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


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.