Review: White Owl Canadian Whisky / by Jason Hambrey

Distiller Highwood (High River, Alberta)

Here is a rarity – an aged white whisky. Highwood Distillers in High River, Alberta crafted this one for the premium cocktail market, to compete with premium vodkas and mixing drinks. It is made from wheat and rye whiskies, aged for as long as 12 years, with a particularly high rye content. After the whisky is aged, it is filtered through beds of charcoal, stripping it of colour, and removing a lot of flavours – lightening up the spirit and changing it. A lot of rye is used in the whisky because much of the flavour gets stripped out, and the blenders want some of the rye to come through.

This is not crafted to be a sipping whisky, so take that into account on my rating because it is not a sipping whisky, in the traditional sense. However, I will post it, with the qualification that this is an absolutely fabulous whisky to mix – and is one of my favourites to use. Indeed, much of Canadian whisky is made not to be sipped slowly neat, but to be sipped as a component of a cocktail. It is thanks to this fact that Canadian whisky, until very recently, was the most consumed whisky in the US, even above bourbon and scotch (it was overtaken just a few years ago).

The oak has done its good work on this one, and the effect is similar to the work of good oak on a well aged whisky (a good 18 year old, honeyed, viscous, and balanced) compared to a 12 year old version – but as if a vodka or white rum was the base, not a whisky. Complexity, body, finish, and grip are all added through the aging. I compared a diluted vodka (Finlandia) and diluted White Owl (both to the same strength), and the white owl is much softer, rounder, with much more flavour, body, and richness – even diluted. It shows why all the cocktail folk are buzzing about this one….also I love to mix the White Owl Ginger & Lime - but it is very gingery and not very sweet (fine by me!).

Review (2014)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2014

Nose: This one, of course, is quite different. Quite spirit-like – with lots of vapours coming off the nose in the style of a vodka rather than a whisky. There’s a buttery note, with a bit of vanilla, almost a bit like some rum-flavoured candies or buttery caramels, and a hint of light honey. There’s also a bit of negative bitterness and meatiness with some rye whiskies that I find – but it isn’t that prominent and isn’t really that much of a detraction. It’s very simple – the light, buttery caramel is quite nice though.

Taste: Clean, and distinctly buttery, with some light vanilla, caramel, a touch of molasses and brown sugar, and a slight sweet edge (though not that sweet). It is quite clean, yet it is quite rich despite being not overly complex. It reminds me of many of the sweet and honeyed notes of Jack Daniel’s, and, indeed, I have tasted Jack Daniel’s in a comparitive tasting and found it strongly reminded me of this – I suppose that charcoal filtration in both whiskies does unearth certain flavours to the surface.

Finish: Very clean, with some rye spice coming through – cinnamon, clove, and a bit of the buttery, rich taste on the palate – which remains for some time, with a touch of oak even coming out from time to time. Surprisingly spicy, in fact.

As I said earlier, I am rating this as a sipping whisky, which it is not. It’s still pleasant to sip, though the nose isn’t great. However, really, if you have a bottle of this it needs to be mixed – that’s what it was crafted for and that’s what it’s really good at. It would provide a great twist on white rum cocktails, as well as give some depth and breadth to many vodka cocktails.

Value: Low to Average. Low if you don’t like mixing, average if you like mixing - it is quite a worthwhile try for mixologists as it presents something quite good and unique - it isn’t meant to be a sipper.