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True North Canadian Rye Whisky

Review: True North Canadian Rye Whisky  78.5/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Published on August 16, 2012

True North Rye Whisky is produced from western prairie wheat and grains. It is aged in charred American oak barrels for a minimum of three years (as per Canadian Law) before being blended and bottled at the Highwood facility in High River, Alberta. True North is what I refer to as an economy whisky. It is inexpensive compared to other whisky in its category, and is a whisky meant for tall drinks as well as other cocktails in bars and restaurants (or on your back deck).

Highwood Distillers is the only Canadian distillery which uses wheat as its primary distilled grain. I have noticed when tasting the wheat based spirits in their portfolio that this grain seems to lend a soft gentleness to the final spirit. They use Rye is in much smaller quantities, and this grain adds a flavourful spiciness. Corn may also be used, and when it is, the corn provides additional sweetness, and body to the spirit. The grains are distilled in a small batch production cycle. I was fortunate enough to be given a tour of the Highwood Distillery a little over two years ago. If you would like a detailed overview of this whisky making process you may find my write-up here, The Highwood Distillery Tour.

Earlier this summer, I was given a bottle of Highwood’s True North Whisky for the purpose of a review here on my website. Here is the resulting review:

In The Bottle 3.5/5

True North is a relatively new economy whisky brand from Highwood, and it is housed in a similar plastic (PET) bottle which I have seen used for the other entry-level brands in their portfolio. This style of bottle has been chosen for economic reasons, and I suspect this brand is destined for the restaurant and bar trade where the consumer tastes what is in the bottle; but will not necessarily see the bottle itself. (I hope that is the intent anyway.)

I say this because, the label does not speak to quality, nor does it clearly identity that Highwood has proudly produced this whisky. Instead the label practically screams ‘economy brand’. In my opinion, even on the lower rungs of a company’s portfolio, there should be a serious attempt to build a positive brand image in the consumer’s mind, with strong brand messaging and strong graphics on the product labels. This particular label fails in that regard.

(I should note these changes are afoot at Highwood Distillers. Their website has been revamped, and some of their products are being given a much need facelift with respect to the style of bottles used for their spirits and the product labels. I am happy that this change is underway, and I hope that this is an examination which continues through time.)

In the Glass 8/10

When I poured the True North Rye Whisky for the first time, I was relatively pleased by the nose which the whisky presents. Some butterscotch mingles with rye spices (ginger and cardamom) and impressions of citrus zest (orange peel mainly) waft into the air. There is a bit of astrigency rising into the air as well; but I also sense light notes of sandalwood and grain that I find appealing. As the glass breathes, the rye spices seem to gain momentum (in particular the ginger and the dusty dry rye grain). The initial astringency has diminished over time, but not disappeared. The whisky is not overly complex, but it is pleasant nonetheless.

In the Glass 47.5/60

True North tastes pretty much like an old fashioned rye whisky with a nice bite of rye spice complemented with notes of butterscotch and caramel. I can taste the spiciness of ginger with perhaps just a dash of cloves and cardamom, and a very light sweetness. The spiciness warms the mouth, but there is  just enough dusty dryness and flavours of ripened grain to appeal to me. As you have probably guessed, the whisky is light bodied and does not present an abundance of complexity. It is more of a simple pleasure meant for long tall bar drinks rather than for sipping from the glencairn glass.

That bite of rye spice had me quickly mixing my favourite rye cocktail, the Horses Neck (which is really just a slightly “fancied up” rye and ginger over ice). As I suspected, the rye spices mixed well with the ginger-ale, and as a back-deck cocktail whisky, I am happy with the True North.

In the Throat 11.5/15

As you can probably guess, that ‘nice bite’ the whisky possesses in the delivery also provides a bit of heat in the finish as oak and rye spices tap at the tonsils. For those who wish to sip, this will be uncomfortable; but once the True North is mixed into a long cocktail, that ‘bracing’ quality ceases to be an issue.

The Afterburn 8/10

True North is a nice whisky. It is not by any stretch of the imagination, a sipper. But it is a nice mixer. Horse’s Necks and Buckeroos are the order of the day when the whisky is opened, and as you will see by my suggested recipe down below, we can also have some fun with something a little fancier.

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

Suggested Recipe

The Rye-jito

2 oz True North Canadian Rye Whisky
Large Ice Cubes
1/2 Lime cut into wedges
1 Tsp Sugar Syrup
4 oz Ginger-ale
3 sprigs of mint

Add the Rye Whisky into a highball glass over ice
Add Sugar Syrup
Squeeze half of the lime juice into the glass
Place the rest of the lime wedges into the glass
Add Ginger-ale.
Gently bruise the mint between the fingers and add it to the glass
Stir lightly

Garnish with a second sprig of mint


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)


2 Responses to “True North Canadian Rye Whisky”

  1. Dennis said

    It’s a shame Highwood can’t find a cheap supplier for glass bottles. The label leaves a lot to be desired, but the plastic bottle is the biggest turn off, even if it’s considered a mixing whisky. I love the White Owl and Centennial bottles because they are unusual and the White Owl one in particular receives compliments from friends and family such as “Cool, what is that?”

    • I agree Dennis.

      I am firmly on the side of glass bottles with profession labels. I find it hard to believe that the few pennies they might save using the plastic bottle and cheap label is worth the sales this brand potentially loses with such an unattractive presentation.

      As for the White Owl bottle, it represents my idea of a perfect whisky bottle as it is unusual and catches everyone’s attention, but it is also highly attractive without being too feminine.

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