White Owl Whisky

White Owl Whisky 40% alc./vol.

February 27, 2012

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Sprite™, citrus fruit cooler, anise, soft baking spices, butterscotch, hot cayenne, hints of oak tannins. Probably the tastiest white whisky anywhere in the world.

This White Owl is one odd bird. Just as micro-distillers in the USA, desperate for cash, start selling virtually un-aged spirit as “white whisky” (read “raw whisky”), Alberta’s Highwood Distillers, a well-established Canadian producer, comes along with a fully matured amber whisky and starts charcoal filtering the colour out of it.

Yes, American micro-distillers are selling grain spirit that has spent only hours in a barrel, calling it white whisky. It’s still clear as crystal when it comes out of the barrel, but hey, U.S. regulations say it’s whisky so that’s what they put on the label.

Canadian distillers don’t have that advantage. In Canada, spirit cannot be sold as whisky until it has spent at least three years ageing in white oak. But even at that, the whisky that goes into making the White Owl blend is no mere three-year-old.

No, several well-aged whiskies, including some ten-year-old wheat whiskies, have been blended together then filtered to make this whisky as clear as vodka. Highwood tried it first with corn whisky, but couldn’t get the whisky profile they were looking for. Then after several dozen attempts they finally came up with a wheat blend they could filter clear without losing all the whisky flavour.

So is this some kind of weird concoction dreamed up in the hazy aftermath of a white dog tailgate party? Clearly the intention was to tap into the growing consumer interest in clear spirits for cocktails. And is this the first time Canadian whisky makers have done something so heretical? No, not by a long shot.

White Owl whisky certainly is the only white Canadian whisky on the market today, and the only white whisky anywhere in North America that has been aged long enough to qualify as whisky in Canada. But Hiram Walker and Sons used to make aged white whisky as a regular part of the line-up at their Windsor, Ontario plant. They called it whisky blanc, and sold it to a ready market in Quebec.

The demand for whisky blanc was steady in Quebec until the 1980s when the bottom fell out of the whisky market. Ironically, whisky – a “brown spirit” – was displaced by so-called “white spirits.” And white though it was, poor old whisky blanc just got lost in the shuffle. That is, until now. The very innovative Highwood has resurrected it, though perhaps unknowingly. The back label calls White Owl “the original white whisky.”

Nose: The first impression is of Sprite™ or citrus cooler until the sweet spices kick in along with some soft fruit, hints of grain, cereal and mash, limes and sweet lemons, mild spirit, and a hint of anise. There’s a kind of creamy fruitiness to it.

Palate: Anise, lots of citric flavours, especially lime and a slight citric bitterness. Butterscotch but not much sweetness, and hot cayenne & hot spices that linger a long time. Hints of oak tannins and cereal grain. This is whisky alright, but only just.

Finish: Medium-long, citric, and fading out on pepper.

Empty Glass: Almost nothing but vague hints of wood.

Owls hunt geese, don’t they?

With the character of whisky and the mixability of vodka, White Owl has been created for the upscale cocktail crowd. In a blind tasting, over 30 female drinkers consistently preferred cocktails made with White Owl to the same drinks made with Grey Goose vodka. And that’s where the market for this new whisky blanc is: among young, upscale, trendy professionals who don’t mind paying a little more to get the best, and who want to be seen to have the best. As a sippin’ whisky, frankly, White Owl comes up short. But as a whisky-flavoured mixer, it’s pretty hard to beat, unless of course, you go back to the amber liquid itself.

But most good mixing whiskies don’t come in such an impressive bottle – it looks and feels expensive – and most mixing whiskies don’t cost $40.00 either. No, serving White Owl makes as much a statement that you have arrived as it does about your skills in adding a little extra octane to a clear mixed drink.

It might say whisky on the bottle, but it’s also the best vodka you’ll ever taste. Clearly consumers agree. The folks at Highwood are calling it their most successful new launch ever. They can barely keep up with demand from Canada’s four western provinces. Goodness knows what they will do in September when White Owl arrives in Ontario and Quebec.

$40.00 at B.C. Liquors and throughout western Canada.

Worth a try.

Update:  There is a new White Owl in the pipeline.  White Owl Spiced Canadian Whisky available for Christmas 2011 in Alberta.

White Owl Spiced Whisky is reviewed here.


Comments

51 Responses to “White Owl Whisky 40% alc./vol.”

  1. Mike:

    I wonder how this stacks up against Still Waters single malt vodka from Ontario. The vodka has a surprising amount of malt character, and indeed might taste almost as much like whisky as White Owl (which I haven’t tried).

    • Davin:

      Hi Mike,
      I’ve tasted both, and after your comment tasted them heat to head. Actually each has a lot of flavour but they are quite different from each other. The Still Waters vodka is a so-called “vodka with character” and it’s fruity but not whisky like. White Owl, on the other hand, is more flavourful and has whisky characteristics (like wood, for instance) that are not present in the Still Waters. I found apple cider notes in the Still Waters, and a slight sourness, but not a whole lot of malt. Either one is enjoyable to sip on the deck, but I think both benefit from a splash of gingerale.

  2. [...] Innovation of the Year: Highwood Distillery, White Owl Whisky White Owl Whisky has no peer in Canada or anywhere else in the world for that matter. The first ever fully oak-matured white whisky, White Owl retains the flavours of Canadian rye whisky, while adding the cocktail-mixability of white spirits. In so doing, it successfully introduces the flavours of Canadian whisky to a whole new demographic. [...]

  3. chad:

    Best whiskey available in manitoba. By far worth the extra 10 bucks a bottle. Wont be buying anything else when white owl is available

  4. Al:

    Just tried it and I love it. Amazing straight up on the rocks. very unique. might be nice to try it with a hint of coconut aroma..umm.

    • Davin:

      Hi Al,
      A dash of Malibu perhaps?

      • Darko Vusir:

        I tried that. It doesn’t quite work for me. What the problem is IMO, White Owl has too much flavour, and the whisky tends to overpower the coconut flavour of
        malibu.

        • Dale:

          I find Malibu has too much artificial flavours and sugars. What about a cocktail mix with rum cream or coconut milk. Worlds end has a great product that I have tried.

  5. Darko Vusir:

    Just bought a bottle yesterday. First time I saw it at the local LCBO. I must say, I like it, but it’s almost difficult to categorize. I’m having a hard time with it just because I’m not expecting that much flavour and smoothness from a clear spirit. All I know is that White Owl will replace Vodka and white rum in my supply!

  6. Hi Davin:

    I just talked to the fellows at Highwood again yesterday. White Owl Whisky is as you say by far the most successful new product launch in their history, and you are right, they cannot keep up with the demand now that the product has reached Ontario. A great Canadian success story.

    (PS: I’m stalking up on this one)

    • Davin:

      Hi Chip,
      Yeah, this stuff just goes from strength to strength. What a great idea it was.
      Davin

  7. Scott Ferguson:

    Hello and thank you for the recent updates on the White Owl. I am so looking forward to seeing this product in Atlantic Canada… I understand from the folks at Highwood that they currently have their product in front of the NBLCC board but they (NBLCC) have not yet approved their application for distribution in New Brunswick. Keeping my fingers crossed that someone will either send me a sample or pick one up for me in their travels in Ontario! Grrr..c’mon NBLCC — get it on the shelves!

  8. Mike:

    I keep looking at this on the shelf but I can’t get myself to spend the forty bones when Century Reserve 1525 is $10 cheaper. I can’t get past the idea of paying more for less (less age, and presumably less flavour). It strikes me that they are marketing it in the same way as “ultra-premium” vodka: fancy bottle, relatively high price. On the other hand, if it tastes good and stands apart from other whiskies that alone might justify the cost.

    Any comments?

    • The Cask:

      Hello friend.
      I’m sipping on a glass of White Owl as I type and would highly recommend spending the extra 10 dollars if not only for the experience. “fresh” was the word that sprung to mind when sipping on the whiskey and believe that the addition of this whiskey to either a dark or fruity drink would bring a new intensity to your drink.

  9. sam k:

    Man, this is tough for me to take seriously. I’m with Mike here…let’s take several “well-aged” whiskies and run them through a filter so that the color (conveniently no mention of flavor here) is removed, then sell it as whisky.

    I understand that the regulations prohibit you from calling white spirit “whisky,” but why go through all this trouble to remove whatever congeners were imparted by the barrel just to compete with vodka or rum, and need I point out that it’s being done at that most flavorsome (read: minimum) 40% alcohol?

    This is EXACTLY why our microdistillers bottle new make as whiskey…we want to avoid the malarkey that’s involved here and get a good unaged spirit on the shelves, often at 45% or higher (gasp!). For crying out loud, Canada, please give us something that peeks above that 40% threshold. Really…we can handle it!

    • The Cask:

      40% is actually quite a norm for any liquor, this is mainly for serving regulations. Also, it maybe be a point to mention that Canada is stereotypically know for drinking more aclohol dense drinks (albeit the generality is concerning beer)

  10. It’s interesting, unusual stuff, and I’m also unsure what to think of it. It’s delicious, and it -is- whisky, but it’s the vodka in my cabinet that it’s replacing, and not the whisky. For that I’m also more likely to just buy my old amber and golden colored favorites.

    • sam k:

      As it should be, WC>

  11. Rod K:

    We had this at our monthly Whisky club meeting. Most didn’t like it but some like me enjoyed it enough to buy a bottle. I like it for sipping but then I appreciate new make as well. Don’t get me wrong, I have a cupboard always full of single malt, it’s just that I tend to enjoy all whiskys. If you like White Owl, try 40 Creek! It’s cheap at $25 here in BC and a great whisky. (Your mileage may vary)

  12. Thomas Chen:

    Wonderful review! thanks Davin!

  13. Thom:

    Sprite?

  14. Colin Goudie:

    I have sampled some White Owl whisky tonight in the UK and would love to buy a couple of bottles for Christmas for my guests, could you kindly advise where I could order some please.

    Many thanks

    Colin

    • Davin:

      Hi Colin,

      Unfortunately Canadian liquor stores are not allowed to ship whisky by mail or courier.

  15. Corey*tbay:

    Whiskey for sure is my favorite, and the other month I saw White Owl in the LCBO and thought i’d give it a try finding how awesome it is considering its not like your usual whiskey. Since then I havn’t drank anything else the flavour is amazing and is now my favorite whiskey by far, I drink nothing else. “Cheers to you Canada”

  16. Julie:

    The new spiced one, soooo good. Defiantly will be getting some of that. I don’t even like whiskey, and both the regular white owl and the new spiced one are very good.

    • Davin:

      Hi Julie, Yes, it is quite unique. They added spice to whisky like a good chef adds spice to food. It enhances the flavour without taking it over. Very nice stiff.

  17. [...] White Owl Real rye whisky with the colour filtered out, White Owl is made for cocktail drinkers who want to raise their game. Funny thing though, once whisky drinkers started sipping it, White Owl became the most successful new whisky ever introduced by Highwood Distillers. It is still selling like hotcakes so don’t wait till the last minute to get yours. White Owl opens new possibilities for cocktails and mixed drinks.  $39.75 at LCBO. [...]

  18. Jack:

    Picked up a bottle to try (always supportive of the Canadian whisky industry) and I had high hopes. Have to say Im disappointed. I found it too sweet to really enjoy straight up. Hope they do well with it, but its not for me.

  19. Justin:

    Picked this up last week and I must say, not a fan at all. Although going into buying it, I had a feeling it would not be my thing, so this came as no surprise. From nose to finish, this whisky just doesn’t have the kick I desire. It tastes lifeless, without body, processed, whatever you want to call it, but it was definitely not for me. Was worth one try to at least say that I’m not denouncing it without trying. But as someone else here said, why spend $40 on this when you could get Century Reserve 1525 for $10 less, or, if you want to spend a little more, Wiser’s Legacy at $45. Heck, any of the Canadian whiskies priced around $25-$30 are better than this. I did not know of the fact that some American micro-distillers were selling un-aged spirits though. Glad to know we uphold our standards in Canada.

    • Alex:

      The U.S. upholds standards too, just different ones. Bourbon, the dominant U.S. whiskey, has many regulations–you won’t be seeing any white bourbon. “Whiskey” is the catch-all category for everything else that doesn’t meet the more stringent bourbon, rye, corn, or tennessee whiskey requirements. It could be argued that the U.S. has stricter regulations than Canada for some products, such as the requirement in the U.S. that anything called rye whiskey must contain at least 51% rye.

      • Davin:

        Not stricter, just different.

  20. Paul:

    Hi Davin,
    interesting review. i’ve not seen this product on the shelf here on the rock but will have a look around.planning a trip out west later in the year i’ll deffinately give it a go then.
    all the best
    Paul

  21. Diane:

    HI, I am was at the liquor store in Innisfail and am always interested in new whiskey products. I have tried your White Owl. My favourite has always been Crown Royal. Since trying White Owl I am not touch anything but. Thanks so much for introducing this to me. It will become my long time favourite.
    Diane

  22. Scott:

    I have been soley a whiskey drinker for for almost 30 years. The best I ever had was called Captain’s Table. White Owl, in my humble opinion, is by far the best. I don’t “mix” my drinks because to me that’s just an excuse to cover the flavour and the harshness of other whiskies for the sole intention of getting drunk. White Owl doesn’t need anything to make it “taste” better. i’m sold on this one.

  23. Niall:

    Okay, this is something special. I am having a difficult time determining exactly what it is…but it is very nice. Strange, more like a very high quality vodka than Canadian Whiskey. Very cool. On ice it is a stand out! It is a first rate conversation piece to be sure…but it has the goods to stand up to it’s looks. I’m going to end with what I started…my gosh but this is something special!

  24. Ken:

    Do you know if White Owl is gluten-free? Many whiskeys have all the gluten filtered out but then they put some of the mash or whatever it’s called back in to give it colour. I picked up a bottle of this today for a friend who loves whiskey but can’t consume gluten and am hoping that he will finally be able to enjoy life again.

    • Davin:

      Sorry, I honestly do not know. I think this is a question for a dietitian or doctor.

  25. Gord:

    Tried it, love it, great straight up or over ice to get the full flavour, currently drink it with 7-up and a wedge of lime (around this house we call it a snowy owl )

  26. James:

    Never heard of this whiskey until I took a trip up to Bon Echo. Upon in the local town I saw this bottle from afar and the look alone catch my attention. I’m a huge CC fan but since trying this… It’s the only whiskey I drink.

  27. Dan:

    When did Highwood Distillers change its name from Century Distillers? Or are the names synonomous? Reason I ask is that I bought a bottle of Centennial 10 Year, which is produced by Highwood, that had a White Owl miniature as a Value-Added Promotion attached. Given that it was a PET mini, I shouldn’t let that totally taint my impression of the White Owl, but honestly, it was the worst whisky I have ever tasted. The issue is, the mini says Century Distillers, with http://www.centurydistillers.com as the website. This address now redirects to Highwood’s website. Is it possible that the minis they are now giving out for free at the LCBO have been kicking around for several years? If so, this is not the best way to promote a product that is, according to most reviewers, actually fairly decent.

    • Davin:

      Century Distillers is a division of Highwood Distillers. This has been the case for many years. I doubt those minis have been around for long. They probably were bottled specifically for this promo. White Owl is aimed at the cocktail market and not everyone who drinks their whisky straight is going to like it.

      • Dan:

        But it was just bad all around…the nose was like paint thinner, and the only other note I could coax out of it was flat cream-soda…the palate was like water (that bad, bottled mineral water taste) or flat-Sprite…and it had zero finish, just an unpleasant chemical-plastic taste…I know that reviews are somewhat subjective based on the sense memories of the reviewer, but I’ve agreed with you on everything else (the Danfield’s 21 is fantastic, and the Alberta Premium Dark Horse is great)…maybe its the plastic in the mini?

  28. brad:

    after drinking whiskey and rye for years and years and years,I have found white owl the smoothest and most refreshing of all the products out there.its crisp and clear and leaves no lingering after taste. You people have nailed it perfectly. and upon tasting your spiced version, i must say, i was leary at first as the original didnt need messing with what-so-ever.i broke down and tasted it and instantly found it was perfect over ice and a slaash of water.the taste was a perfect, non fattening christmas beverage.egg nog ,without the egg or the nog(what ever that is?)low cal and real easy sipping.you have to do a christmas blitz just for calorie wise folks.perfect job.(if you need help, lol, I have a beard the same colour as that owl. thanks for a great new beverage..BRAD.Y ou have all my support. pardon the spelling, im in the middle of a White Owl.

  29. MurrayC:

    I must admit that I am first and foremost a single malt scotch man. Having said that and living in Canada, I also appreciate Canadian Whisky. White Owl Whisky is an appealing enjoyable dare I say “dram” that is well-balanced with a fragrant fruity nose and a bang for your buck palalte and finish. A high class whisky with a more reasonable price point. Way to go, high fives….

  30. nick:

    I’ve gotta say i’m surprised by our so called “whisky drinkers” out here supporting this. I was ultimately offended that this was being marketed as a whisky at all. All the colour, aroma, and a little more flavour than the bulk of premium vodkas out there for less money. Why sell it as whisky when you’re not creating a whisky product, but are destroying any competition in the vodka category. I don’t get it. Makes a pro caesar though.

  31. Linda:

    New drink of choice – tasted it on Friday night with
    friends. I am a whiskey drinker and White Owl certainly
    is a lot nicer than the whiskey brands I have tried over
    the years – I have become a fan.

  32. Kevin:

    I have to tell you that this is the best whiskey there Is I have bin a whiskey drinker for years and there is nothing that comes close to white owl I have let my friends try it now there hooked on it as well so if you don’t have lots don’t share it because you will be out.

    Thanks for the good time that we all have on white owl

  33. Glen:

    Tried this on the weekend, and as a Scotch and Rye lover I’ll certainly add this to my list of whiskeys I like and definitely would recommend, probably as a sipping whiskey since I cant figure out what I would mix it with, but very nice and smooth on its own.

  34. fijikbt:

    where can I buy White Owl in CA thx

  35. Cody:

    Probably one of the best things to grace my life in terms of alcohol, great taste, i laugh when I see people saying Ciroc and other liquors are high quality, if this got crazy exposure it would easily become a high class premium. I Love It and when i feel like treating myself and splashing some extra cash this is my go to no matter what

  36. Mike:

    I had a guy at work come up to me about 2 yrs ago an told me to go a buy a bottle of White Owl to try, I’m not an advid Whiskey drinker nor do I drink booze stright on the rocks I’m a Bacardi White guy. I must say this with a splash of coke is DANGERIOUSLY delicious. Huge fan I tell everyone about this clear whiskey. From having (JD) and 40 creek, this tops them both buy far. Welllll worth the extra $10


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