No one in Alberta will soon forget the floods of this past June, the people of High River doubly so.
It was an otherwise sunny day back on June 20, when the Highwood River crested its banks, sending a deluge of water down the main street of the town of High River.
Although the Highwood Distillery is more than a kilometre from the river, it still ended up with a full metre of standing water inside the distillery.
Tragically, the damage was extensive, and the entire inventory of bottled liquor had to be destroyed, representing millions in lost revenue.
The only thing that saved Highwood Distillers from certain fiscal doom were their precious stores of aging whisky casks, which miraculously remained dry throughout the ordeal.
The lesser spirits like Vodka and Gin are not aged for years in oak barrels, so the long-term investment for these brands is fairly minimal.
Whisky, however, is an entirely different beast. With barrels aging for a minimum of 3 years, and in some cases, up to 30 years, the loss of aging whisky stock would be a death-knell for most any distillery.
With so much of their raw material, and even the bottling lines completely destroyed, Highwood Distillers was unable to produce for 82 long days, finally reopening at a diminished capacity on September 10.
As you might imagine, the just-in-time supply chain that is marked as a wonder of modern capitalism sort of falls over in the face of natural disasters like this one, as there is insufficient stockpiled inventory to ride through unexpected events.
Highwood Distillers will be celebrating 40 years in business next year, and your humble narrator wants to ensure they will be around for 40 more years after that.
To do my part in helping Highwood Distillers get back on their feet, your intrepid liquor reporter will only be shopping in one place for Christmas this year, and that place will be Highwood Distillers.
Luckily, Highwood Distillers produces a wide range of spirits, ranging from whisky, vodka, gin, rum, liqueurs, and assorted premixes. This will make it easy to find unique spirits for all the 18+ naughty but nice girls on my Christmas list.
For the vodka fans on my Christmas list, please take this as advance notice that you will be receiving a bottle of Pristina Vodka, made from local Alberta wheat, and quadruple-distilled right in High River.
I have enjoyed this vodka a few times over the years, and recall it as remarkably clean, with no alcohol burn or metallic aftertaste that is so common with lesser vodkas.
The prim and proper Gin fans on my list will be receiving bottles of Sahara Dry Gin, a remarkably inexpensive spirit that has graced many a G&T at your humble narrator’s cocktail parties.
Made with the same base spirit as their vodka, the Sahara Dry Gin is then infused with juniper and other botanicals and herbs for that traditional taste of Dutch Courage.
The Whisky fans on my list have the largest selection, as Whisky makes up close to 40% of the business at Highwood Distillers.
The premier selection is the Century Reserve 21 Year, which is one of the few remaining pure corn whiskies in Canada. Aged in American Oak barrels for 21 years, the whisky has taken on an almost creamy mouthfeel, with hints of vanilla and butterscotch imparted from the tannins in the barrel. At around $50 retail, it punches above its weight, easily the equal of much more expensive whiskies.
If Santa happens to be reading this column, I would just like to mention that my personal favourite from Highwood Distillers is the Centennial 10 Year Canadian Whisky, and I am down to the last wee dram in the bottle!
Made from locally grown Alberta winter wheat and rye grain, this is a relatively light and mellow whisky, not at all intimidating to novice boozers.
Aged for ten years, this whisky has hints of spice from the oak barrels, as well as a subtle suggestion of honey aftertaste.
So, gentle reader, if you would like to make sure your Christmas booze budget goes to a struggling local business instead of a multinational conglomerate, pick up a bottle from Highwood Distillers at your local booze merchant today!