Highwood Canadian Rye Whisky
Review: Highwood Canadian Rye Whisky 86/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted on November 30, 2010
At the recent Rocky Mountain Wine and Food Festival, I reconnected with Allan Owen, the Highwood Distillers sales Rep in my area. We had a nice chat, and he offered to drop off a few more samples of whisky for me to review. The first of these samples was the Highwood Canadian Rye Whisky.
This is a Canadian whisky made from wheat grain which has been aged for at least five years in charred American white oak barrels. It is blended with an aged rye grain whisky to produce that distinctive Canadian ‘rye’ flavour profile which I know very well.
I want to point out before I start that I noticed that the whisky in my sample bottle has a darker, richer appearance than an older bottle which was sitting on my friend’s shelf. I contacted the distillery and inquired as to whether the blend had changed recently. I was told that what I was noticing was the new colour profile that Highwood has chosen for the whisky. (In case you do not know, almost all whisky distillers use a very concentrated form of caramel to add colour to their whisky. This is done to achieve a consistent colour from one batch to another as consistent wood aging does not necessarily achieve consistent colouration.) Although colour is not indicative of quality, I agree that a darker richer colour profile does enhance the visual appearance. It does not, however, enhance the flavour profile in the least. To confirm this, I could not resist doing a few sample tastings between the older and the newer bottle. (I did not notice any difference in taste or mouth feel.)
In the Bottle 3.5/5
I will start by saying that there is nothing really wrong with the presentation of this whisky. It is just that I have found it hard to be inspired by the label and bottle when I have seen it in a retail store display. Indeed, I must have passed over this whisky dozens and dozens of times over the last few years as I began to assemble my own personal whisky collection. I admit that the label is clean and honest, but it is not special in any way. The same with the bottle. I am sorry to be blunt but the presentation is just… ordinary.
And that is a pity because there is a lot that this whisky has going for it. Take the Canadian prairie wheat which forms the basis for the distillation. Canadian wheat is world famous for its quality, yet the casual consumer would never know that something special might be inside the bottle unless he (or she) read the fine print on the back label. The mellow smoothness which comes from using this wheat is something that should be highlighted rather than downplayed.
But like I said, there is nothing really wrong with the bottle presentation; I guess I believe there is so much more that could be right about it. As the presentation stands, the whisky will continue to be relegated to the back of the consumer’s mind as they browse the shelves looking for a new whisky to try.
In the Glass 8.5/10
Once poured into the glass, the Highwood Canadian Rye Whisky begins to hint that something might be special. I see a nice oily sheen on the sides of my glass after I swirl it. Moderately fat legs are released which trickle back into the whisky. This is an indication of an oily texture which should provide a nice mouth feel and a long finish. The aroma from the glass is clean and mellow. Light rye notes waft upward with the teasing aroma of honeycomb and light vanilla mixed in. In the breezes are hints of ginger and wood spices. This reminds me very much of the nose of the Highwood Centennial Whisky, perhaps not quite as polished, but that same gentle style.
In the Mouth 52.5/60
The first thing I noticed about the Highwood Whisky as I sipped it was that it is a smooth, gentle, and mellow whisky which has the soft sensation in the mouth of a much older whisky. Honeycomb, ginger, wood spice, and a light dab of vanilla all support a wonderfully clean, dusty rye flavour. There is polish in evidence here, but a little rough and tumble too, as the wood spices liven the mouth-feel and take me back in time to when rye was the King of Canadian Spirits.
I found that sipping the whisky was very nice, but I will be honest, and admit I quickly began to want to splash ginger ale into the glass. In fact that mellow rye practically begged me to mix it. I found that a splash of ginger ale was marvelous. I tried a little cola as well as a little Sprite. All of them worked wonderfully.
In the Throat 13/15
In the finish, I was greeted to an old-fashioned rye flavour in my throat which gave a little kick to my tonsils. There was just enough of this kick to let me know that I just swallowed a shot of whisky, but this kick would never leave me gasping or clutching my throat. It is a smooth, clean finish which is refreshing all the way down.
The Afterburn 8.5/10
This is a Canadian whisky which embraces wheat grain and rye rather than the usual corn grain found in other Canadian Whiskies. The smoothness provided by the wheat really underpins the laid back Highwood style and I enjoy it very much. This whisky is clean, dry, and smooth such that I easily can enjoy it neat, or on ice. Having said that, these same features cause me to confess that I enjoy it even more mixed into my favourite bar drinks.
The only criticism which might be made towards the Highwood Canadian Rye Whisky is that the whisky will be for some, too laid back. I disagree with this assessment, as I love a smooth gentle whisky. But I do understand that some will want a little more robustness in the flavour.
You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.
As I stated earlier the Highwood Canadian Rye Whisky works wonderfully with ginger ale, cola or sprite. But as I like to do I also experimented a little to find a couple of new cocktails to enjoy as well.
The first cocktail I am choosing to share is the Blinker Cocktail which I found on the Internet Cocktail Database. This is a refreshing, but mildly tart cocktail, great for sipping after your evening meal.
1 1/2 oz Highwood Canadian Rye Whiskey
3/4 oz grapefruit juice
1 dash grenadine syrup
Pour the rye whisky, the grapefruit juice and the grenadine into a metal shaker with ice.
Shake vigorously until the sides of the shaker are frosted.
Strain into a cocktail glass
Highwood Highball Special
2 oz Highwood Canadian Rye Whiskey
1 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
2 oz Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice
Fill a tall glass half full of Ice
Add the Rye, the Lemon Juice, and the Orange Juice
Complete with ginger ale.
Please remember that the aim of my blog is to help you drink better spirits, not to help you drink more spirits!
As always you may interpret the scores I provide as follows.
0-25 A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49 Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59 You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69 Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74 Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky. Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79 You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84 We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89 Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94 Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+ I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.
Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be more familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and Bronze medal scale as follows:
70 – 79.5 Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5 Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95 Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+ Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)