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Highwood Canadian Rye Whisky

Review: Highwood Canadian Rye Whisky  86.5/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Revised September 2013
(Original Review November 2010)

The Highwood Distillery is the only 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 whisky is aged for at least five years in charred American white oak barrels (without the addition of additives), and when it is 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.

HW_Rye_Whisky_shadowIn the Bottle  4/5

Highwood Canadian Rye Whisky received a bit of a facelift last year 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, the Highwood Canadian Rye Whisky begins to hint that something might be special. I see a nice 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. The aroma from the glass is clean and mellow. Light rye spices waft upward with the teasing aroma of honeycomb and light vanilla mixed in. In the breezes are hints of ginger and wood spices. This reminds me very much of the nose of the Highwood Centennial Whisky, perhaps not quite as polished, but that same gentle style.

In the Mouth 52.5/60

The first thing I noticed about the Highwood Whisky as I sipped it was that it is a smooth, gentle, and mellow whisky which has the soft sensation in the mouth of a much older whisky. Honeycomb, ginger, wood spice, and a light dab of vanilla all support a wonderfully clean, dusty rye flavour. 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.

I found that sipping the whisky was very nice; but I will be honest, and admit I quickly began to want to splash ginger ale into the glass. In fact that mellow rye practically begged me to mix it. I found that a splash of ginger ale was marvelous. I tried a little cola as well as a little Sprite. All of them worked wonderfully.

In the Throat 13/15

In the finish, I was greeted to an old-fashioned rye 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 smooth, clean finish 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 laid back Highwood style and I enjoy it very much. This whisky is clean, dry, and 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.

The only criticism which might be made towards the Highwood Canadian Rye Whisky is that the whisky will be for some, too laid back. I disagree with this assessment, as I love a smooth gentle whisky. But I do understand that some will want a little more robustness in the flavour.

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


Suggested Recipes

Here is a cocktail which works well with any good Canadian Rye Whisky.

SAM_0777 Rye SplashCanadian Rye- Whisky Splash

2 oz Highwood Canadian Rye Whisky
2 or 3 Large Ice-cubes
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


Another great classic cocktail is the Old-fashioned;

The Old Fashioned Cocktail

1 1/2 oz Highwood Canadian Rye Whisky
1 tsp simple syrup
1 dash bitters
2 large ice cubes
1 twist of lemon or 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!


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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