Ninety “Decades of Richness” 20 Year Old
Review: Ninety “Decades of Richness” 20 Year Old Canadian Rye Whisky 94.5/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Published December 22, 2013
In November of 2005, Highwood Distilleries Ltd. finalized the purchase of Potters Distilleries (founded by Ernie Potter in 1958). Part of this acquisition, was the purchase of all of the remaining barrel aged stocks of whisky in the Potters facility. These barrels of whisky were transferred from the Potters warehouse facilities in Kelowna, B.C. to the newly constructed warehouse facility in High River, Alberta, where they were allowed to continue to age at the foot of the Rocky Mountains on the western edge of the Canadian Prairies. The whisky brands which Potters Distilleries had established (Century and Potters) were added to Highwood’s portfolio of spirits where they have not only been maintained but also expanded upon. Part of that expansion was the recent addition of the ‘Ninety’ branded whiskies to the Century Distillers line-up. Like the other whiskies in the Century portfolio, the Ninety branded spirits are corn-based rather than wheat-based blends. (The Distillery uses the Highwood banner for all of its wheat based whiskies.)
Highwood chose the brand name ‘Ninety’ because these new whiskies are bottled at 90 proof (or 45 % alcohol by volume) rather than the usual 80 proof (40 % alcohol by volume). The higher bottling strength means that the final whisky will retain a character closer to the original cask strength whiskies from which they were blended. In the case of the Ninety “Decades of Richness” 20 Year Old Canadian Rye Whisky, the bulk of blend almost certainly has been drawn from Highwood’s treasured reserves of remaining Potters whisky stocks which are rumoured to contain barrels of whisky as old as 33 years.
In the Bottle 4.5/5
I like the handsome, heavy-set, 8-sided bottle which Highwood has adopted for this whisky. This bottle was introduced when Highwood launched their award-winning Calgary Stampede 25 Year Old Whisky, and it brings a more masculine look to their bottle presentation than what I have seen in the past. This bottle is unique, and it commands a certain presence on my whisky shelf. The bottle even holds true to the bartender’s creed. It is easy to store, easy to hold, and easy to pour.
A minor quibble is with the label upon the bottle which could use some additional dressing up. Small details such as a copper or gold coloured border around the edge, and/or perhaps a more spiffy logo would help dress up the label. But that is a very minor quibble. I definitely like this bottle!
In the Glass 9.5/10
The whisky has a rich golden hue in the glass which is very visually enticing. When I tilted my glass and gave it a slow twirl, the whisky left a slightly thickened oily sheen upon the inside of my glass which proceeded to drop moderately thick legs back down into the liquid below.
The air above the glass is rich with the spiciness of oak and sandalwood, and lush with the sweetness of butterscotch toffee. The two aspects of the aroma (the spiciness and the sweetness) are melded together beautifully making the whisky a joy to nose.
As I enjoy the breezes above the glass, I notice impressions of creamy vanilla pudding, hints of almond, some sticky marmalade, and a light sweetened grain-like component which actually reminds me of Post Honeycomb cereal. The longer you let the glass sit, the more firm and unified the aroma becomes, until after fifteen minutes or so it resembles a luscious butterscotch-oak-syrup that begs to be sipped.
In the Mouth 57/60
It took me a while to wrap my head around this review. it just seemed that no matter what I wrote, I ended up deleting it and had to start all over again. The reason was that my tasting notes just did not seem to do justice to the whisky. The words which I kept writing down to describe the flavour: oak, cedar, butterscotch, vanilla, marmalade, almond and tobacco seemed to lack the proper context on the written page. Although those words implied a rich and flavourful whisky, I wanted to make the point in this review that this Ninety 20 Year Old from Century Distillers (Highwood) is more than the sum of those descriptors.
Then I realized that it is not the flavours descriptors which make this whisky special. It is the manner in which these flavours have become unified in the glass. When this whisky is allowed to breathe, the decanted spirit possesses balance and integration on the highest order. The oak has melded into the butterscotch, which in turn has melded into the vanillans, which in turn has melded into the marmalade, into the almond, and into the tobacco. All those individual flavours have melded together, and in their combining, they have become much more than the sum of their individual parts.
In the Throat 14/15
The medium length exit is smooth and spicy with just the right touch of sweetness to complement the spice, and just as importantly, just enough rye-like bitterness at the ending to dry the palate and cause the mouth to water. The only reason the score in the finish is not perfect is that I yearned for the experience to last a little longer.
The Afterburn 9.5/10
The Ninety “Decades of Richness” Canadian Rye Whisky has quickly become one of my very favourite whiskies and for my palate, it is on par with the best Bourbons, and the best Single Malt Scotches I have tasted to this point in my whisky explorations. I wrote four years ago that Highwood Distillers was one of the best kept secrets in the whisky world, I suspect that is about to change.
If you are interested in comparing more scores, here is a link to my other published Whisky Reviews.
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)