stuff I cover for Serious Eats. My usual beats are cheap booze, fast food, and TV dinners, and it's sometimes difficult to be duly critical of these things without coming off as a bully. I'm as judgmental as they come, but it's not my style to kick a guy when he's Fieri, you dig?
So I got lucky last week when a bottle of new Crown Royal Maple Finished showed up in the mail. This goes for about $30 a bottle and comes from Canada, so I had high expectations before I opened the box, but my hopes were temporarily deflated upon discovering that Crown Royal has the temerity to swaddle the Maple in a brown sack. Those of you who drink the standard Crown know that the purple cloth sack it comes in is the best part of the experience. Even people who've never bought a bottle recognize the purple satchel from elementary school, where it served as the telltale pencil case for kids from certain kinds of homes.*
*whimsical or thrifty or DIY-oriented or tragic or mine, etc. Can we get a show of hands in the comments, with a brief summary of how your life turned out?
It turns out that Crown Royal broke the color barrier long ago, with their Reserve (gold), Extra Rare (magenta), and Black (duh) bottlings. Plus brown's my favorite color, which means my hypothetical kid's new purse is more likely to match her clothes, so I quickly put that prejudice aside and got down to the evaluating, with the understanding that a $30 bottle can't slide by with my usual gentleman's C of "Well, sure it sucks, but not as much as you might expect InterBooze™ Chocolate Frosted Boston Cream Brandy to suck."
Maple Finished claims to be "an extraordinary blend created by adding a hint of natural maple flavor to complement the legendary taste of Crown Royal whisky." Further down the label there's mention of finishing the batch in maple toasted oak. Huh? Not toasted maple? Maple's a kind of wood, right? Isn't one of the hockey teams the Maple Leafs? Leafs come from wood. So do they rub syrup on the oak, then light it on fire, then dump the whisky in? This operation was starting to sound too much like marketing and too little like serious whiskying.
I was disappointed when I opened the bottle: Simply removing the cap made my kitchen smell like Aunt Jemima's sauna. My first impression was that they went a little heavy on the "natural maple flavor," regardless of what they did with their toast and their oak.
The good news is the smell dissipates somewhat when you let it open up in the glass for 10 minutes. Come drinking time, the pent-up pancake rage has mostly passed and you're left with a smooth and credible whisky that smells like maple syrup but tastes predominantly of smoky caramel. This is a weird one, but once the initial nose-shock blows over, Crown Royal Maple Finished features a lot of toast fighting it out with a lot of candy to produce a serious if overdone whisky better suited for dessert than for dinner. The Greene Bastard better bring a pie.