Highwood

The Best Canadian Cream Whiskies by Jason Hambrey

Ceili’s photo courtesy of Highwood Distillers. Forty Creek Cream Photo courtesy of Forty Creek Distillery.

Part of my duty as a judge of the Canadian Whisky Awards is to judge flavored whiskies, which I don’t love - but I do genuinely enjoy the cream whiskies that come as a part of the group. Here are a few of my favourite Canadian cream whiskies. It didn’t take me long to realize that, as prominent (and delicious) as Bailey’s is – there are better options available in the Canadian market.

Ceili’s Signature Irish Cream

This is produced by highwood distillers, and is my favourite Canadian cream liquer. It is simple, but it does perfectly what it should – provide a thick, creamy product with a delicious centre that is enjoyable. It’s made with Canadian whisky and imported Irish cream, which is know for being floral and rich compared to other creams due to the diet of Irish dairy cows. Last year, it was the Canadian whisky of the year in the flavored category – it has won other awards as well. It is creamy, and nutty with pecans, praline, milk chocolate, brown sugar, and toffee. It has a wonderful creamy centre surrounded by caramel – a terrific sipper over ice or companion to hot chocolate or coffee. It entered 2 of the last 3 Canadian Whisky Awards, and each time was my favorite.

Forty Creek Cream

This was introduced a few years ago and is the most complex of the Canadian cream whiskies, and a very good sipper and mixer. It took home the 2017, 2015 and 2014 canadian flavoured whisky of the year. However, the complexity makes it a little less versatile because of the nutty, caramel, and coffee characteristics that can loom large. It is creamy and nutty, with Ferrero rocher, hazelnut skins, milk chocolate, and slight baking spice. It actually displays a flash of Forty Creek brilliance, which I quite like.

Gretzky cream

This is made with Gretzky No. 99 Whisky and fresh ontario cream. Nutty (hazlenuts), very creamy – with a rich rising cream coming through towards the finish. A clean, smooth finish full of cream and light wood spice.It has a terrific dairy characteristic at its core that you don’t always see in cream whiskies. The finish is smooth, sweet, creamy, and a bit spicy.

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: Canadian Rockies 35 Year Old Cask Strength Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of the Fountana Group.

Image courtesy of the Fountana Group.

ABV
79.3%
Aging
35 yrs; Ex-bourbon cask
Recipe
100% Corn
Producer Highwood (High River, Alberta)

Here we have a very notable whisky - the oldest bottling of Canadian whisky with an age statement since the pre-prohibition bottling of a 37 year old Seagrams, at my best guess. It is another 100% corn whisky sourced from Highwood distillery by the Fountana Group, primarily for Taiwan, though they have released some of the terrific 21 Year Old in Canada (and I have seen a few bottles of this 35, too). It is from a single cask, divided between 211 bottles - 181 at 50% ABV and 30 at the whopping cask strength of 79.1% (yes, you heard it right). The dryness in Alberta means that more water than alcohol evaporates from the cask, resulting in a slowly increasing alcohol level, giving us a whisky that makes the George T. Stagg's and other hazmat whiskies of the world seem diminutive.

I kindly received the last of a 3 oz sample bottle that has travelled over 5,350 km, initially in Davin De Kergommeaux's possession before being passed on to Blair Phillips and now its story ended with me. There was only about half an ounce left, but it still left its mark!

Word has it that there is a 40 coming...


Review (2017)

  • Batch: Distilled December 12, 1980 (79.3%)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date 2015

At this strength, it isn’t even very spirity. Incredibly creamy, woody, dry, and rich on the nose – butterscotch, corn husks, tobacco, dried dill, and light spicy and earthy notes. Wood dominates at lower ABV strengths, but at full strength it is more into balance with succulent, creamy sweet caramel and vanilla. The palate is silky smooth, with stewed peaches, creamed corn, oak, dried apricot, toffee, light cacao, and of course wood. The finish is full, creamy, and spicy – one of the longest rambling and developing finishes I have ever encountered, playing in texture and feel for minutes after a small sip – first sweet and creamy, then spice is added, then drying, them creamy again, then sweet and dry – not always in the same order. Perhaps the creamiest finish i have experienced, and one of the most notable. This is delicious!

I never thought one of the silkiest whiskies i have tried would be bottled at nearly 80%. At this strength, you can’t take a big sip – a few mls are enough to do wonders. This is one of the most elegant and notable whiskies I have ever tasted. The only knack against it is that it could have more complexity, but this is so subtle and fragile I also wouldn’t want to change anything. A wow whisky.

But don’t take it from me – check out Davin’s review here and Blair’s review here.

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

Value: Very Low. Unique, yes - very. But $850? That may be a nice bottle, but not a value one.


Review: Canadian Rockies 10 Year Old Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
10 yrs
Recipe
N/A
Producer Highwood (High River, Alberta)

This whisky is another whisky produced by the Canadian Rockies company, which also boasts a terrific 21 Year Old. This is the younger brother.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2013

Sweet caramel, apple, lots of apple seed, coconut, maple, freshly made polenta, and even a bit of worn leather. This, without a question, has the characteristics revealing that it is on its way towards becoming one of the great long aged Canadian corn whiskies like Highwood Ninety 20 or Canadian Rockies 21. The palate is easy, sweet, and quite vibrant in its corn character – a bit of nutmeg and clove on the finish too, with light bitterness. The finish has sweet fresh corn on the cob, vanilla, fresh parmesan, and light clove and a touch of cinnamon. Since my reference is the older aged corn whiskies, I can’t help but comparing them – this is more reminiscent of fresh sweet corn, and brighter fruit – the older stuff has more dried fruit, leather, and of course oak. But this has a nice character, and it is remarkably easy to drink. It would do fine as an everyday whisky.

Value: N/A (Taiwan only). But a decent whisky, and given the prices of other Canadian Rockies products, I expect it’s decent.


Review: Mt. Logan 20 Year Old Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
20 Years
Recipe
100% Corn
Distiller Alberta Distillers (Alberta)

Another classic, 20 year old, Canadian corn whisky, at a terrific price point (less than $60!). I don't know where else you can find such age at this price. It is a great flavour profile, but it is a particular profile - it's soft and elegant, not bold, high ABV, and spicy. But, given its time, it's excellent. I hear sometimes about these highwood corns that they are not great - I think that's more a comment on disliking the flavor profile rather than actual quality. These whiskies are terrific, and better than most of the Scotch grain whiskies (granted, only a few) I've tried which are often in a similar flavor camp. If you liked the Mt. Logan 15, this in my opinion is worth the extra money (as my value score reflects!). This is an exclusive offering by Liquor Depot and Wine and Beyond.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: 6119

  • Bottling Date: ~2016

Much more alive and complex than the 15, with deeper, richer, flavours. Again, it is similar to the typical Highwood old corn profile except it is a bit more rubbery, and a bit more licoricy. The rubbery note doesn’t mean poor – just slightly medicinal. Rich, earthy spices, maple, beeswax, prunes, and dried corn cobs. The nose is oaky and dry, which I quite like.  The palate follows suit – waxy, sweet, dry, spicy. It has a nice long flavor development and unfolding – very pleasant. Maple is quite key to the profile. Cedar, too...nice honey spice.

Definitely the star of the Mount Logan lineup. Not as rich, complex, fruity or as big as ninety 20 which also shows quite a bit more dried fruit - but grain is a bit less central there. It really goes down easy, perhaps easier than ninety 20...the light sweetness, dry finish, and smooth-ness really make it beg sip after sip. After my review, I read the Rum Howler's, who is in agreement.

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

Value: High. A nice 20 year old whisky for quite a good price!


Review: Mt. Logan 15 Year Old Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
15 Years
Recipe
100% Corn
Distiller Alberta Distillers (Alberta)

A 15 year old, 100% corn whisky sourced from Highwood Distillery for the Mt Logan brand, exclusive to Liquor Depot and Wine and Beyond. Highwood sources their corn whisky, so this is essentially a double sourced whisky.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: 6119

  • Bottling Date: ~2016

That is a classic highwood corn nose – waxy, sweet, and dry corn with lots of vanilla, honeycomb, maple, and beeswax. However, this is a bit different from the Highwood products in some of the spice distribution – it is a bit more rubbery, with more anise and licorice. The palate is lightly sweet, and slightly tannic – light dried corn, vanilla, clove, and anise – tingling spice, malt, pleasant corn, and wax on the end. Very easy. Overall, soft, quiet, and complex only in a particular flavor camp – sweet, woody, waxy, and sweet heavy floral (i.e. honey). Again, as with Mt. Logan 5, this would be a good base for subtle cocktails (which is not true of every whisky!). I suppose I should note that the Rum Howler disagrees with me, though.

Lightly rubbery on the finish. The dry spice on the finish ups the score on this one a full point.

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

Value: Average. A decent buy for the price, but you can do better.