White Owl Whisky 40% alc./vol.
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.