Century Reserve 21 year old Canadian whisky

Century Reserve 21 year old (40% alc./vol.)

July 17, 2013

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Please note that due to devastating floods, some Highwood whiskies are in short supply and liquor stores may be temporarily out of stock.

Rich in nuance and suggestion, though muted, this is about as complex as pure corn whisky gets, with bittersweet citric notes, lilacs, spices, fresh-cut wood, and hot pepper. Soft Corn/Rich & Oaky. ★★★★☆

Perhaps because it is 100% aged corn whisky and has connections to the old Potter’s whisky brokerage and eau de vie distillery, hopeful Canadian whisky buffs sometimes wonder if Century Reserve 21 year old could possibly be from the same stocks as whisky’s holy grail, Bush Pilot’s. Sorry, but no, its source lies elsewhere.

The distillery flatly denies any connection between the two even though Bush Pilot’s was also a rich creamy corn whisky with a link to Potter’s. And even at a mere 13 years of age, Bush Pilot’s, a pale white-wine colour compared with the older golden-hued Century Reserve, was already much more intensely flavoured. But intensity is only one measure of quality. So are subtlety, nuance, balance, and complexity and in this regard, Century Reserve 21 year old is a stellar whisky in its own right.

There is no rye distillate in this whisky, which counts that out as the source of the spiciness. No, the spices come straight from the oak and perhaps from the corn distillate itself. And without any rye distillate in the bottle, Century Reserve showcases the flavours that other whiskies often bury under an avalanche of rye.

If you are from the “bigger-is-better” school of rye whisky, and your brain’s rye-drenched pleasure centres require extraordinarily intense stimulation to be activated, then – despite this laudatory review – Century Reserve 21 is not the whisky for you. Although it has the lush mouthfeel and weight of aged corn whisky, the nose, is cautiously subtle. The palate too, even though it is certainly elegant, complex, and flavourful, is, in fact, judiciously understated. That said, if you savour suggestion, implication, undercurrent, and contemplation, then Century Reserve is pretty hard to beat.

Nose: Shadowy glimpses of corn whisky include dry grain, Weetabix®, and cow barn. Twenty-one years in oak, and perhaps a long fermentation time, have contributed just hints of baking spices. There is an unobtrusive woodiness, much less than you would expect after so many years in the barrel. The nose remains a bit closed, with whiffs of peppermint, an inkling of lime peel, some plastic, and toffee rounding it out.

Palate: Citric notes burst onto the palate with sweet lemon candy and bitter lemon zest. The sweetness increases after a few seconds when a few hot chili notes arrive to spice it up. This is a fat, buttery whisky, but one that feels very fresh on the palate and is loaded with flavour including hard candy, fragrant lilacs, hot peppermint, black pepper—especially on the sides of the tongue—slight vanilla tones, turned earth, fresh-cut wood, and suggestions of butterscotch.

Century 21 is one of those whiskies that evolves in your mouth with no dominant notes but an ever-changing palate, rich in flavour, yet somehow muted and easy to miss under the corn. Hints of rye grain and rye spices are puzzling but instructive, as these clearly come from the wood, while the obvious cedary, oaky notes themselves develop slowly into pulling tannins. And while the palate becomes quite hot, the mouthfeel stays rich and creamy. This is a complex, flavourful whisky filled with innuendo with a constant appealing citric zestiness throughout.

Finish: This long hot finale to a rewarding performance dissolves in a citric mist then fades out cleanly on pepper, with hints of flowers and fresh-cut wood.

Empty Glass: Surprisingly, the morning-after glass is quite expressive, evoking aromas of sweet-and-sour sauce, vague whiffs of butterscotch, sweet citric fruit, dry firewood, and sweet spring flowers like lilacs and violets.

Highwood Distillers is a small, somewhat quirky plant on the western edge of High River, Alberta. It distils a number of wheat-based whiskies, as well as other spirits including vodka and rum. Every couple of years Highwood also does a run of rye flavouring to use in its blended whiskies.

But Century Reserve 21 is definitely not a blend. No, it’s one of the few remaining all-corn whiskies in Canada. It’s not so much a huge whisky, as it is a substantial one, and certainly nothing like the light, thin-bodied Canadian whisky of cliché. But if Highwood distillery has two primary spirit streams from which it makes its whisky, one rye-based, the other, wheat-based, what gives with Century Reserve being a corn whisky?

Although Highwood ages Century Reserve in the Highwood warehouses in High River, Alberta, in the tradition of Potter’s, which Highwood now owns, its corn whisky is distilled somewhere else. And just as Potter’s was before them, the folks at Highwood are in no big hurry to say exactly where. Ahh . . . more reminiscences of Bush Pilot’s.

Century Reserve 21 year old is gone (temporarily, we hope) from LCBO but is available for $50.00 at B.C. Liquors.

Highly recommended

★★★★☆

Highwood Ninety 20 year old is reviewed here.

Highwood 25 Year Old is reviewed here.

Century Reserve Lot 15/25 is reviewed here.


Comments

50 Responses to “Century Reserve 21 year old (40% alc./vol.)”

  1. Mike:

    Love this stuff! I had no idea it was pure corn whisky, though. I figured it was wheat-based rye, like Centennial. Is the 15+ blend also corn?

    • Davin:

      Hi Mike, Yes the 15 is also 100% corn. I gather you know there is some very old whisky blended into it (up to 29 years old).

  2. I have a 50ml bottle sampler at home, should taste/rate it tonite and put my review on the wab site. Reading your review, seems to be a very nice dram. More to come.

    • Davin:

      Hi André,
      I’ll be curious to see what of think of it. I like it a lot. By the way, thank you for the link on quebecwhisky.net . You are sending me lots of visitors.

  3. tim:

    I just picked up a bottle of CR 21 – Kelowna distillery. I understand this is now a silent distillery. Can anyone shed light on how this bottling compares to the newer one from Highwood?

    • Davin:

      Tim, In all likelihood it is exactly the same bottle. The label on Century Reserve 21 still says Kelowna Distillery, which is where the barrels aged for a while, not where the whisky was distilled.

      This is an example of one of tangled strands of Canadian whisky identity. There never was a whisky distillery in Kelowna, even though it is now world famous. Ernie Potter started his distillery in Vancouver and later it was moved to Kelowna, but he never made whisky in either location. It was strictly eau-de-vie. They may have run off a little bit of base whisky every now and then to use for blending, but basically they were a brokerage. They bought barrels of corn whisky from other distillers and aged them for sale in the barrel or in bottle.

      A few years ago Highwood bought all the Potter’s brands and the ageing whisky. By that time, even the eau-de-vie still was gone. Is the label on your bottle the same as the one in the picture? If so I’d guess it’s the very same whisky.

      • doug:

        actually there was a distillery in Kelowna (Winfield) to be exact, It was quite a large distillery and dismantled in the late 80′s or early 90′s. It had a park like setting amongst huge Ponderosa trees next to Duck Lake. They make Yukon Jack Liquor and many others.

        • Davin:

          Yes, Canadian Club built a distillery in Winfield to supply the west but it only operated for a decade or so. I had the good luck to visit it. There is a LOT of misinformation out there about this distillery. It was decommissioned some time ago and finally demolished just last year. It was NOT the source of Bush Pilot’s, it was NOT the source of Century Reserve, and it did not ever release a single malt. Potter’s did have a whisky distillery in Vancouver for a while but once they moved to Kelowna they stopped distilling whisky and just acted as a brokerage. I had the good fortune to visit there as well.

  4. You’re welcome. I’m happy to hear it brings u lots of visitors. Thank you also for the correction on your side. Much appreciated.

    More to come tomorrow on the tasting-rating.

    Btw where did u get the LOT 40 bottle as we are looking to get one since a long long time to rate it on our web site. We can’t find it anywhere !

  5. Davin:

    André, I haven’t seen Lot 40 in the east for years, but I found it in two different liquors stores in Alberta. Not big stores either, just little mom and pops – the kind favoured by the dusty hunters.

  6. Bill:

    I purchased a bottle, and expected a lot more complexity.

    Whereas I tend to keep bottlings that I like for a long period of time, this one was quickly deemed reserved for guests, and was mixed with coke.

    It’s sounding like I’m not a big fan of corn whisky.

    • Davin:

      Hi Bill, What are some of the ones you like best?

  7. Bill:

    Looks as though Mr. Jackson and Mr. Broom were fooled.

    http://www.whiskymag.com/whisky/brand/century_reserve/whisky863.html

    • Davin:

      Hi again Bill, I could taste some typical rye spices too, but they have to come from the oak, or from an extra long fermentation which tends to introduce hints of cinnamon.

  8. Bill:

    Hi Davin.

    As far as mainstream Canadian whiskys go, I like the Canadian Club Reserve 10, Wiser’s Small Batch, and Gibson’s Finest 12.

    That said, I’m also a huge fan of the 40 Creek offerings.

    Their Barrel Select, Three Grain, and limited release bottlings have all been great.

    Unfortunately, I missed out on the Port Wood this year.

    Sigh.

  9. Davin:

    CC Reserve, Wiser’s Small Batch and Gibson’s 12 are all very respectable whiskies. Forty Creek whiskies also rock and the Port Wood was quite special. I understand the Double Barrel is now part of their regular line.

  10. Bill:

    Not to digress this thread any further than what I have already, but….

    I met John Hall at the local LCBO, and had him personalize, and sign a Double Barrel.

    Now, the bottle looks so damn nice that I don’t want to drink it, but I do, but I don’t, but I do…..

    I could always polish it off, and fill it back up with ice tea I suppose :)

    .

  11. tim:

    distillery topic-

    the front label looks the same except the curiously missing “number” they say is on each bottle.?.? On the back it says Century Distilling Co. Kelowna B.C. I was on the thought of this possibly being an older bottling because of its source _ a downsized liquor store selling off a large and quite dated whisky/scotch selection…

    Thanks for the interesting info on their whole whisky process aka brokerage position. $32

    • Davin:

      Hi Tim,
      I think what happened is that someone forgot to write the number on the label. It is a very small operation at Highwood, and for the Century Reserve line everything is done by hand except for cleaning and filling the bottles. They number the labels one by one and they apply them to the bottle by hand, so somebody probably just missed putting a number on that one.
      Incidentally, they are phasing out the 700 ml bottle and replacing it with a 750.

  12. Just tasted it… Wow very surprising and the hard candies-citrus notes mix is magnificient. Quite round a very textured. The 21 years in the barrels can be tastedas it is well balanced and deliver a surprisingly long finale.

    Well, as english is not my first language, it’s quite hard to translate my tasting notes, but on our website, i gave a 89% to this one.

    • Davin:

      Yeah, I really like it. It is subtle and subdued, and you are right about the hard citrus candies and the benefits of long aging. I’m glad to see you have so many Canadian whiskies listed on quebecwhisky.net .

  13. tim:

    Opened my bottle a few nights ago – wasn’t sure at first, but each subsequent drink offered definite rye-like spice both on the nose and the mouth…

    A section on the back label reads: “We invite you to savour the oldest aged RYE in Canada, barreled long ago, artfully blended and bottled by hand in celebration of the 21st Century.”

    • Davin:

      Hi Tim,

      Yes, that’s what it says. In Canada, rye is synonymous with whisky, and as you can see, a lot of the spiciness often attributed to rye grain can come from the wood. Those flavours can be overwhelmed by the vanilla when the whisky is aged in new barrels. As well, a long fermentation time can increase the aroma and flavour of cinnamon and the likes in the whisky, (including base whisky).

      I am assured that Century Reserve 21 year old is 100% corn.

      You are right to give this several tastes. As noted, this whisky can be a bit muted on first tasting, but given time it becomes quite complex.

  14. tim:

    Davin,

    I’ve always known in lay terms that whisky (Cndn) equals rye but I didn’t know this -misleading- terminology extended to bottling companies and distilleries. Hmmmmmm… interesting, but not really in a good way.

    Does anyone foresee standards being introduced into Canadian production? I would think that consistency would likely increase the reputation and standing of Cndn whisky around the globe. But, how this could be introduced is beyond my current knowledge.

    On an aside I found two more “numberless” bottles of CR 21 (700ml).

    Cheers,
    Tim

    • Davin:

      Hi Tim,

      Excellent, excellent comment, but first: The only way to explain those numberless bottles is that someone stepped away from the line for a few minutes. Packaging the Century Reserve line really is very much a hand process so there will be differences. The bottles are all filled by machine, so what’s inside will remain the same.

      As far as misleading terminology, I think we have to remember how vocabulary evolves. For more than a century we have called our whisky “rye”. Some whisky marketers make a big deal about how there are no regulations in Canada about the grain content of whisky. They do this to imply that somehow their whisky is better because their government is telling them how to make it.

      However, you never hear them talking, for example, about how there are no regulations in the USA about how long whisky must be aged (Bourbon & straight whisky excluded). In the USA, after 10 minutes in oak, it’s whisky. Canada introduced ageing regulations long before any other nation, but the purpose was not to improve our whisky, it was to drive the small producers out of business.

      Whisky marketers are notorious for taking what they have and telling us why it is the best. For example, in Scotland they brag about their soft, acidic water while in America they brag about their (hard, alkaline) limestone water. They don’t tell us the reason they use sour mash is to get rid of some of the effects of the limestone.

      Bourbon is matured in charred, new oak barrels. This was not a whisky maker’s decision and it has nothing to do with making good whisky, although it does define the flavour of Bourbon. This was passed into law because a politician wanted to ensure steady work for lumbermen and woodworkers who supposedly would then vote for him.

      We hear people who make whisky from 100% rye grain tell us how great the “pure” rye flavour is, while others who use a mixed mash bill talk about the way the different grains complement each other. For the record, to my palate, the best rye whisky IS improved with the addition of other grain. Take Lot 40 for example. It is the best rye whisky I have ever tasted and it is made from mixed grains (though very high in rye and malted rye). But a lot more went into making this whisky than just the mash bill.

      Most people don’t know that whisky batches are made to taste, so the “formula” may change between batches. So there may be more rye spirit in one batch than another, although the flavour is indistinguishable. Most of the flavour comes from the wood, although marketers will tell us it comes from whatever element makes their whisky unique.

      Americans have been taught that rye means rye grain. Canadians know, almost from birth, that rye means whisky. But when marketers start making the individual components of a whisky seem much more important than they are, I can certainly see why people are confused and would like everyone to follow the same standards. But when we know that whatever standards exist do so for political reasons, rather than quality, isn’t it kind of a good thing that some distillers are given latitude to do things differently?

      And you are right, I think, about the effect of vocabulary on our reputation as whisky makers. The marketers have done a brilliant job in convincing the whisky world that rye means rye grain. Canadian distillers just sit back quietly, minding their own business and making their whisky, while others talk so much about theirs, that we come to think what they say applies everywhere. This, for example, is why so many people believe the pot still is superior to the column still for making flavourful whisky. It can be, in the right hands, but it isn’t necessarily.

      Well, with luck, as more people come to taste good Canadian whisky, more people will realize it’s what’s in the bottle that counts, and not how it is made or sold.

      Thanks a lot Tim, I feel much better now ;-) .

      Davin

      • Davin:

        Hi Davin,

        Great comments! You seem to know so much about our Canadian whisky, may I ask, what do you think about how our Canadian whisky industry is doing in terms of international marketing these days? Apparently the Canadian whisky isn’t exporting well to the other countries these days, and I’m still trying to figure out why.

        Chiao

        • Davin:

          That’s news to me. As far as I know more than 70% of the whisky we make is exported to over 160 countries.

  15. tim:

    Davin, I do agree – what you find in the bottle is what counts. And what I feel is equally important to remember is that everyone has individual preferences and tastes – one persons favorite rye whisky migtht be looked at as bottom of the barrel to another!

    And of course all the other info and background on a whisky makes for great conversation and can increase the enjoyment of a drink.

    • Davin:

      Exactly! Everyone has different preferences and tastes, and everyone tastes thing differently. And this whisky, Century Reserve 21 really does appeal to some folks a lot more than others.

  16. Tudval:

    Davin, I found it refreshing to read your opinions, seems to me like you may be an unbiased whiskey expert :) I don’t know much about canadian whiskey, except for a couple of unfortunate experiences with cheap CC, but seeing these fancy bottlings available at LCBO, I am tempted. I drink mostly scotch and i completely agree with you that regulation is not meant to ensure qualiy. Take single malts for example. Do they represent the best scotch whisky can offer? As one who loves above all the unafordable vatted malts, like Blue Label or Royal Salute, I think producers of such blends are at a disadvantage because of regulation. Sure, if you have Johnie W or Chivas on your label you can sell an expensive blend, but most producers could not. And even big names may be held back by the practice of having to put age statement on the label. Cognac producers don’t have to do it and there may be a good reason why. Sometimes blending very old and younger whiskies can yield really good results at affordable prices. That’s I I took on the task of blending my own scotch with some spectacular results I would say. The downside is that I have to keep more stock around the house than my wife would agree with :)

    • Davin:

      Thank you for your comments. There are some really great Canadian whiskies available at LCBO. If you want a different experience with CC, try the ten year old. It’s loaded with real slaty rye. You make a really good point about blending old and young whiskies. While it is true this will help to keep the price down, there is also a real vibrancy about some very young whiskies that can make a big contribution to a good blend.

  17. Mike:

    I’m still uncertain about this. The bottle I had a couple of years ago was 700ml, as pictured above. But the bottle I saw today was 750ml and said on it “Canadian Rye Whisky”, whereas the bottle above simply specifies “Canadian Whisky”. Is it possible the whisky is different this time around?

    • Davin:

      Hi Mike,

      The new packaging for Century Reserve 21 year old is in 750 ml bottles. The label is pretty much the same but without the numbers if I remember correctly. I had a chat with the guys at the plant and they told me this packaging change was coming, but the juice was still the same.

      For over 200 years English Canada has called our Canadian whisky “rye” regardless of what it was actually made from. More recently, in the US, they decided that “rye whisky” had to be made from at least 51% rye. Now suddenly Canadian rye, with a 200+ year heritage is being held up to the relatively new US regulation by some whisky lovers.

      In Canada, to be called “rye” a whisky need have the characteristics of Canadian whisky, but need not be made from rye grain. Century Reserve is still made from 100% corn distillate, but is called Canadian Rye Whisky because it has the characteristics of Canadian whisky. Ironically, it would not qualify as corn whisky by US regulations, while other whiskies with less corn content might.

      To me, rye means whisky. I have known that since I was a kid. I was in university before I made the rye grain/rye bread connection. Rye grain/rye whisky came even later. I am not sure why we should change our nomenclature to meet recent US definitions.

  18. Tudval:

    I was quite disappointed with this whiskey. I drink mostly scotch, single malt or blended malts. My taste leans towards smokier malts. At this price or a little more there’s a plethora of better stuff. For $20 more, Talisker at only 10 years of age is a few classes above. I am not a Canadian whiskey expert by any means, but for my taste, the Crown Royal Special Reserve (similarly priced), is much better, and I’m not a fan of that one either. When I don’t like a particular whiskey, I try to create my own blend by adding some better whiskeys from the 8-10 bottles that I usually have open. I should be able to add no more than one quarter to balance it and get something that’s palatable. It worked really well with the Crown Royal, since it is so smooth and has a rich mouthfeel and little of the overpowering vanilla. The Century 21, try as I may, yielded very disappointing results, as the harshness comes through no matter what. I can drink it on ice, but that I can do with stuff that costs half the price.

    • Davin:

      Hi Tudval,

      Like you I am a really big fan of single malt whisky, and Talisker 10 is a favourite. One sip, and you know you’re alive! At the same time, for me there are also times when the gentle complexity of a Century Reserve 21 year old is just unparalleled. It’s 100% corn whisky. That’s where that luxurious mouthfeel comes from, yet it has so many subtle rye-like notes that it has pulled out of the barrels during those 21 years (or more) of ageing. Century Reserve certainly is not the “in-you-face” whisky Taliker 10 is. It’s much more for sipping on while sitting by the fire with a friend and putting the world to right.

      Your experiments creating your own blends sound fascinating. I know others who have done this with great success. Do you stick with all whiskies from the same country or do you mix them? I had heard talk once of an idea for a Canadian Club aged to be aged in ex-Laphroaig casks and thought with all that CC fruit it would be marvelous. I hope they actually do it.

  19. Tim N:

    After 6 months and many ruminative tastings I’ve finally come to appreciate this rye’s persistent yet subtle characteristics. The strong point of CR21 for me is holding the whisky in my mouth for a good long while getting to know it – swallow – and then wait for the after flash of flavour.

  20. Gtown John:

    How beautiful is this whisky? Love it…would buy more if price came down a bit. Goes down too quick :)

  21. [...] mid- to low-end of the market, this is one of their more premium bottlings, and it’s gotten a fair bit of acclaim from critics and aficionados of Canadian whisky. And after tasting it myself, I’d [...]

  22. ron:

    Davin
    Read all your postings. Presently drinking Century 21 Reserve AF790 and everybody loves it ,even diehard Scotch drinkers. Where exactly can I find more ? Willing to drive or have shipped.

    • Davin:

      Hi Ron, Sorry I do not keep track of the shops. There is probably still quite a bit of that particular batch still in the stores, but you’d have to look. I can tell you that the bottling that came after that one had no serial number on it and it was even more spectacular than the one you have. Not different, just a little more expressive. Good luck.

  23. Tom:

    Hi Davin,

    Last week I got lucky to find a bottle of Century 21 Reserve on the shelf selling for $59.90. Without a doubt, I brought the whisky. The question I have is how come the Canadian whiskies do not appreciate in value on the limited productions of excellent whiskies. For example, Alberta Pre 25 and 30 years old etc. Whereas, the British limited edition whiskies can sky rocket and appreciate so much in value. Last week, my friend offered me to try his Johnny Walker Blue label whisky. After I tasted it, I found the Alberta Premium is better than the blue label. Not that I am complaining, I feel we are lucky to be able to purchase excellent local whiskies with low prices.

    • Davin:

      Yes, it never fails to amaze me just what incredibly good value Canadian whisky can be.And Century Reserve is one of the really great ones.

  24. John:

    I have a bottle of Century Reserve 21 year Old Canadian Whiskey Marked T.570 It has been in the back of my liquor cabinet for a few years. Never been cracked What year would batch T.570 have been produced??

  25. John:

    I have a bottle of Century Reserve 21 year Old Canadian Whiskey Marked T.570 It has been in the back of my liquor cabinet for a few years. Never been cracked.

    What year would batch T.570 have been produced??

    Reason being the new CR have a metal top on the glass topper.
    Mine has like a crystal decanter T top on it.

    • Davin:

      Hi John,
      I’m not sure anyone keeps track of old batch numbers and I am not sure when that whisky was produced.

  26. [...] on http://www.canadianwhisky.org Partager:PlusWordPress:J’aime [...]

  27. [...] Century Reserve 21 Year Old is reviewed here. [...]

  28. Peter Boilszczuk:

    I have never tried Century reserve 21 year old yet. I had a bottle given to me in 2003 and just left it in the box on my shelf. I am fond of a good whiskey and this one is resrved for some as yet unknowen special occasion in the distant future. Like if an asteriod is hurteling towards earth some day. I will pull up my lawn chair and finally crack the seal as I watch the unfoldin event.

  29. JRKlien:

    Revisiting this old thread as CR21 was recently ‎re-released in ON through LCBO’s Whiskey Shop. I was squarely in the “I don’t get it camp” and regarded it as a “session” whiskey until one evening I happened to have a dram not long after a hot cup of tea. For some reason, unbeknownst to me, I found that dram to be truly remarkable. I have since recreated that experience on a number of occasions so it was no fluke. Maybe the heat or the tanins in the tea? I recall seeing a blog at one time dedicated to tea and whiskey pairings so maybe there is something to it. Has anyone else ever had a similar experience with this or any other whiskey? ‎

    Back to the topic at hand, CR21 represents fantastic value at less than $50 and it has the finest of packaging/presentation in the price bracket (if you are into that side of things of course). Whilst the CR21 was in my “session” rotation I ‎found it did make a rather good prelude to Bourbon. The commonality of the corn grain and rye-esque spice perhaps? I would be quite interested to see how CR21 would fair against the various vintages of the much acclaimed Greenore single grains. ‎I’m thinking the delicate rye-esque spice would see CR21 come up trumps in a blind tasting.‎

    • Davin:

      How curious. I have noticed that the tiniest trace of bitterness in my mouth tends to make my taste buds work better. i wonder if there is a connection.


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