Highwood Ninety Canadian whisky

Highwood Ninety 20 Year Old (45% alc/vol)

August 29, 2013


Creamy sweet and very rich with peppermint, candy cane, hot white pepper, and fragrant baking spices. Cooked corn cobs buttress sour fruit and sweet spices. Huge, complex, and beautifully balanced. ★★★★★

Several years ago, Highwood Distillers made a strategic decision to put a stronger focus on connoisseur whiskies. It’s a decision that has paid off in spades for whisky lovers.

Century Reserve 21 year old had established Highwood as top-notch whisky makers. The more recent Century Reserve 15/25 (who else would put two age statements on a whisky) has continued the tradition for quality. When Highwood released a 25-year-old whisky to celebrate the centenary of the Calgary Stampede in 2012, they scored the hat-trick that secured their reputation for quality.

This year, Highwood has added a new dimension: long-aged whisky released at a higher proof. Ninety, a rich fruity whisky is bottled at 45% alc/vol – 90˚ proof. There are two versions, a 5-year-old and this one – 20 years old. Both are spectacular.

The year began with high expectations for the High River, Alberta distillery. Riding the wave of glowing reviews for their new whisky direction, 2013 was to be their year. It may still be, and it will be all the sweeter: Devastating floods in June put the distillery under water. All of their bottled whisky was lost in the week that workers were locked out of the distillery. When authorities finally allowed them back in it was clear the flood had been hellishly destructive. Fortunately, cinder block walls kept most of the flood waters out of the warehouse and none of the aged whisky was lost. However, all of the barrels had to be temporarily moved to allow a full assessment and cleanup of damages.

A small amount is now on store shelves in Alberta and plans are on track for Ninety 20 Year Old to be released broadly across the fall and winter in the western provinces and Ontario. Nonetheless, the massive re-building required takes time, so be patient if this and other Highwood whiskies are temporarily out of stock or in short supply.

Latest reports say that the barrels are all back in place and the heady fragrance of sleeping whisky has returned to the warehouse. Highwood is now working hard to keep up with orders for all its whiskies.

Nose: Rich, full, and luxurious with long-matured spirit, dark fruit, sweet green apples, butterscotch, corn syrup, maple cream, corncobs, nutmeg, and cloves. Simply gorgeous.

Palate: Creamy sweet and very rich with peppermint, candy cane, hot white pepper, cinnamon, ginger, and just bucket loads of Christmas baking spices. The slight earthy mustiness of cooked corn cobs provides counterpoint to sour fruit and sweet spices. This is big whisky with creamy milk chocolate that mellows crispy oak and slightly astringent tannins. Huge, complex, and beautifully balanced.

Finish: Long, sweet, and spicy with lingering hints of corncobs.

Empty Glass: Clean, dry wood.

Very Highly Recommended ★★★★★


Highwood 25 Year Old is reviewed here.

Century Reserve Lot 15/25 is reviewed here.

Century Reserve 21 Year Old is reviewed here.


35 Responses to “Highwood Ninety 20 Year Old (45% alc/vol)”

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  5. paddockjudge:

    Congratulations to Highwood Distillers for exhibiting such tremendous resiliency and overcoming the recent catastrophic events. I look forward to these new releases and patiently await their arrival in Ontario.

  6. Piers:

    I’ll keep an eye out for this! Is it another all-corn whisky? (just guessing after the 25 and all the corn cob notes you found) :)

    • Davin:

      To my knowledge, yes, all corn.

      • I asked Sheldon Hyra and he said yes, it is a 100 % Corn Whisky!

      • I find it somewhat deceptive for the label to state: Rye Whisky” yet the mashbill be 100% corn.

        • Davin:

          Yes, people’s idea of what is rye have changed in the past decade or so with the resurgence of American rye. In Canada, rye has been a synonym for whisky for a couple of centuries. Technically, most of the “rye” flavour comes from the yeast anyway, and those notes that do come from the grain come from lignin in the outer bran. That lignin is identical to what is found in oak and comes through strongly from used barrels. It is true though, as American whisky nomenclature colonizes Canadian whisky, it might be better just to call it Canadian whisky and be done with the explanations.

          • Thank you for the clarification.

  7. Thanks Davin. I look forward to tasting the Highwood 90 5 year old and 20 year old. Loved the Century Reserve 15/25. (Scored it 81)

    • Davin:

      Yes, these guys have really hit their stride. I am afraid though that the flood has really slowed them down. Thank goodness the back of the warehouse is about 8 feet above grade so the barrelled whisky was not affected.

  8. CBrown:

    Perfect timing as I’m just off to Edmonton for a short visit and looking forward to a bottle or two for the coming bitter months ;)

  9. Great Review Davin

    I forced myself to lay-off reading your review untill after I had completed my tasting notes. I love this whisky, it might even be better than the 25 Year Old. (That extra 5 % on the abv makes a tremendous difference in the impact of the flavour.)

    • Davin:

      Thanks Chip! When you get your review up on The Rum Howler Blog why not leave a link here so people can compare our views.

  10. Absolutely. I have so much on my plate right now that the review may not publish for a little while, but when it does, I will point my readers here for a comparison.

    BTW: Let me know when you are ready with Stalk and Barrel.


  11. Mark:

    Hi Davin, first time commenter, and i love your site, your book and overall approach to whisky.

    I am not a huge fan of the 25 year Stampede, just not the flavour profile I go for, i lean more towards the hard rye or sweet and spicy fruit. Your review of Ninety leads me to believe I may enjoy it, obviously hard to say, but how would you compare the Ninety to the 25 year Stampede? I make regular trips to Calgary from Regina, so this one may be on my shopping list next month. Thanks in advance for any advice!

    • Davin:

      Ninety is much more “in your face.”

      • Mark:

        Thanks Davin, that seemed to be what your review implied, I will definitely try it out!

  12. Mark:

    If i can elaborate, i find the 25 year Stampede a little too refined/elegant/mellowfor my tastebuds… I am a relative newbie and need to get smacked over the head with big bold flavours.

    • CBrown:

      Depends how you drink them as well. I love the Stampede and I take my neat.
      If there’s ice or water involved I may see your point.
      I’ve got three bottles put aside in Edmonton waiting for my Xmas visit as it hadn’t hit my local while I was there a week or so ago…

      • Mark:

        I only drink my whisky neat.

        I just find the Stampede a little boring for my tastebuds. I’ve sampled it 3-4 times by itself and it didn’t do a lot for me. I did a quick 3-way tasting this afternoon with Pike Creek, Stampede, and Gibsons 18, and still came away with the same thoughts. It certainly isn’t bad whisky, just not in my wheelhouse.

        What was interesting is that the 3-way tasting brought out an appreciation for Gibsons 18 that I hadn’t yet had. I bought it about 4 weeks ago, and was having trouble wrapping my head around the flavour profile, but tasting it along side a few other whiskys really made it pop and come into focus for me.

        I’m a big fan of side-by-side tastings. The differences and subtle nuances really come out with this method. I’d be curious how the Canadian Whisky Awards are judged… as Nationally ranked beer judge of some prominence I am always curious what competition methods are utilized for various food and drink.

        • Davin:

          Yes, side by side is a great way to quickly pick u the nuances of different whiskies. i do this all the time before I review a whisky and I change the line-up a few time as as different matches bring out different qualities.

  13. Calgary Stampede 25yo was my favorite Canadian whisky of 2012.

    Stunning job the guys at Highwoods are doing, and they are really showing how canadian whisky industry is strong and how canadian whiskies should have more recognition outside our big country.

    Really want to review that one as soon it will hit the shelves !

    Nice review Davin.

  14. Mark:

    Had my first taste tonight. Wow, outstanding!!! Already thinking i need to buy anothet bottle. Will do a side by side with the 25 shortly.

    • Mark:

      Ok, just did the quick side by side, always very revealing. I have more appreciation for the 25 Stampede, yet I also have a better understanding why it isn’t my favourite.

      The Stampede 25 has an unbelievable vanilla elegance to it. Incredible actually. But I find the wood character “too fresh” which cuts through the lushness of the whisky, and leaves quite a burn in the finish. These 2 dominant characteristics seem to be at odds so to speak.

      In comparison, the Ninety 20 knocks it out of the park. It SCREAMS rich and luxurious. It coats the glass, and is velvety smooth in the mouth. The light touch of spice and fruitiness gives the sweetness a depth that would otherwise leave it a tad one dimensional. The wood does not dominate, but instead dries out the upfront sweetness exceptionally well in the finish, creating a natural ebb and flow from tip of the tongue to the back of the throat. And despite being 90 proof, the heat is far more subdued.

      Of course it comes down to personal preference, both products are top shelf whisky, but the Ninety really rocks my world! Cheers,

      • Davin:

        Wow! Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  15. Paul:

    I’d like to second the kudos on mark’s description of the Highwood Ninety. This is exactly what I like in a whisky! I know my scotches however this is my first (real) Canadian whisky. I’m impressed.

  16. Sam Wachtel:

    Is there any way for one to get a bottle of the ninety 20 year old in New York State in the US? I wrote to the distillery and they said that perhaps you can find a individual who can ship a bottle to the US. I don’t know the laws and I’m not looking to make a criminal out of anyone. But if anyone can help me I would appreciate it.

    Sam Wachtel

  17. Brian:

    This whisky has suddenly reappeared at the LCBO!


    • I am not sure if this is the First time LCBO Ontario has this 90-20 on the shelves for 50$. Got 2 today for gift and tasting. Tragedy about flood. Low allocation, just 12 bottles per BIG LCBO stores (small stores got none). Good review. Good to see also 21yo Collingwood for 57$ and 20yo CC Club for 50$. …

  18. David:

    Wow, just opened my first bottle of Ninety 20 year, delicious. I hope this serves as a message to Canadian distillers, please start bottling your whisky at higher proof. The difference between the Ninety 20 year and the 25 year Stampede bottling is dramatic.

  19. I have read that Highwood did not distill the corn whisky but rather aged and blended it. The corn whisky making up this release was actually distilled somewhere else.

    Have you heard about this? Still a great whisky.

    • davindek:

      Yes, they buy corn spirit and age it. They distil mainly wheat themselves, and some rye.

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