“People ask for it 20 times a day.”
“There’s often a gap on the shelves where it should be stocked.”
“I get more calls about it than I do for Pappy or Blanton’s.”
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What is this mystical unicorn that liquor store owners and employees from California to New England, Texas to Illinois, and every point in between keep telling me about? The latest Buffalo Trace Antique Collection offering? Some lavish new Macallan release?
The answer is even more remarkable: Crown Royal Peach, a $24.99 bottle, 70-proof, peach-flavored Canadian whisky — something I hardly need to tell you does not meet most any criteria for coveted and collectible whiskey in 2021.
And yet, fans cannot find it because liquor stores cannot keep it in stock, the latter taking to Instagram to proudly boast when a new shipment has come off the truck.
“Crown the King…Peach Crown is back in stock!” wrote Kentucky’s Fast Lane Liquors in early March of this year, showing a staired display of the stone-fruit-covered white boxes in front of a literal purple throne. Claimed Illinois’s Famous Beverages: “Come shop while we still have it!” “Guess who’s back?,” wrote Indiana’s Wise Guys Discount Liquors, adding, “grab you a bottle before it’s gone.”
Introduced in Canada in 1939 in tribute to that year’s royal tour of the country by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, Crown Royal Blended Canadian Whisky was offered in America by 1964 and quickly caught on, a more approachable sipper compared to bourbon, rye, and especially single-malt Scotch. Over the years, numerous special expressions have been released, like a more pricey Crown Royal XR introduced in 2006. In 2013, Crown Royal released its first flavored whiskey, Crown Royal Maple Finished.
“We found there was a huge, untapped market for people who aren’t what I like to call ‘flavor snobs,’” says Nicola Heckles, vice president of Crown Royal, referring to whiskey drinkers who have long pooh-poohed flavored products.
Crown Royal Regal Apple would follow in 2014, then Crown Royal Vanilla in 2016, followed by Crown Royal Salted Caramel in 2017. All would garner a strong following, and do well enough to remain a part of the Diageo-owned brand’s extended lineup. But it couldn’t expect the sensation it would unveil in February 2019, when Crown Royal Peach was offered as a spring seasonal.
“It flew off the shelves,” explains Joseph Mollica, chairman of the New Hampshire Liquor Commission, which runs 69 liquor stores in the state. All the more remarkable considering a whopping 415,000 cases of Peach hit the U.S. in its launch year. “Subsequent allocations sold through just as fast,” Mollica says.
Across the country, stores instantly had to begin limiting how many bottles customers could buy at a time. Yet Crown Royal Peach’s rabid fans would find any way they could to thwart these rules and stock up when they had the chance, driving from store to store like Harmony Kelly-Spencer of Tampa, Fla. Or swapping outfits and masks to fool employees and get more bottles, as Raquel Barrera of Texas recently did. Or using one’s wife as a mule, as a man did at Julio’s Liquors, when the Westborough, Mass., liquor store was down to its final two bottles.
“I said, ‘Hey it’s limited to one per person and he said, ‘Yeah, but it’s me and my wife,’” recalls Ryan Maloney, Julio’s owner. “I said, ‘OK, but just remember if the last guy had done that you wouldn’t be getting any.’ His wife turns to him, looks him straight in the eyes and says, ‘Put a bottle back!’”
This kind of skullduggery is something you frequently see with “LE” bourbons, but not typically with an economically priced, flavored Canadian whisky. Then again, that economically priced, flavored Canadian whisky has, perhaps accidentally, followed the how-to-get-hype game plan of LE bourbon to a T.
In the same way that, it’s been said, a store needs to sell a lot of Sazerac’s Wheatley Vodka in order to be allocated Van Winkle or the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, retailers need to sell a lot of regular Crown in order to gain access to Peach.
Fast Lane Liquors got a mere case last year and thus had to put a two-per-customer limit on it. After selling out, a group of three men came sprinting in looking for it. The clerk directed them to its sister location some 30 minutes away and they sped off, getting there just in time to grab the final six bottles in stock. Mind you, this is happening in the heart of bourbon country.
“We will never forget this day, it was funny to see how people were going crazy for some Crown Royal Peach,” says Billy Sohal of Fast Lane.
And, thus, just like LE bourbon, scoring bottles, if not multiple bottles, has become a serious flex on social media — even resulting in the so-called “crotch shot” that has become one of the more unfortunate aspects of big-game whiskey hunting over the years.
If Crown Royal is famously popular down south and among the Black community, so is Crown Royal Peach, but it’s likewise beloved by white TikTok moms in Florida, single dads in Oklahoma, and good ol’ boy bourbon sippers in Kentucky. It’s simply a crowd-pleaser.
“[It’s] a great entrée into the whiskey category,” believes Mollica. “We have many non-whiskey customers who try Peach and love it, noting its refreshing characteristics and not being ‘whiskey heavy.’”
In control states like his, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Virginia, fans have taken to stalking the always-updating Liquor Control Board websites, trying to find stores that have just received shipments. There’s even a subreddit dedicated to the Pennsylvania LCB that frequently tracks Crown Royal Peach availability.
“Holy sh*t it’s still on the website, (sic)” wrote a user back in August of 2020. It had been listed online for eight hours by that point and he was stunned. “Wow. This the longest I’ve ever seen it available.”
Of course, it’s not completely out of left field that Crown Royal Peach is popular; Crown Royal itself is insanely popular, the second best-selling whiskey in all of America after Jack Daniel’s, moving $3 billion in product per year. It’s likewise not too strange that a flavored whiskey sells so well; Fireball Cinnamon Whisky is likewise the country’s third best-selling whiskey at the moment.
What is strange to me is how quietly Crown Royal Peach has become a bonafide sensation. As far as I can tell, until now, an article had never once been written about it.
It has made me explicitly aware that people who write about whiskey and read about whiskey and collect whiskey (like, uh, me) are in a serious snob bubble and sometimes not aware what regular people are really drinking these days. Especially at home by themselves during a pandemic. So many industry friends were likewise surprised to hear about Crown Royal Peach’s hypebeast status.
“You gotta be kidding me! Wtf?!?” wrote Nick O’Connell when I told him. He hadn’t noticed it while he was busy hawking fine wine and Togronis at his Post Road Liquors in the Boston area. He was amused, however, that such a sensation had slipped through the cracks. “That is so arbitrary and hysterical.”
The Hype Reaches a Fever Peach
Yes, of course, just like Pappy and Blanton’s, bottles of Crown Royal Peach sell on the online black market. “[A]lbeit not ‘our’ secondary market,” a whiskey connoisseur is quick to explain to other whiskey fans on Reddit. Indeed, these less seasoned whiskey flippers often aren’t even aware you can’t legally resell alcohol, like a Pennsylvania man who was arrested in an undercover sting for reselling Crown Royal Peach via Craigslist.
That same Reddit commenter believes this is all part of a savvy supply-and-demand strategy that Diageo has orchestrated many times in the past, even noting it likewise made Ciroc Limited Edition Summer Watermelon a brief unicorn — something I have been unable to fully confirm.
“Crown Royal Peach became a real sensation due to it being extremely limited,” believes Katlyn Valentine Bucci, a Pittsburgh woman who is a big fan. “But the peach flavor, it really is delicious.”
Arpit Patel, proprietor of T.J.’s Package store in Lyerly, Ga., believes it’s self-evident why Crown Royal Peach is insanely popular in the so-called Peach State. But he also believes its high sugar content is a turn-on for so many customers.
“People like to drink sweet stuff a lot,” he told me. This sentiment was frequently echoed by Crown Royal Peach’s biggest fans who likewise enjoy the low proof and how “dangerously” easy it is to toss back a few.
It’s similarly popular in over-the-top, homemade cocktail concoctions that have burnished its reputation on social media of late. It’s frequently employed in blended cocktails alongside everything from peach soda and powdered peach drink mix to frozen peaches used in lieu of ice. It’s likewise popular as a highball when combined with bottles of commercial iced tea or lemonade. Bucci even likes making a sort of hot toddy with it, combining Crown Royal Peach with hot tea, something she claims is great for a sore throat.
It’s perhaps no surprise all this has led to Crown Royal just releasing a canned Peach Tea RTD (along with a Whisky & Cola and Washington Apple RTD). Of course people love to cook and bake with Crown Royal Peach as well. It’s most avid fans even extend their passions to their serviceware, creating custom tumblers and serving trays.
Perhaps the craziest thing I’ve seen is that Total Wine & More, one of the biggest liquor store chains in the country, quickly released a knock-off 70 proof peach-flavored Canadian whisky at the end of 2019. A Total Wine employee told me he was instructed to push it hard whenever they were out of stock of Crown Royal Peach, which they frequently were.
These nutty stories may soon be coming to an end, however. If Crown Royal Peach built it’s fame as a scarce seasonal item, this year it has become a full-time offering. Patel and other liquor store owners believe that in itself will be enough to make the hype fade. The same thing happens to pretty much all limited releases turned mainstream. Heckles, for one, just isn’t seeing it, though, he tells me:
“It’s not slowing down. I think Crown Royal Peach is going to be the drink of the summer.”