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Highwood Canadian Rye Whisky

Review: Highwood Canadian Rye Whisky  84.5/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Original Posting November 2010 (Revisited and re-scored September 2016)

The Highwood Distillery is the only large locally (Albertan) owned distillery in Canada. It sits in the heart of the High River community, producing more than 300,000 cases of bottled spirits per year. Although the bulk of their production goes towards Vodka, Flavoured Vodka, and Premixes, they also produce a sizable (and growing) amount of Canadian Whisky each year.

I consider the Highwood Canadian Whisky to be a unique product unlike anything else on the Canadian whisky landscape (I also find it very tasty). What is so original about the Highwood Whisky is the grain from which it is distilled. Highwood uses local Canadian prairie wheat for the distillation base of all of their Highwood branded whisky. This is because wheat alcohol, rather than barley or corn alcohol, has less heavy non-digestible components. This makes for an extremely smooth easy to drink whisky. After sampling most of the Highwood Whisky range, I have come to the conclusion that they are making some of the smoothest whisky in the world.

Highwood Canadian Rye Whisky is produced from prairie rye and wheat grain in a batch style distillation (the grains are distilled and aged separately). The whiskies are aged for at least five years in charred American white oak barrels (without the addition of additives), and when they are mature, it is blended to produce that distinctive Canadian ‘rye’ flavour profile consistent with our Canadian Whisky. The whisky is bottled at 40 % alcohol by volume.

sam_2640In the Bottle  4/5

Highwood Canadian Rye Whisky received a bit of a facelift in 2015 with a new label design. The bold red and black coloured label is a welcome improvement over the previous uninspired label design. The look still has a ways to go before I would be completely satisfied (perhaps a red trim around the label perimeter would help to give it more ‘pop’); but I appreciate that Highwood has taken some of my past criticisms to heart and is examining this aspect of their marketing strategy more closely.

In the Glass  8.5/10

Once poured into the glass, I see a light oily sheen on the sides of my glass after I swirl it. Moderately fat legs are released which trickle back into the whisky. This is an indication of an oily texture which should provide a nice mouth feel and a long finish.

Fine oak spice and rye grain spices drift up with the teasing aroma of butterscotch and light vanilla mixed in. In the breezes are hints of ginger and wood spices. Some light tobacco smells are apparent as is a aromas of dusty grain fields ripe and ready to be swathed. The aroma seems slightly more robust and complex than before which pleases me, although tempering that pleasure is an acknowledgement on my part that the brand also carries a very light astringency of young alcohol.

In the Mouth 51/60

The first thing I noticed about the Highwood Whisky as I sipped it was, that for a relatively young spirit, it is surprisingly smooth. Butterscotch and honey, rye and wood spices, and a light dab of vanilla all meld together and with a simple ice-cube added the whisky is delicious. There is polish in evidence here, but a little rough and tumble too, as the wood spices liven the mouth-feel and take me back in time to when rye was the King of Canadian Spirits. Touches of almond and orange marmalade complete the flavour profile.

I found that sipping the whisky with ice was very nice; but I will be honest, and admit I quickly began to want to splash ginger ale into the glass. In fact the combination of wood and rye spice practically begged me to mix it. I found that a splash of ginger ale was marvelous.

In the Throat 12.5/15

In the finish, I was greeted to an old-fashioned rye grain and wood spice flavour in my throat which gave a little kick to my tonsils. There was just enough of this kick to let me know that I just swallowed a shot of whisky; but this kick would never leave me gasping or clutching my throat. It is a clean spicy finnish which is refreshing all the way down.

The Afterburn 8.5/10

This is a Canadian whisky which embraces wheat grain and rye rather than the usual corn grain found in other Canadian Whiskies. The smoothness provided by the wheat really underpins the Highwood style and I enjoy it very much. This whisky is clean, dry, and relatively smooth such that I easily can enjoy it neat, or on ice. Having said that, these same features cause me to confess that I enjoy it even more mixed into my favourite bar drinks.

You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.


Suggested Recipes

highwood-splashHere is a cocktail which works well with any good Canadian Rye Whisky.

Highwood Splash

2 oz Highwood Canadian Rye Whisky
2 or 3 Large Ice-cubes
Healthy splash of Ginger-ale
Slice of Lemon

Add the Ice-cubes to a rocks glass
Pour the Whisky over the ice
Add a splash of Ginger Ale
Garnish with a lemon slice

Enjoy Responsibly!


Another great classic cocktail is the Old-fashioned;

The Old Fashioned Cocktail

1 1/2 oz Highwood Canadian Rye Whisky
1 tsp Sugar Syrup (1:1 ratio)
dash Angostura Bitters
2 large Ice-cubes
1 twist Orange peel

Add the first three ingredients to a rocks glass over the ice cubes
Rub the cut edge of the orange peel over the rim of the glass and twist it over the drink. (This will release the oil from the orange zest into the drink)
Drop the peel into the cocktail if desired.

Please Enjoy Responsibly!

Note: If  you are interested in more of my cocktail recipes, please click this link (Cocktails and Recipes) for more of my mixed drink recipes!


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)

4 Responses to “Highwood Canadian Rye Whisky”

  1. Bill said

    I love Highwood, I go through a bottle a week.

  2. Adam C. Sieracki said

    I tried this on a whim (it was deeply discounted) and was rather impressed. I agree that, given thesomewhat dull label, it’s an unfortunately overlooked whisky. The woodiness is somewhat fuller than Crown Royal, but equally smooth. (The pure rye Alberta Premium has an overly hard edge.) I suspect a Manhattan with Martini & Rossi would be good…but I generally prefer whisky neat. As for foods, shortbread cookies are always a good accompaniment. I will be buying more of this brand in the future.

    • Hi Adam,

      I am glad that you liked The Highwood whisky, and you are right, it is somewhat overlooked because of the rather uninspired label.

      • brennan haley said

        It’s interesting, but I’ve read a few reviews that described Alberta Premium as having a hard or rough taste to it. I think I see what they mean, but to me that’s what makes it taste better than something like Canadian Club which seems thin and kind of bitter to me. Shortbread cookies is an original accompaniment and sounds pretty good, I have to try that.

        I’m trying Highwoods for the first time today. I always skipped it because I assumed it was a sort of “generic” whiskey, but it was on sale for a scorching price at Sobey’s so I got some and wow, it is really good. Finding a great tasting whiskey that is so affordable is both a great and bad idea. Sigh.

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