White Owl Whisky
Review: White Owl Whisky 85/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted March 4, 2010
(Updated tasting notes and re-scored October 2016)
Six years ago a new whisky was produced in Canada which was completely different from any other whisky I had seen. For one thing, the distillation mash for the whisky was based primarily upon wheat, not barley, corn, or rye. (This was not as surprising as you may think, as the distillers of White Owl Whisky are Highwood Distillers, based in High River, Alberta. They have, after all, been distilling their very wonderful Centennial Whisky with a wheat based mash for many years.) However, it was the next feature of the whisky which I found most interesting and unusual. White owl is a clear, well-aged, ‘cocktail’ whiskey! In fact if the bottle did not say whisky on the front you would be forgiven for believing this was an Ultra-premium Vodka, until you opened the bottle, at which time you would realize that the spirit inside is unmistakably whisky!
The whisky achieves its clear form by the means of carbon filtration. Highwood crafts and blends an aged whisky, and then runs it through a filtration process to remove all colour and smooth out the taste profile. This was a first for me, and I believe a first for aged Canadian Whisky!
I was lucky enough to receive a sample bottle directly from the distillery after touring the Highwood facility, and wrote one of the first reviews of their unusual whisky. Six years later, I felt it was time to revisit the review with a new Bottle.
In the Bottle 5/5
Every person to whom I have shown the whisky bottle has had the same reaction…cool! Although the frosted glass design has been used for other spirits, this is definitely a departure for a Canadian whisky bottle. There is a clear area in the frosted glass around the snowy owl logo. It is evident that the whisky inside is free of colour before the bottle is open. What the picture does not show is the high quality synthetic cork used to seal the bottle. Attention to detail bodes well for White Owl Whisky.
In the Glass 8/10
As I pour the whiskey into my tasting glass, I hold it up to the light and against various backgrounds trying to catch a smidgen of colour. There does not appear to be any. When I swirl the glass, I see a light film forms on the inside of my glencairn. The crest of that film slowly releases medium-sized droplets which able at a moderate pace back down into the spirit.
The aroma from the glass brings light whisky aromas of rye and sandalwood with a touch of vanilla and a touch of sweetness. There is perhaps a wiff of dusty grain, however, I do not smell is any quantifiable aromas of oak sap or heavy caramel. There is however, (and this was absent in my review of six years ago) a very light astringency in the air.
In the Mouth 51/60
As I take the first sip, the first impression I have is of a softly sweet vanilla and honey flavour accented by grain spice and light butterscotch. The astringency I noted on the nose has not manifested itself across the palate. I taste similar whispers of oak flavour and rye flavours which beguiled me six years ago. Although the whisky is very vodka-like, it does have a light whisky character.
I decided to make a few cocktails and found that the spirit has also retained its great mixability. My favourite servings were a Cosmo-style recipe and a gimlet. I have shared both below.
In the Throat 12.5/15
White Owl Whisky has a short finish with trailing flavours of mild vanilla and light butterscotch. Grain spice builds as we sip, however with a simple cube of ice any discomfort is quickly alleviated.
The Afterburn 8.5/10
My score for White Owl Whisky has dropped slightly from several years ago. However I fam still very glad to have the spirit upon my bar shelf. The spirit can be sipped over ice and the mixability of the white whisky remains very strong. A gin or Vodka cocktail mixed with White Owl has a lovely light whisky character which I find completely engaging. And on that front alone it belongs on my whisky shelf as a great alternative too premium vodka or gin.
You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.
I am going to suggest that any classic cocktail which calls for white rum or vodka can be enjoyed equally well with White Owl Whisky.
The Highwood Gimlet
1 1/2 oz. White Owl Whisky
1/2 oz. Fresh Squeezed Lime Juice
1 tsp. Sugar Syrup (1:1 ratio)
Slice of Lime for Garnish
Combine the first three ingredients into a metal shaker with ice.
Shake until the metal shaker chills.
Strain into a chilled glass.
Garnish with the lime slice
One of the modern classic cocktails I love to work with is the Cosmopolitan which mixes Vodka and Orange Liqueur with Cranberry and Lime juice. It is an excellent serving which never fails to please my friends when we have our Vodka Tastings. A few years ago, I came upon the idea of tweaking the Cosmopolitan using White Owl Whisky as its base rather than Vodka.
I called this new recipe, Country Roads.
2 ounces White Owl Whisky
1 ounce Cointreau
1 ounce Cranberry Juice
1/2 ounce Lime Juice
Tsp of Sugar Syrup (1:1 ratio)
Slice of Lime
Add the first six ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice
Shake until the outside of the shaker begins to frost
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass
Garnish with a lime slice
Please Enjoy Responsibly!
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!
I am sometimes asked what my numbers actually mean. In order to provide clarification, you may (loosely) interpret the scores 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 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)