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Whisky Review: (Highwood Distillers) White Owl Whisky

Posted by Arctic Wolf on March 4, 2010

There is a new whisky in Canada, and  it is completely different from any other whisky I have seen. The distillation mash for the whisky is based on wheat, not barley or corn, which is not as surprising as you may think, as the distillers of White Owl Whisky are Highwood Distillers, based in High River, Alberta. They have, after all, been distilling their very wonderful Centennial Whisky with a wheat based mash for many years. It is the next feature of the whisky which I found most interesting and unusual. This is a clear aged  whiskey! In fact if the bottle did not say whisky on the front you might think you were buying Vodka…until you opened the bottle, at which time you would realize that the spirit in the bottle is unmistakably whisky!  The whisky achieves its clear form by the means of carbon filtration. Highwood crafts and blends an aged whisky, and then runs it through a filtration process to remove all colour and smooth out the taste profile. This is a first for me, and I believe a first for Canadian Whisky! In fact Highwood makes the claim that this may be the first clear well aged whisky ever produced.

White Owl Whisky is the creation of Master Blender Glen Hopkins.  The whisky produced in High River is from locally supplied wheat which Hopkins claims “is the best source” for whisky in the entire world.  So without further ado, let me introduce Highwood’s  White Owl Whisky.

Here is an excerpt from my review:

“As I take the first sip, the first impression I have is of a soft whisky flavour accented by a hint of licorice.  The oak flavours are mild and there is no harsh tannin or unbridled spice.  Yet in the background, if you let it develop, that true Canadian rye whisky spice and flavour present themselves.  Butterscotch rises and falls as does the hint of licorice and even a touch of cereal grain.  It is all very mellow and very good…”

You may read the full review here:

Review: (Highwood Distillers) White Owl Canadian Whisky

Of course I have provided a few nice cocktails which follow the review.

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Highwood Distillers of High River, Alberta was created as Sunnyvale Distillers in 1974.  During the first 35 years, the company saw moderate but steady growth.  A new management team was put in place in 1997, and in 2005 that the company asserted itself as a dominant player in the Canadian whisky industry with the acquisition of the Potters brand (Andres Wines).   With this new growth came the need for physical expansion of the facility, new equipment for packaging and a new warehouse directly across the street from the Distillery.  I had the opportunity to tour this new facility on February 17, 2010, and you can find my write up on this tour here:

The Highwood Distillery Tour

Highwood is now a major player in the Canadian Whisky category.  They are the only independent, Alberta owned, distillery in the world.  Boasting aged whisky stocks of up to 30 years, the company is poised to continue its success story into the future.

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23 Responses to “Whisky Review: (Highwood Distillers) White Owl Whisky”

  1. Chris said

    I heard about White Owl through my father in law a year later apparently after it hit the shelves of LCBO. I cannot express my utter joy of its taste. Very unique. I normally would drink Wisers Deluxe or Forty Creek but White Owl is my new favourite.

    I have told my friends about White Owl so much so you would think I was making a commission.

  2. jason said

    I have been a big supporter of “Hiram walkers special old” for a good number of years. this was after spending a lot of time and money looking for a good rye that was enjoyable as both a sipping drink and a mix. When I saw white owl in the lcbo, the bottle, packaging, and promotional praise I knew I had to try it.

    This is without question a product of high quality that merits notice to all lovers of fine whisky. The subtle flavors and smooth finish are a tribute to the brewers art, and as far as the slightly higher price… More than worth it!!!

  3. Rod said

    I like to try new things and the color and fancy bottle is what caught my eye. At first glance, I thought the clerks popped some Vodka on the shelf in the whiskey section by accident. Then after I read the label my inquisitive mind thought to give it a try. I actually liked it! It is definitely a very mild subtle whiskey but if you want a stiffer drink it does go down quite nice. I am not a fan of Crown Royal but I do enjoy my Alberta Springs and Tangle Ridge. They are still a better whiskey than White Owl in my opinion but White Owl is definitely drinkable and makes for an excellent conversation piece at get-togethers! Not sure why everyone is complaining about a $40-$50 price tage though… I found it in my local Sobey’s liquor store for $33 for a 26er (750ml).

  4. Andrew Masuch said

    Who ever said it above me, wow!
    A coworker gave me some lamps and I picked up a bottle of this as a gift, but had to get one for myself just because of the packaging and the clear-whiskey gimmic. I have a full bar, but I have to admit I usually reach for the easy-downer drink, and rarely choose whiskey or scotch.
    I can’t believe how smooth this is, and after hearing a fantastic review from the coworker I gave it to, I was telling some other people at work about it. In a small office – 11 people – both another coworker and my boss had both just bought a bottle and loved it. For a mixer’s drink this is great, and is going to be running vodka off the shelves when the girls find out it exists. This stuff tastes so good I want to become a company rep!

  5. george said

    I tried white owl wiskey, ( WOW GREAT SIPPING WISKEY). I drink centennial ltd edition for price and taste, I thaught i was untouchable untill i tried white owl. Unfortually due to the price i will stay with centennial.

  6. chris russell said

    i think this whisky is absolutely amazing…it is over priced, but if you have the money, this is definetly a rye worth buying…i thought it was fantastic!!!!

  7. Heinz said

    WOW!!! I’m an avid whiskey drinker and have tried everything from A-Z, I discovered White Owl recently at a friends house and am sold 100%! This is one f the finest whiskeys I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying. The smoothness and subtle flavours bring mark this as one of the best in my books. This whiskey is for people who have a sophisticated palate and aren’t afraid to broaden they’re horizons with an openminded attitude. Highwood has done an awesome job and rest assured my bar will ALWAYS have White Owl as the first choise for whiskey drinkers!

  8. Don said

    I’ve recently found Forty Creek to be my favorite, switching from Crown Royal and saw White Owl for the first time this past weekend.
    I’m eager to try it but admit, the much larger price tag certainly sets the bar higher

  9. Julz said

    Crown tastes like garbage compared to White Owl.

  10. Kerry said

    I don’t know about the negative revues but this is one of the best rye’s I have tasted in a long time. It does have a premium price but well worth it. My wife and I have been drinking rye for a long wile and this one is a keeper. I don,t know how people can compare it to vodka. Its not even close.

    The makers of this rye did a job well done.

    • This whisky review continues to be one of my most widely read reviews, and it seems to have galvanized opinions into the I love it camp and then a smaller, I hate it camp. Personally, I like the White Owl a lot, and I love its mix-ability, so put me firmly in the ‘I love it’ camp. And I agree with you Kerry that it is unmistakably a whisky, not a vodka, as I said in my preamble, once you open the bottle the aroma is definitely whisky!

  11. Scotty said

    Wow!! I really enjoyed White Owl last night and so did my friend. What a nice change from the norm…Good job.

  12. Canadian Thistle said

    As whisky, this stuff is awful. It’s all about marketing – it’s whisky for folks that don’t like flavour in their hootch (ie. vodka drinkers). Shun this rubbish as though it was rubbing alcohol flavour-infused with bubonic plague.

    • (LOL) I had to edit out your first sentence, although I found it mildly hilarious, it could have been construed to be in poor taste. I think your opinion still comes though loud and clear though.

      I can understand your reaction to the flavour or lack thereof which you perceive (or I guess do not perceive). As I implied in my review, this is a perfect whisky for Vodka drinkers who want to work their way to a fuller taste profile. I loved the mix ability of the whisky, but if you did not then you have every right to voice your opinion.

  13. Scott said

    I was surprised to find out this whisky was made by the same distillers as Centennial it is simply overpriced and disgusting! Its a gimmick only i would reccommend no one even give this a try. Stick with Centennial which is one of Canada’s best sipping whiskies. Seems like moonshine and the hangover i feel from it today confirms that i did drink moonshine last night. I feel duped and honestly want my money back or at least two bottles of Centennial in trade!!

    • Hi Scott,

      I am not surprised that some people do not appreciate the flavour of White Owl. As I mentioned in my review, this is a very mellow sort of whisky which has some attributes normally associated with Vodka. The veteran rye drinker may not find the flavour to be rich enough for his or her palate. Having said that, at every tasting I have done with the whisky it has consistently been a favourite with all sorts of different palate types. Stick with what you like, as nobody can tell you what your palate prefers except you.

  14. Johnny said

    The Manx have been producing clear whiskey for decades, until the man (large distilleries) sued them and made them change it to Manx Spirits. I’d wager the people at Highwood will soon be facing a similar situation.

    • Hi Johnny

      Manx is a spirit produced in the Isle of Man where they take what is essentially a whisky and further refine it to a clear colour. My reading of the product information leads me to believe we have something similar to what Highwood is producing. Highwood, however, is not on the Isle of Man or anywhere near the jurisdiction of the Scottish Whisky Authority. “The Man” (Large Scottish Distilleries) is unlikely to have any affect on Highwood’s products.

      I do agree with you that Manx has been producing a similar product, if they were in Canada, it would probably be called whisky.

  15. Julie said

    This has to be the best tasteing whisky I have EVER tried. I normally drink vodka and was looking for a change. This is it. Only one problem. It needs to be in more liquor stores. I just happened upon it last week and now I can’t find it anywhere else. You need to have it in ALL liquor stores. Set up a taste test in a bunch of them, the customers will speak, and it WILL be in the stores.

  16. Shawn said

    I love this stuff. I bought my bottle last week then googled it for info & came across this review.

    The product is great and a good conversation piece as when my friends see it they all say “vodka?”

    I love the mixability and soft flavors. I am a bit of a “liquor enthusiast” and prefer my drinks stronger and when you use this when any mix at 50% it is incredibly smooth, maybe too smooth but you still get the rye flavor.

    I also mixed it in a ceasar and it was fantastic!

    Have fun with this one :)

    • Wow! You googled the review and hit it on the same day I uploaded it. I guess google likes me. I do think that for anyone who mixes Vodka style cocktails, this is a very very good alternative!

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