High River

Review: American Rockies Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Picture courtesy of the Fountana Beverage Corp..

Picture courtesy of the Fountana Beverage Corp..

ABV
44%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
N/A
Producer Wyoming (Kirby, Wyoming)

This is produced by the Fountana group, alongside their terrific Canadian Rockies whiskies. This is sourced from the mountains of Wyoming, so in all likelihood it is from the well-reputed Wyoming Distillery.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

The nose has some sharp wood – almost with sharp pine-like notes. Orange peel, bean sprouts, cream of wheat, anise, corn grits, clove, dill, and prunes. Some nice candied notes too – Reisen and Toffifee. And with time, some berry notes. The palate is very well integrated, with a very nice thread of dried corn, light spice, mixed dried Italian herbs, and very pleasing vanilla and toffee. The balance between the fruit, grain, and oak is terrific. The finish is sweet, lightly oaky, lightly grainy. This is good! It’s quite a lighter style of bourbon, but it has some nice elegance to it.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). This is a really nice complex bourbon that isn’t too big. It’s a bit different, too, to its credit – with more herbal and unique fruit notes than in many bourbons.

Value: Average. It’s not a bad buy, but you could do better with different bourbons for $71.


Review: Ninety 20 Year Old Canadian Rye Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
45%
Aging
20 yrs
Recipe
100% Corn
Producer Highwood (High River, Alberta)

This is a product of Highwood Distillery, in High River Alberta, and is another in their line of fabulous 100% corn whiskies (joining Century Reserve Lot 15/25 and Century Reserve 21 Year Old). It is called a “rye” whisky in that “rye” also is the name for Canadian whisky because of its extensive use of rye to craft the flavour profiles of its whisky. The name, “Ninety” is due to the fact that this whisky comes in at 45%, or 90 proof – higher than the nearly ubiquitous 40% for Canadian whisky. Higher alcohol level means less water dilution from the cask (which is about 75% at Highwood), and thus, theoretically, more flavour.

Highwood isn’t built to distill their own corn whisky – it is sourced from elsewhere, but brought to Highwood for ageing. Bourbon barrels from either Jack Daniel’s or Jim Beam are used to mature their products. Though this whisky was released over a year ago, it has only just available in Ontario as a lot of distribution and production was put on hold due to some serious flooding, and the distillery has recovered well and has been back in full swing – and we are all grateful. I’ve been waiting for this to drift to the Ontario market ever since I heard about it…also, it’s another 20 year old Canadian whisky under $50 here – not something you will readily find in other markets.


Review (2014)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2014

  • Bottling Code: N/A

Nose: Vanilla, maple, and creamy nuttiness with an elegant feel. I am not quite sure how to describe the “elegant” feel to it – but I find that it almost “feels” rich and buttery as I smell. There are notes of bourbon, but it obviously doesn’t smell like a bourbon because it is not aged in new wood (though there will be small bits of bourbon directly in the whisky from the bourbon casks). There’s a bit of light dried fruit – like prunes, but the nose isn’t sour. A bit of darker elements of earthy woodiness and molasses lurk under the surface too. And, there’s toffee too. The range isn’t huge – but it’s very well done. And, for a 20 year old whisky, there is surprisingly little oak, even with a cask that’s been used once before.

Taste: A bit sweet to start, with a rich vanilla and maple undertow and fading to some drying spices (white pepper and some of the sharpness of clove) before being washed again with some creamy caramel. The palate lingers very well and the whisky flavour seems to keep developing uninterrupted once you’ve swallowed – which is very nice. The mouthfeel of the whisky is extremely nice – buttery and a bit viscous (though not too thick that it doesn’t slide down easily) – it slides down well, and I think the creamy notes on the palate also help the brain to perceive that it slips down even better. There’s a bit of an oaky rumminess and earthiness too, in the background – it’s quite nice, and enough for you to notice it, but not too much that it dominates over the softer and creamier primary flavours. There is also a light “rancio” note, like the oxidized nature of sherry or marsala – but this is light, and though I don’t like sherry or marsala much – it fits in very well here.

Finish: At first the corn (in the dimensions of corn on the cob and cornmeal) seems to come out with vanilla before oak slowly starts to take the reins with a bit of cinnamon, dried ginger, and orange peel. Also, interestingly enough, it’s a bit sour on the finish in a way it wasn’t at any other point in the whisky. It’s also a fitting whisky for fall, with notes similar to the reeds in marshes as they die and start to decompose in the fall.

A fitting fall whisky with the light earthiness and oakiness – yet it’s very elegant, easy to drink, and bright. The silkiness, richness, balance, and depth is wonderful. A pleasure, for sure. The first thing I thought with this whisky is how it compares to Century Reserve 21 Year Old, another 100% corn whisky coming out of Highwood which is a bit older but similar in terms of age. The profiles are similar, but Century Reserve 21 Year Old is a bit lighter and more floral while this one is a bit fruitier, and a bit more packed with flavour (particularly in the toffee department) and fruit, and the sherry-like note I mentioned earlier. Comparing it to Century Reserve Lot 15/25 (also with old stocks, and 100% corn) – there’s less vanilla, sweetness, and spice. But, they’re all very good – and particularly this one.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Very High. A balanced, elegant 20 year old whisky bottled at 45% and under $50? That is some great value.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

  • Bottling Code: 6118

This past year Highwood added new white labels to replace the old label (shown above), so that the product would stand out better on the shelves. I'd heard some good things about the recent batches of this, so I had to give this one another go:

Rich oak, coconut, vanilla, strawberry jam, campino candies, dulce de leche, clove –creamy and elegant. It opens up brilliantly as it sits in the glass. There are some really interesting fruit notes that I am having trouble defining – tropical, creamy fruits. The palate is full, lightly sweet, and creamy, with leather, stale clove and cinnamon, dried corn, and dried apple – finishing with oak and a bit more old leather. The old notes are very intriguing – I love them, and my appreciation for them has continued to grow as I’ve continued to taste more whisky. This batch is a bit brighter, and slightly less nutty and earthy, than the reviewed batch above – I can’t say I like it more, but I certainly don’t like it less. Terrific stuff. They’re both brilliant. All you connoisseurs of Scotch Grain Whisky need to get a bit of this.

It’s one of those whiskies to spend time with – drinking this one quickly, as with many old whiskies – you will miss much.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Very High. A balanced, elegant 20 year old whisky bottled at 45% and under $50? That is some great value.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Oily and oaky, with beeswax, almond, coconut, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, maple, hazlenuts, loads of subtle notes, and light oaky bitterness. The palate combines both all the subtle, soft notes of the nose with interesting grape notes, raisins, and port (I’m picking up notes of port-like fruit and rancio – interesting!). Soft, developing, and complex.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Very High. A balanced, elegant 20 year old whisky bottled at 45% and under $50? That is some great value.


Review: Highwood Rye Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
Rye and Wheat
Distiller Highwood (High River, Alberta)

This whisky is distilled from rye and wheat, and is the flagship whisky for Highwood - though it is not available in Ontario. The grains are distilled and aged separately, with wheat as the base, before being blended - in a typical Canadian style. According to Chip Dykstra, the whisky is about 5 years old.


Review (2015; Blind)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: 5114 07:26

  • Bottling Date: 2015

Sour, with some dry rye spice, flambeed bananas, orange peel, and some rich vanilla laden grain in the background with some mixed fruit drop notes. Grape and white raisin come in on the palate, slowly fading to light rye spice. The spice lingers for some time, with a bit of a cleansing and enduring, and lightly fruity finish with some canned peaches. Alongside being an enjoyable sipper, that rich grain in the background is the sort of thing that would turn this into a very nice mixer. The wheat, as often, brings in some quite bright candy fruit to the mix.

Score: 81/100

Value: 75/100 (based on $26)


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Coconut, peaches, orange peel, pine needles, vanilla, clove, and vanilla lead into a light palate with a bit of coconut, more pine needles, and dried orange peel. The whisky finishes with spices (clove and cumin), light oak, and orange peel. Young, but complex and quite enjoyable. Terrific mixer.

Value: Average. Not a fantastic whisky, but it’s simple and quite decent - and cheap (~25$).


Review: Century Reserve Rare Cask 30 Year Old Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Century Reserve 30.jpg
ABV
45%
Aging
30 years
Recipe
100% Corn
Producer Highwood (High River, Alberta)

Now here is a whisky for you - a 30 year old single cask, 100% corn whisky distilled in 1988 and bottled for BC liquor stores. There is growing traction now for old Canadian corn whiskies, which are full of complex subtlety - though not all love the style. Production wise, it’s similar to an old Scottish grain whisky (or Japanese). However, I find, for the style, the Canadians to be better - though they are limited - we’ve really only seen these from Highwood (Ninety 20, Century Reserve 17, 21, 35) and Hiram Walker (Canadian Club 40, Wiser’s 35 - though Wiser’s 35 has younger rye blended in).

Also, only $150…but only available in BC.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: Distilled 1988, Bottled 2018

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Yes! What a rich, nice, easy nose. The age shows through incredibly – loads of light coconut, sunflower oil, beeswax – it is the best of old Canadian corn whisky. Very elegant. The best thing about the style is it seems to keep getting better with age and doesn’t usually over-oak…awesome!

It’s in the same class as whiskies like Canadian Rockies 21, it isn’t even worth writing additional notes to the above. If you want to see similar flavours, take a look at my review for that. It’s perhaps a bit richer, this stuff - awesome.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average. Terrific whisky, but $150 isn’t cheap. Nonetheless, it’s about average value for what I’d want to pay $150 for.


Review: Canadian Rockies 21 Year Old Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Picture courtesy of the Fountana Beverage Corp..

Picture courtesy of the Fountana Beverage Corp..

ABV
46%
Aging
21 yrs; Ex-bourbon cask
Recipe
100% Corn
Producer Highwood (High River, Alberta)

This whisky is a product of the Fountana group, who have released the awesome series of Canadian Rockies (among other great releases, like the Infamous 22 Year Old Scotch Whisky). It was initially released just in BC, but it is now available in Ontario. This whisky, much like the other well aged corn whiskies out of Highwood, was sourced elsewhere as Highwood does not distill corn. The recipe is 100% corn, and it is released at 21 years old and a very nice 46%. It was a hugely popular at the Victoria whisky festival in 2016.


Review (2015; Blind)

  • Batch: 1

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

Apple and wet, old oak with brilliant oiliness and age - with a daisy-like floral element too. Balanced on the palate with the oily richness characteristic of well-aged corn whiskies - nutty and spicy on the finish for brilliant effect as well. And, though so simple, a whisky like this reminds us all of why oak and vanilla fit so well together, and how sturdy a well-aged whisky can be. Well aged, smooth, balanced, yet supplying tannins for intrigue and effect. In the same mix with the best Japanese and Scottish grain whiskies.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Very High. This batch is just so spectacular, mature, interesting, elegant - and only $70 in Alberta!


Review (2018)

  • Batch: 2 (new bottle)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Well this is nice…dense and oaky, with just amazing old corn whisky notes. It is so rich, one of a few I’d call truly decadent. Beeswax, light oak, vanilla, leather, blueberry, coconut, and an array of spices. There’s a slight white-wine like fruitiness to it, too – like a light and floral dry pinot grigio. It is awesome, but the tannins are a bit out of balance compared with some other Canadian Rockies that I’ve had which were more in balance. The finish is nice too, with a richness that builds as you continue to drink. This is one of the best regular bottlings of Canadian whisky you can buy.

I like this slightly less than the first release because of less balance from the tannins, but still excellent.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High. Awesome stuff, old, and a great price!


Review: Canadian Rockies 17 Year Old Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Fountana Beverage Corp.

Image courtesy of Fountana Beverage Corp.

ABV
50%
Aging
17 yrs
Recipe
N/A
Producer Highwood (High River, Alberta)

A cracking new release, sitting right in between the 10 and 21 years old - but this one is at 50%. Available in Alberta but sadly not in Ontario…


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

The nose has sharp, spicy oak (lots of clove), coconut, blueberry, beeswax, sugarcane (the actual smell, not „sweet”), white grape. Herbaceous and spicy too…nice. Great old age notes…it would be quite boring at half the age, I would expect. The palate continues – rich corn and nice spice notes. Very nice. The finish is slightly tannic and spicy, with light fruit – like grape and blueberry. If you have a full dram (which you should) the spiciness continues to build with a peppery hot spiciness. I love the battle between the simple distillate and the simple oak – both deep. Excellent.

50% packs quite a punch, and I’m frankly surprised – I’ve had cask strength Highwoods which have clocked at over 80% ABV which were shockingly un-punchy. It’s not too much, but it’s big, and I’m thrilled. It’s similar, not as complex, as the magnificent 21 year old – but it packs a bigger punch and still carries a ton of old age complexity. This one, I’d drink faster than the 21 year old. And very chew-able.

I’m thrilled. This fits so nicely into the lineup – similar, but a different take, with the 50% showcasing another side of the spirit. Well done.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average. A very nice bottle, par for the course at $70.


Review: Centennial Limited Edition Canadian Rye Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Centenniel.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
Ex-Bourbon
Recipe
Wheat and rye
Distiller Highwood (High River, Alberta)

This whisky is a blend of a base wheat whisky, matured in ex-bourbon casks, blended with a powerful flavouring rye whisky also matured in ex-bourbon casks. It used to carry an ages statement of 10 years, and Highwood says that wheat whiskies tend to come into their own at 10 years. However, due to demand, this was dropped a few years back.

Wheat is the traditional grain of Canadian distillers as they, like distillers in other countries, distilled what grew around them. Today, in Canada, Highwood Distillery specializes in distilling wheat which can be difficult to process because it can gum up - other distillers either do not use wheat or use it minimally.


Review (2013)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2013

Nose: Vanilla, maple syrup, butter table syrup, salted caramel, and a slight touch of smoke, with both slight rye and the wheat coming through in nice balance. I find the butter table syrup, in combination with the rest surrounding it, to be quite superb. There’s also caramel, in a sort you might find in an overaged gouda along with some bright fruitiness to it – blackberry and white grapes along with a few wisps of dried apricot characteristic of bourbon casks.

Taste: Reasonably sweet, with a big kick of oaky vanilla mid-palate. There are white grapes, slightly peppery wheat, and it finishes with a flourish of spice – cinnamon, cloves, cayenne pepper, and a bit of nutmeg which slowly unfolds into the finish. It’s quite easy-going, and easy to drink without many off-notes. Well balanced, but could use a bit more depth and clarity.

Finish: Vanilla, with a bit of oak, wheat, and spice – bits of clove and cinnamon – but they feel a bit incomplete. The feel of a rye finish is there, though rye does not distinctly emerge as much as I expected. It dries out, slightly, and the feel is moderately big in the mouth – but the flavours are light and do not endure much.

I like the wheat in this one, and it is well balanced. Highwood has done some great work, and I am certainly glad to have some wheat-focused distilleries still around, especially as I think wheated ryes could offer some pretty intriguing whiskies.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). From a taste perspective, it’s decent, but good wheat whiskies aren’t very common - hence the recommendation. Plus, it’s rare to find a whisky as easy as this one - it’s worth experiencing.

Value: Average. It's not expensive, and it is quite good!


Review: Century Reserve Lot 15/25 Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
15-25 Yrs
Recipe
100% Corn
Distiller Highwood (High River, Alberta)

Century Reserve comes from Highwood distillers in High River, Alberta, who have been on a bit of a roll with new premium whiskies hitting the market. This whisky, it would appear, is getting harder to find and may well not continue in production due to the older stocks of whisky in the blend resulting from a big purchase of Potter's stocks from Highwood.

The whisky is composed of a blend of whiskies from a range of 15 to 25 years old. The barrels from which it is blended originated from Highwood’s purchase of stocks from Potters, a whisky broker, and some of the older stocks likely originated from an even older (and now closed) Seagram’s distillery in Weyburn, Saskatchewan. This whisky, also, it is worth noting - is 100% corn. The "rye" usage here is denoting Canadian whisky, not rye grain.


Review (2013)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2013

Nose: A nice bit of sharp rye, dried berries, raising, and plums. There are lovely vanilla notes as well, which develop over time as the nose sits. There’s a touch of creaminess, too, almost like caramel pudding.  There’s a bit of oakin the background, but it is not that powerful, especially for a whisky which is a blend of 15 to 25 years old.

Taste: Rye flavour comes in prominently at first, alongside a decent dollop of corn – and it’s beautiful…the rye gradually transforms from the slightly spicy grain to become fruit-forward before a wave of spice and heat come to finish the taste, leaving the taste of sharp rye and black pepper. It’s reasonably sweet mid palate and the spices that come in at the end are those of cloves and a touch of nutmeg. There’s a bit of honey in the background of the palate as well, and it is a bit nutty.  The end of the taste is quite firm, which I quite like.

Finish: The grain develops into some fruit as you take it in, and it is, unfortunately, a touch bitter. It’s fairly strong though, and quite nice. there’s vanilla in the background of the finish as well. I can’t really decide what to do with the finish – I like it and want to rate it high, yet there are some discordant parts which I don’t want to rate too high. A slight bitterness develops after some time – if not for that, it would be fabulous.  Some bean sprouts come in after a bit…. The bitterness seems on the edge – I can’t decide whether I slightly like it or slightly dislike it. There’s some oak mixed into the bitterness as well, making it seem as though the bitterness is coming from the oak. Perhaps some of the older stocks in the blend contribute a bit too much bitterness…however, the finish is certainly interesting and develops in bold movements for over a minute (I timed it because I was so impressed) before settling into a uniform and solid finish.

I like so much about this whisky, but at times it feels a touch too bitter, a touch too out of balance with too much rye or too much dull fruit…

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High. This is a great whisky, and it’s at bottom shelf prices (~30$).


Review: Ninety 5 Year Old Canadian Rye Whisky by Jason Hambrey

This whisky, like its older sibling the brilliant Ninety 20 year old, is produced by Highwood distillery from sourced 100% corn whisky. Highwood often works (quite well) with corn, however, they don't distill it - which is why they source from other Canadian distilleries. The Century Reserve line of whiskies from Highwood is also 100% corn.

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Review: Century Reserve 21 Year Old Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

First of all, it should be said that this whisky is made from 100% Corn. Thus, it is not “rye” in the sense of the grain used at all, but rather “rye” as the other term for Canadian Whisky. This bottle is made by Highwood Distillers, in High River, Alberta – a relatively small Canadian distillery. The distillers at Highwood do not actually even distill corn, thus, this is bought as new make from another Canadian distillery after which point it is matured and bottled at Highwood Distillery. However, though they did not directly control the entire process, it is very much their concept and creation. It is quite different from Century Reserve Lot 15/25,  which can pack quite a punch, with more elegance and woodiness, yet one can still see why they are part of the same family.

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