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Highwood Ninety 20 Year Old

Average score from 5 reviews and 8 ratings 90

Highwood Ninety 20 Year Old

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@OdysseusUnbound
Highwood Ninety 20 Year Old

Highwood is not known for its over the top marketing. You might call them the "anti-Macallan". The Macallan has recently unveiled a new visitor centre and distillery worth upward of £140 million (approximately $243 million CAD) that looks like it belongs in Hobbiton whereas Highwood's website features all of its whiskies on one page, and it gives you exactly two sentences about their 20 Year Old Decades of Richness whisky. Despite being labeled as a Canadian Rye Whisky, this whisky is distilled from 100% Corn. So why call it a "rye whisky"? Well, it's complicated. Canadian Rye Whisky refers to a style of whisky as much as it refers to the rye grain itself. Many of the notes typically associated with rye grain, specifically the spicy notes like cloves, can also be imparted into a whisky by barrel compounds. There is a long tradition in Canada of using the words "rye" and "whisky" interchangeably. Canadian distillers are loath to change their nomenclature just because that's how someone else does it. So how does this twenty year old, 100% Corn whisky taste?

Tasting notes

  • Nose (undiluted): caramel popcorn, peppermint, oak spices (cloves and cinnamon) and a slight aroma of plums

  • Palate (undiluted): very rich arrival, full-bodied, brown sugar, oak spice, a bit of salted caramel, buttered corn, a bit reminiscent of a good amber rum near the end.

  • Finish: a bit drying, but still medium-long, maple butter, more oak tannins and a slightly herbal note at the very end.

With water, there is a big brown sugar note on the nose that quickly turns to barrel spices and tropical fruit. I’m thinking grilled pineapple. With water, the arrival on the palate is a tad spirity and bitter, but quickly becomes floral and pear notes appear. The finish is spicy, a bit tannic and pulling. I prefer this one without water, as the rich texture is thinned out a bit too much with water and the spirity arrival throws off the whisky's balance.

It may be anathema to some, but I tried a whisky sour made with Ninety Decades of Richness and I have to say it was magnificent. The rich, sweet and slightly spicy whisky perfectly complemented the lemon juice and simple syrup. Don't even ask about egg white. Just don't. There isn't quite enough spice for this to make an Old Fashioned to my liking, but I heartily endorse this one neat or in a whisky sour (no egg white).

I forget, is this the burgundy label or white label?

Nice review. Can you send me your recipe for a whisky sour? And where does the egg white fit in? And why do you hate it so? And what does that have to do with Doug Ford?

oops, I think that last one was for another thread...

@Nozinan It’s the white label. I pretty much stick to the IBA recipe for a whisky sour:

  • 45 ml whisk(e)y
  • 15 ml simple syrup
  • 30 ml Fresh lemon juice (freshly squeezed really makes a difference)

Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice, shake violently, strain into a rocks tumbler filled with ice and garnish with an orange slice and a maraschino cherry. Some prefer to serve it in a cocktail glass without ice, but I like my tumblers. Some also add an egg white to the mix which froths up on top of the drink, but I find egg whites revolting, so I omit this step.

@Nozinan

As the sun sets on the old Connosr website and we eagerly anticipate its rebirth on the new site, I’m sure I’m not the only one itching to post the “last review” . This is my attempt to end it all with a Canadian whisky.

This expression, from Highwood Distillers in Alberta, is made up of 100% corn, and yet is labelled a rye. This is one of the interesting foibles of Canadian whisky nomenclature. The name derives from its (American) proof and the minimum age of the whisky in the bottle.

This expression is reviewed in my usual manner, allowing it to settle after which I take my nosing and tasting notes. As is my habit with Canadian whiskies, I did not add water to this expression. The bottle is about half full, opened in December 2015, and gassed after each use.


Nose

First thing that hits me on pouring is fruity sweetness, then caramel. Then freshly opened can of corn kernels packed in water. Then I get dustiness. Leaving it for 20 minutes (while putting the kids to bed), I come back to intense caramel and vanilla. 22/25

Taste

The first sip is an explosion of caramel and very spirity. Then comes sweetness, loads of vanilla. The development is slightly drying. 21/25

Finish

The finish lingers longer than expected, leaving behind the impression, just the impression, that I am sucking on a buttered corn cob that has been eaten and all that is left is the empty cob. 21/25

Balance

This is NOT a very complex whisky, but the nose and palate complement each other very well. What you smell is what you taste. A little sweet. I don’t mind but some others might be put off by this. 22/25

Sequential Score: 86/100

However, this whisky is better than an 86. This is full-flavoured, and gets better and better with each sip. My enjoyment of this supersedes the technical analysis and I am assigning this a score of:

89/100


This is a very flavourful whisky, one of my favourite Canadian expressions. I did have the opportunity, thanks to Spirit of Toronto and @Talexander, to taste an independent bottling of a similar spirit from the distillery served up at cask strength, and I would eagerly welcome a standard bottling of this nectar at cask strength.

See you on the other side…

@Nozinan This whisky vexes me a little. Upon first opening it I thought it was just okay, but after a second tasting a couple weeks later I thought it was pretty great. My father-in-law also really enjoyed it, more so than the Benromach 10 and Bowmore Laimrig IV we tried it with. It's now several months later (bottle is about 1/3rd full - has been gassed), and I felt it was quite underwhelming. Maybe the moment was wrong and I need to give it another chance? How have you found your open bottle to taste? Has it changed much?

@MaltActivist All the more reason to fly OVER Islay and into Toronto where there are at least half a dozen Connosrs who would be happy to put you up and set you up with more than you can taste.

I'm sure we could convince @Paddockjudge to visit and do his famous Wiser's Legacy exercise. A true legacy-building experience.

@talexander

This has long been one of my favourite Canadians. It comes from Highwood Distillers in High River, Alberta, and is one of the rare Canadian whiskies that is at least 20 years old. I had always thought it was 100% corn but now I'm not so sure...

The colour is a light amber. On the nose it's pure oak and corn, like a great Scottish grain: tons of vanilla, butterscotch, mint, green apple, tropical fruits and buttered croissants (and popcorn, for that matter). Spicy with cinnamon and cloves. Rye bread comes out with water. Luxurious.

Sweet on the palate (but not too sweet) with maple, more butterscotch, ginger and grapefruit pith. Feels stronger than 45%. Very silky mouthfeel - and gets much spicier with time (and a drop of water). Delicious, very dessert-y (you could pour it on ice cream!)

The medium-length finish brings out more maple, with late-arriving rye spice, oak and savoury herbs. The reason I now question whether or not this is 100% corn is because I am getting more rye-ish notes as it oxidizes (and as I add water). Which doesn't mean it has spirit distilled from rye grain (the notes could be from the whisky maturing in used rye barrels). But I wonder. Tasting it side-by-side with another 20 year old Canadian (CC), you get the same oaky smoothness, but the CC 20 is a little spicier and even more complex. Davin de Kergommeaux scores this a 91 (as do I).

My favorite Canadian along with Wiser's Legacy. Always have a backup. Would love to get my hands on the new release Canadian Rockies 21 years (46% ABV) and using Highwood Distillery Juice and bottled in Taiwan. Looks like only Alberta and maybe BC will get this one for now. The LCBO informed me they have no plans to bring this in (idiots). Oh well maybe just "Ninety 20" with another year on it and $16 extra for that year.

Had this tonight.... A truly impressive whisky!

@Victor

Highwood Distillery's Ninety brand 20 yo whisky is probably almost impossible to obtain outside of Canada. It is 100% corn whisky. My thanks to @paddockjudge for the reviewed samples

Nose: buttered roasted corn. Rich, with some elegant floral perfume. Sweet, but with good tart astringent balance. Wood flavours give subtle background support

Taste: beautiful. Very sweet and corny, with a great clarity and cleanliness. Delicious. An "Aha!" experience. Strikingly good

Finish: stays clear and beautiful for a long slow fade-away

Balance: very few corn whiskies display the full beauty of the taste of corn as does Ninety 20 yo. This is a beautifully executed whisky. The wood supports the grain flavours but does not dominate them. Like barley, corn's mild flavours are more clearly expressed when aged in re-used oak barrels. The balance is beautiful, and the overall execution excellent. If you like corn whisky, try to get your hands on a bottle of Highwood Ninety 20 yo. They are beginning to get scarce

@Benancio, well, unlike bourbon, corn whisk(e)y has no rye grain or wheat grain to overshadow the flavours of the corn. This makes it a lot more possible to actually taste corn. In the case of this reviewed Canadian corn whisky, the wood aging is from used wood, which also diminishes the wood flavours (vis a vis bourbon) thus also allowing the corn flavours to shine through more brightly.

There are of course examples of a very high corn content US whiskeys which are not necessarily labelled "corn whiskey", though maybe they should be,...such as George Dickel Barrel Select Tennessee Whisky, which is probably significantly above 80% corn content.

@Nozinan, 1,021 bottles in Ontario may mean a total of 3 or 4 or 5,000 bottles in all of Canada. Since there are approximately zero bottles outside of Canada, I don't consider that to be very many bottles available, worldwide. With 20 year old whisky, once it is gone, it is usually a slow replacement process. If the Canadian supply of Ninety 20 yo were available to a robust world demand a few thousand bottles could disappear in a few months, never to reappear. The only reason 5,000 bottles can seem like a lot is that there is not currently a large demand for this product. I remember well 4 years ago when I could buy large numbers of bottles of Elijah Craig 18 yo at $ 35 per bottle. Can't find a one of them for sale anymore.

This whisky very nearly became extinct when in June of 2013 the High River overflowed its banks and caused heavy damage to Highwood Distillery. All Equipment and finished goods in the complex were compromised and subsequently destroyed to prevent against contamination (and unnecessary taxes). This Release could easily have been called Phoenix, Resurrection, or Serendipity. It was simply good fortune which saved the barrels of sleeping whisky in the slightly higher elevated end of the warehouse. The loss of aging stocks might have marked the end of Highwood/Century Distillery.

@JasonHambrey

This has finally come around to Ontario after being released a year ago. It is a 100% corn whisky, aged in bourbon barrels for 20 years or more (some of the stocks in this, I have heard, go up to 33 years). It is likely all from the Potters stocks that were acquired by Highwood Distillers (the producers of this) in 2005. Highwood doesn't produce their own corn whisky (as their unique facility is built for rye and wheat), so all of their Century and Ninety products (all 100% corn) are sourced. The name, "ninety" comes from the fact that it is bottled at 45%, or 90 proof.

Nose: Vanilla, maple, and creamy nuttiness with an elegant feel. I am not quite sure how to describe "elegant" feel to it - but I find that it almost "feels" rich and buttery as I smell. There are notes of bourbon, but it obviously doesn't smell like a bourbon because it is not aged in new wood. There's a bit of light dried fruit - like prunes, but the nose isn't sour. A bit of darker elements of earthy woodiness and molasses lurk under the surface too. And, there's toffee too. The range isn't huge - but it's very well done. And, for a 20 year old whisky, there is surprisingly little oak, even with a cask that's been used once before. 88%

Taste: A bit sweet to start, with a rich vanilla and maple undertow and fading to some drying spices (white pepper and some of the sharpness of clove) before being washed again with some creamy caramel. The palate lingers very well and the whisky flavour seems to keep developing uninterrupted once you've swallowed - which is very nice. The mouthfeel of the whisky is extremely nice - buttery and a bit viscous (though not too thick that it doesn't slide down easily) - it slides down well, and I think the creamy notes on the palate also help the brain to perceive that it slips down even better. There's a bit of an oaky rumminess and earthiness too, in the background - it's quite nice, and enough for you to notice it, but not too much that it dominates over the softer and creamier primary flavours. There is also a light "rancio" note, like the oxidized nature of sherry or marsala - but this is light, and though I don't like sherry or marsala much - it fits in very well here. 93%

Finish: At first the corn (in the dimensions of corn on the cob and cornmeal) seems to come out with vanilla before oak slowly starts to take the reins with a bit of cinnamon, dried ginger, and orange peel. Also, interestingly enough, it's a bit sour on the finish in a way it wasn't at any other point in the whisky. It's also a fitting whisky for fall, with notes similar to the reeds in marshes as they die and start to decompose in the fall. 87%

Intrigue: A fitting fall whisky with the light earthiness and oakiness - yet it's very elegant, easy to drink, and bright. Of all I've tasted out of Highwood so far, this is the best. The silkiness, richness, and depth is wonderful. The balance is good, too. A pleasure, for sure. The first thing I thought with this whisky is how it compares to Century Reserve 21 Year Old, another 100% corn whisky coming out of Highwood which is a bit older but similar in terms of age. The profiles are similar, but Century Reserve 21 Year Old is a bit lighter and more floral while this one is a bit fruitier, and a bit more packed with flavour (particularly in the toffee department) and fruit, and the sherry-like note I mentioned earlier. Comparing it to Century Reserve Lot 15/25 (also with old stocks, and 100% corn) - there's less vanilla, sweetness, and spice. But, they're all very good - and particularly this one. 95%

Weighting the nose 25%, taste 35%, Finish 15%, and Intrigue 25% the overall grade is 92

Thanks to all for clarifying. One of my clear deficiencies is in Canadian whisky. Essentially, I've only really explored Forty Creek.

I must read more than the page on Glen Breton in Davin's book....

Highwood Ninety is the best Canadian Whisky out there. I feel for those people outside of Canada and many of the Provinces that cannot get this gem. Also is >$50 which may make this one of the best Whisky values in the world.

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