Everyone loves anomalous spirits – by which I mean, of course, that I do. In a couple of weeks a new Canadian whisky is being released in Ontario unlike any Canadian whisky hitherto seen. It’s a blended 10-year-old based on a wheat-and-rye distillation mash and it is as clear and colourless as vodka. According to the press releases from Highwood Distillers, the privately owned distillery in Calgary, the finished, blended whisky is run through a micro-carbon filtration five times to strip out the colour as well as congeners and “impurities.”
What they don’t say is what kind of colour was there to begin with. There is precious little oakiness in the nose of this intriguing drink, which leads me to think its ten years of ageing may have been in something other than a traditional cask. Unless those aromas have also been stripped out of the spirit. What it does smell like is vodka – but a northern European vodka with plenty of clean grainy character and an added touch of anise, a trace of vanilla, a hint of the sort of stemmy perfume you get from a bunch of odourless white flowers early in the year. On the palate, it’s smooth and quite rich. In the initial seconds en bouche I find myself waiting for the sweet grainy flavour of genever gin to kick in – or even the oily, sweaty hit of a decent poteen – but there’s nothing there. And that is just what the vodka drinkers – the acknowledged target audience for this whisky – will appreciate most.
The product is called White Owl whisky – WOW for short, inevitably – and it’s going to be hitting the market as a Canadian whisky alternative to deluxe vodkas like Grey Goose (I’m sure any similarity in the name is a complete coincidence), coming in at around $40, or so I am told.
Whisky lovers will find it puzzling – it’s so completely un-whisky-like – but its purpose is to muscle into the cocktail scene, a rye disguised as a white spirit. Hell why not, say I.
And just to show what they are capable of in a more orthodox format, Highwood Distillers have also released a deliciously sharp, smooth rye whisky called Century reserve 21-year-old Rye Whisky through Vintages. I don’t have to tell you that most Canadian “rye” isn’t rye whisky at all but a blend of many grains. This one is something to savour or, if you’re feeling really flush or else completely at the end of your rope, to use in a Manhattan. Either way, yummy.