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Ninety “Decades of Richness” 20 Year Old

Review: Ninety “Decades of Richness” 20 Year Old Canadian Rye Whisky   93/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Revisited November 12, 2014

In November of 2005, Highwood Distillers finalized the purchase of Potters Distilleries (founded by Ernie Potter in 1958). Part of this acquisition, was the purchase of all of the remaining barrel aged stocks of whisky in the Potters facility. These barrels of whisky were transferred from the Potters warehouse facilities in Kelowna, B.C. to the newly constructed warehouse facility in High River, Alberta, where they were allowed to continue to age at the foot of the Rocky Mountains on the western edge of the Canadian Prairies. The whisky brands which Potters Distilleries had established (Century and Potters) were added to Highwood’s portfolio of spirits where they have not only been maintained but also expanded upon. Part of that expansion was the 2013 addition of the ‘Ninety’ branded whiskies to the Century Distillers line-up. Like the other whiskies in the Century portfolio, the Ninety branded spirits are corn-based rather than wheat-based blends. (Highwood Distillers uses the Highwood brand for all of its wheat based whiskies.)

Highwood chose the brand name ‘Ninety’ because these new whiskies are bottled at 90 proof (or 45 % alcohol by volume) rather than the usual 80 proof (40 % alcohol by volume). The higher bottling strength means that the final whisky will retain a character closer to the original cask strength whiskies from which they were blended. In the case of the Ninety “Decades of Richness” 20 Year Old Canadian Rye Whisky, the bulk of blend almost certainly has been drawn from Highwood’s treasured reserves of remaining Potters whisky stocks which are rumoured to contain barrels of whisky as old as 33 years.

Unfortunately, immediately after the release of the Ninety branded whisky, the distillery was disrupted by the massive flash flood which occurred during the summer of 2013 in Southern Alberta. The news of these whisky releases was drowned out (quite literally) by the flood 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 the “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 “Decades of Richness” 20 Year Old Canadian Rye Whisky.

sam_2646In the Bottle 4.5/5

I like the handsome, heavy-set, 8-sided bottle which Highwood has adopted for this whisky. This bottle was introduced when Highwood launched their award-winning Calgary Stampede 25 Year Old Whisky, and it brings a more masculine look to their bottle presentation than what I have seen in the past. This bottle is unique, and it commands a certain presence on my whisky shelf. The bottle even holds true to the bartender’s creed. It is easy to store, easy to hold, and easy to pour.

A minor quibble is with the label upon the bottle which could use some additional dressing up. Small details such as a copper or gold coloured border around the edge, and/or perhaps a more spiffy logo would help dress up the label. But that is a very minor quibble. I definitely like this bottle!

In the Glass 9/10

The whisky has a rich golden hue in the glass which is very visually enticing. When I tilted my glass and gave it a slow twirl, the whisky left a slightly thickened oily sheen upon the inside of my glass which proceeded to drop moderately thick legs back down into the liquid below. The air above the glass is rich with the spiciness of oak, sandalwood, orange peel, and rye grain, as well as lush with the sweetness of corn and butterscotch toffee (I seem to be noticing more corn than I did in my original review).

The different aspects of the aroma (the wood and rye spiciness and the corn and butterscotch sweetness) are melded together beautifully creating a very enticing aroma in the air above the glass. As I enjoy those breezes, I also notice impressions of creamy vanilla pudding, hints of almond turning to sweeter marzipan, zesty orange peel turning to sticky marmalade, and lightly sweetened cereal grain (which actually reminds me of Post Honeycomb cereal). The longer you let the glass sit, the more firm and unified the aroma becomes, until after fifteen minutes or so it resembles the luscious scent of a spicy butterscotch/oak and corn syrup that begs to be sipped.

In the Mouth 56.5/60

When I wrote my original review a year ago I reported that it was hard for me to wrap my head around the written review. It just seemed that no matter what I wrote, I ended up deleting it and had to start all over again because my descriptions did not do justice to the whisky. This time (because I already had my previous review to work from) things were much easier, but my overall impressions are the same. Tasting notes do not adequately reflect how good this whisky actually is. The words which I wrote down a year ago to describe the flavour are correct: oak, cedar, corn, butterscotch, vanilla, orange peel, marmalade, almond and tobacco, but they do not adequately convey how rich and flavourful this whisky is.

As before, I want to make the point that it is not just the flavours I can describe which make this whisky special; it is the manner in which these flavours have become unified in the glass. The oak has melded into the corn and butterscotch, which in turn has melded into the vanillans and the light rye spices, which in turn have melded into the orange peel and marmalade, as well as into the almond, and into the hints of tobacco. All those individual flavours have melded together, and in their combining, they have become much more than the sum of their individual parts.

In the Throat 13.5/15

The medium length exit is smooth and spicy with just the right touch of sweetness to complement the spice, and just as importantly, just enough rye-like bitterness at the ending to dry the palate and cause the mouth to water. Perhaps there is just a bit of uncomfortable heat in the exit; but then again this is a 45 % alcohol by volume whisky, which is supposed to carry a little heat.

The Afterburn 9.5/10

The Ninety “Decades of Richness” Canadian Rye Whisky has become one of my very favourite whiskies for sipping. My score in this revisitation may be slightly lower today than it was last year, but this is most probably a reflection of minor batch differences, or perhaps a change in my mood this time around. Nevertheless a score of 93/100 places this whisky firmly in the stratosphere of my scoring system. In my opinion, this Canadian whisky is on par with the best Bourbons, and the best Single Malt Scotches I have tasted to this point in my whisky explorations.


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


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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