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Ninety 5 Year Old Canadian Rye Whisky (Century Distillers)

Review: Ninety (Premium cask Aged) 5 Year Old Canadian Rye Whisky   (87.5/100)
Review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Published: October 26, 2014 (Re-scored November 2016)

Highwood Distillers is a Canadian distillery in the Town of High River, Alberta, which lies just about 40 minutes due south of Calgary, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. Recently the distillery was severely impacted by a massive flash flood which devastated the area on June 20th, 2013. The folks at Highwood literally had only minutes of warning before the flood hit, and the severity of the event was such that some distillery staff had to be rescued from the tops of their cars by helicopter.

Just before the disruptions caused by flooding during the summer of 2013 in Southern Alberta, Highwood Distillers released a limited quantity of their new “Ninety” branded whiskies under their Century Distillers banner. The news of these whisky releases was unfortunately drowned out (quite literally) by the waters that engulfed Southern Alberta. If you followed the news regarding the aftermath of the flood (see story here) you will know that it took more than a few weeks for the company to bring itself back onto its feet. In fact, all of the bottled inventory in Highwood’s warehouse had to be destroyed due to potential contamination from the water that penetrated the distillery.

An unfortunate victim of all this disruption was those “Ninety” branded whiskies which all but disappeared from liquor store shelves as Highwood had to temporarily abandon production of this new brand in order to focus on re-establishing their other major brands across Canada. The good news is that the Ninety branded whiskies have been relaunched as both the Ninety 5 Year Old and the Ninety 20 Year Old have made a re-appearance in Alberta and British Columbia, and their first appearance in Ontario.

The subject of this review, is the Ninety (Premium cask Aged) 5 Year Old Whisky, which is produced from corn-based distillate which has been matured for 5 years in charred oak barrels and bottled at 90 proof or 45 % alcohol by volume.

ninety-5-sam_0928In the Bottle 4/5

To the left is the bottle presentation of the Ninety 5 Year Old Whisky. This is in fact the same whisky bottle which the company uses to house their Wild Cherry and Wild Cinnamon Whisky Liqueurs. The short squat bottle has a look which implies ‘substance’, and I like the overall look of the bottle. I also like the label which is neither to simple nor too ostentatious. The plastic screw cap which seals the bottle seems fine and is a better choice than the metallic screw caps I sometimes see on other bottles from other producers.

In the Glass 8.5/10

The whisky displays a nice golden hue within the glass. When I tilt that glass and give it a slow twirl, I see a slightly thickened oily sheen on the inside of my glencairn, the crest of which releases mid-sized droplets which slowly meander back down into the whisky. The initial breezes above glass reveal scents of freshly sanded oak, spicy rye, fresh cornstalks, and delicate touches of honey, butterscotch, vanilla and a light dab of corn syrup.

As the glass sits, impressions of clean oak spices continue to rise and grow in the breezes with light accents of almond and tobacco. The whisky may be corn-based; but in the air above the glass, the Ninety 5 Year Old has both the smooth character of corn and the spicy attitude rye each representing the hallmarks of a fine Canadian Rye Whisky.

In the Mouth 53/60

The mouth-feel is soft as the whisky crosses the palate with flavours of wood spice, dusty rye, and very light flavours of butterscotch and corn syrup. Although the whisky is aged for only five years, the oak spiciness it brings forward is firm with impressions of citrus peel and tobacco growing in the glass. I taste a hint of honey sweetness, a gentle sweep of vanilla, and a vague mustiness of baby corns underlying the other flavours within the whisky.

As the glass breathes, the wood spice and corn each seem to build with equal intensity. Although the mouth becomes heated with impressions of citrus zest, ginger and spice; the whisky remains soft and sippable with the underlying sweetness of corn and butterscotch providing a perfect complement to the spice. Although one would normally mix a five-year old spirit, this is completely unnecessary, as even without ice or water, the Ninety 5 Year Old is an unexpected treat.

In the Throat 13/15

The exit features a triumvirate of spicy oak, rye and butterscotch all melded beautifully together. We catch glimpses of corn syrup and tobacco riding along with lightly glowing bits of cinnamon and clove. Despite the spiciness (and the 45 % alcohol by volume bottling strength), the whisky remains smooth throughout the exit.

The Afterburn 9/10

I continue to be surprised and delighted by the quality I taste in each whisky Highwood Distillers brings forward. This is a small distillery by Canadian standards and each of their products is produced in a batch style with what appears to be great attention to detail. Although the Ninety (Premium cask Aged) 5 Year Old Whisky is a relatively young whisky, it has character and smoothness well beyond its years.

If you are interested in comparing more scores, here is a link to my other published Whisky Reviews.


Suggested Cocktail

The Canadian Caribou
an original cocktail By Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)

For this cocktail we need a Canadian whisky with a strong rye forward profile. Although the Highwood Ninety 5 Year Old Whisky is corn-based, the folks at Highwood have managed to bring forward a bevy of rye-like goodness along with the smooth corn in the glass.

Canadian CaribouCanadian Caribou
a cocktail by Arctic Wolf

1 1/2 oz Highwood Ninety 5 Year Old Whisky
1/2  oz Yukon Jack
Splash of Ginger Ale

Fill an Old-fashioned glass with Ice
Add the Ninety Whisky and the Yukon Jack
Complete with a splash of Ginger Ale
Garnish with a lemon Slice

Enjoy Responsibly!


Note: If  you are interested in more of my original 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)

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