White Owl Whisky
Review: White Owl Canadian Whisky 88.5/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted March 4, 2010 (Revisited July 15, 2013)
Three years ago a new whisky was produced in Canada which was completely different from any other whisky I had seen. For one thing, the distillation mash for the whisky was based primarily upon wheat, not barley, corn, or rye. (This was 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.) However, it was the next feature of the whisky which I found most interesting and unusual. White owl is a clear, well-aged, ‘cocktail’ whiskey! In fact if the bottle did not say whisky on the front you would be forgiven for believing this was an Ultra-premium Vodka, until you opened the bottle, at which time you would realize that the spirit inside 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 well-aged Canadian Whisky!
I was lucky enough to receive a sample bottle directly from the distillery after touring the facility three years ago, and today, as the good folks at Highwood Distillers are hard at work cleaning up after the recent flash flood which affected their town and their distillery (read here), I thought it would be nice to revisit my review of three years ago. (after a few tasting sessions I recognized that the whisky had not changed in any significant way during the past three years and as a result my revisions were really just corrections of the grammatical errors I found in the original review)
In the Bottle 5/5
Every person to whom I have shown the whisky bottle has had the same reaction…cool! Although the frosted glass design has been used for other spirits, this is definitely a departure for a Canadian whisky bottle. There is a clear area in the frosted glass around the snowy owl logo. It is evident that the whisky inside is free of colour before the bottle is open. What the picture does not show is the high quality synthetic cork used to seal the bottle. Attention to detail bodes well for White Owl Whisky.
In the Glass 8.5/10
As I pour the whiskey into my tasting glass, I hold it up to the light and against various backgrounds trying to catch just a smidgen of colour, but I am unable to find any. When I swirl the glass, I see a thin film that quickly trails skinny legs back down. This indicates a little softness, and a little oiliness in the spirit. The aroma from the glass has a very mild spring flower bouquet. Light Canadian whisky aromas of rye and oak spice rise in this bouquet with a touch of vanilla and honey. Dancing amidst the floral arrangement is a mild licorice which reminds me of anisette. What I do not smell is any quantifiable aromas of oak sap or heavy caramel. The aroma is light, mild, and mellow.
In the Mouth 53/60
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; but I must be a patient to coax out of the flavours. In the end, I decide that if one imagines a very gentle rye whisky, and marries this to an ultra-premium Vodka, then White Owl Whisky might be the result. This should not be surprising because the base of this spirit is wheat, which is softer than barley or corn and wheat makes wonderful Vodka.
I must comment a little here on one aspect of the taste that might be overlooked. This mellow subdued flavour has a real benefit for Mixology. The whisky worked well in every cocktail I tried that called for white rum, or Vodka. In fact White Owl presents a very interesting twist on Rum drinks, and a tremendous depth is added to Vodka cocktails. There is just enough flavour to add real character to the cocktail experience. It is going to be very fun to try to find the mixing range for this whisky.
In the Throat 13/15
This has a long clean finish. There is practically no burn and very little aftertaste. The trails of flavour left in my throat are only faint whispers melting away. The palate is left with a coaxing wispy sweetness of a disappearing honey.
The Afterburn 9/10
This whisky is so different from any I have tried before that scores were hard to quantify. What do I judge the whisky against? In the end I must fall back on my own methodolgy. Each part of my review method attempts to quantify the enjoyment I receive from each part of the whisky drinking experience. So that is what I have done. I am not comparing this against other whiskies, rather I am comparing it against the enjoyment I received from other whiskies. The strength of White Owl Whisky is its soft approachable flavour and its strength as a mixer. This has me really excited, and that is why this area of the review scores so strongly.
You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.
I am going to suggest that any classic cocktail which calls for white rum or vodka can be enjoyed equally well with White Owl Whisky.
Take the simple but elegant Daiquiri and sub out the white rum, tweak it just a little and we have the Highwood Gimlet:
The Highwood Gimlet
2 oz of White Owl Whisky
1/2 oz Fresh squeezed lime
1 – 2 teaspoons of simple syrup (dissolve 1 tsp sugar in 1 teaspoon of hot water and cool)
Stir in Ice and strain into a rocks Glass
Garnish with a slice of Lime
The White Owl Whisky adds a significant amount of depth to this simple cocktail.
Another Quintessential Rum Cocktail is the Cuba Libra, of course I made a version with White Owl Whisky instead, which I call The Free Spirit:
1 1/2 oz. White Owl Whisky
2 to 4 oz Coca Cola
2 – 3 Large Ice Cubes
Build the The Free Spirit over ice in a rocks or highball glass
Rub the lime over the edge of the glass
(optional) Drop the lime in and stir
Garnish with a wedge of lime
Or take the classic modern vodka cocktail, The Cosmopolitan:
My handy dandy cocktail book, 1001 Cocktails: 1001 Recipes for the Perfect Drink (Hardcover) ~ Alex Barker (Compiler) gives the recipe for the Cosmopolitan on page 178. I followed the lead in Alex Barkers book, tweaked it for the White Owl Whisky and came up with what I call Country Roads:
2 ounces White Owl Whisky
1 ounce Cointreau
1 ounce Cranberry juice
1/2 ounce Lime Juice
Shake in a metal shaker with ice and strain into a chilled glass.
Garnish with a flamed Orange zest
Again, the White Owl Whisky adds depth to the cocktail; but does not change the overall essence of the original .
2 1/2 oz White Owl Whisky
2 oz grapefruit juice (Fresh Squeezed)
1 1/2 oz pineapple juice
1 tsp simple syrup (dissolve 1 tsp sugar in 1 teaspoon of hot water and cool)
1/2 oz triple sec
Build over ice and stir
Strain into a chilled glass
Serve with a lemon wheel garnish
(The grapefruit juice goes so well with this whisky.)
The last cocktail I constructed uses White Owl Whisky and Gin in a marvelous sipping combination with Grapefruit Juice; I call it the Spirit of High River.
2 oz White Owl Whisky
3/4 oz Gin
2 oz Grapefruit Juice (Fresh Squeezed)
1/4 oz Luxzardo Maraschino Liqueur
1 to 2 teaspoons of sugar syrup
Shake in a metal shaker with ice and strain into a glass of your choice
Garnish with lime
Of course you recognize the that this cocktail is named after the Town of High River where the Highwood distillery is located.
These Cocktails are just the tip of the iceberg for White Owl Whisky. I am sure to discover many more.
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)