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Century Reserve 21 Year Old (2010)

Whisky Review: Century Reserve 21 Year Old Canadian Rye Whisky (90.5/100)
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted on August 15, 2010

In November of 2005, Highwood Distilleries Ltd. finalized the purchase of Potter’s Distilleries (founded by Ernie Potter in 1958). Part of this acquisition, was the purchase of all of the remaining aged barrel stocks of whisky in the Potter’s facility. These barrels of whisky were then transferred from the Potter’s warehouse facilities in Kelowna B.C. to the newly constructed warehouse facility in High River, Alberta, where they were allowed to continue to age at the foot of the Rocky Mountains on the western edge of the Canadian Prairies.

The brands which Potter’s had established, Potter’s Special Old Canadian Whisky, and the Century Reserve Brands were continued and expanded upon. Subtle changes in the taste of these whiskies may be occurring due to the change in location of the aging warehouse; however, these Potter’s brands are still produced  entirely from the aging whisky reserves which were originally distilled and barreled at the Potter’s Distillery.

I was recently provided with a sample of one of these brands, the Century Reserve 21 Year Old Whisky, a corn whisky produced from a single bond, and not blended.  In fact, we are able to call this a 21-year-old single grain whisky, which is a rarity upon the landscape of Canadian Whisky.

In the Bottle 4.5/5

The whisky is presented in a squat rectangular decanter style bottle which stands about 8 inches high. The bottle is very nice and has a masculine design. This is a style of whisky bottle that I can set at the forefront of my whisky shelf or as a display piece in my Liquor cabinet.

I am however, a little disappointed by the label. I realize that this is a personal preference, but I believe the ambiance could be brought up significantly with a stronger design. I guess I want to see some type of illustration,  photo, or even a story which brings the heritage of this unique twenty-one year old single grain whisky to life.  The quibble is minor, but it does prevent a perfect score for presentation.

In the Glass 9/10

The Century Reserve 21 whisky displays itself as an amber/gold spirit in the glass with apparent flashes of orange.  When I tilt the glass on its side, the liquid imparts a moderately thick sheen of oil which causes small whisky droplets to form and slowly run back down the inside of the glass. The aroma is of butterscotch bathed in corn with oak tannins which rise gently disguising themselves within a citrus zest. Bourbon vanilla (actually reminiscent of melted vanilla ice-cream) appears, and I find the nose complex, but not necessarily assertive. There is a beguiling gentleness associated with the spirit in the glass.

In the Mouth 54/60

The initial entry in the mouth is mellow with a flavour of soft corn leading the way. Butterscotch, and a honeyed oaky spice quickly follow making the whisky lively in the mouth but not sharp and uncomfortable. Vanilla arrives on the mid palate, and I cannot help but feel I am tasting that melted vanilla ice-cream which I encountered on the nose. I am struck by a certain sweet dank flavour that has crept in from the beginning and then has steadily built up in my mouth throughout the tasting. This flavour has a delightful “rumminess” attached to it, as well as a dank earthy flavour similar to the underlying flavour of a Tennessee Corn Whisky. I feel this must be the flavour of the single grain corn mash continuing to assert itself throughout the palate.

The only drawback I found was that the flavour profile lacked a certain robustness. By this, I mean that the flavours I encountered  tended to be somewhat dependent upon my mood and my palate condition. In particular, the dank sweet corn flavour seemed at times to be more aggressive, whereas at other times it sat back in the profile and allowed the other flavours to find more expression. This led me, on some days, to want to score the whisky higher in this category, while on other days I wanted to score it lower. I chose the midpoint of the two scores and deducted another half point to account for the inconsistency.

In the Throat 14/15

The exit is long and the whisky finishes with a wide swath of corn, sweet honey and vanilla. A rush of spice trails down my throat leaving a nice satisfying, but light burn on my tonsils. This finish is very smooth and satisfying.

The Afterburn 9/10

I sampled the Century Reserve 21 with several friends whom I often have over to my informal tasting sessions. While we do not always agree, on this occasion I was struck by how much more everyone else appeared to enjoy the whisky than I did. In fact the expressions on their faces were of pure delight. Of course, I did not allow their impressions to impact my review and score, but I will admit that I was tempted to. As it was I found the whisky to be an extremely nice sipper well worth plunking down a few dollars for. In fact based upon the extremely fair price I saw at a local store recently, I think it is a real bargain. I guess, I am trying to say that my friends, whose opinion I respect, would feel it was an even better bargain!

You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.

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Suggested Recipes

One of my favourite ways to enjoy myself is with a premium whisky cocktail. The Century Reserve 21 Year Old Canadian Whisky is the perfect starting point for such a cocktail. The trick when using a premium spirit is to allow it to shine through the cocktail, and to use only other ingredients which are of the same quality. The first recipe I have chosen to showcase this whisky is perhaps the most tried and true whisky cocktail in the world, The Old Fashioned Cocktail.

The Old Fashioned Cocktail

2 oz Century Reserve 21 Canadian Whisky
1 tsp sugar syrup
1 dash bitters
2 large ice cubes
1 Twist of lemon or orange peel

Add the first three ingredients to a rocks glass over the ice cubes
Rub the cut edge of the lemon peel over the rim of the glass and twist it over the drink. (This will release the oil from the lemon zest into the drink)
Discard the peel.

The Old fashioned is a great cocktail for this whisky as the quality of the whisky lends itself in direct proportion to the quality of the cocktail.

Another nice recipe which I constructed is one I call, Autumn Harvest.

Autumn Harvest

2 oz Century Reserve 21 Canadian Whisky
1/8 oz Triple Sec
1/2 oz Dry Vermouth
1 tsp sugar syrup
1 dash bitters

Ice
Frozen Blackberry

Chill a small rocks glass until it is very cold.
Aromatise the glass with Triple Sec.
(This can be done by pouring a little in the glass, swooshing it round and expelling any excess. The object is to coat the inside of the glass with a light film of the Triple Sec.)
Pour the Century Reserve 21 Year Old, the dry Vermouth,and Angostura Bitters into a metal shaker with cracked Ice.
Shake until the shaker chills.
Strain into the chilled rocks glass.
Garnish with a Frozen Blackberry.

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As always you may interpret the scores I provide as follows.

0-25 A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49 Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59 You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69 Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74 Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79 You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84 We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89 Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94 Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+ I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be more familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)

4 Responses to “Century Reserve 21 Year Old (2010)”

  1. rintamaki said

    im confused that the label says canadian rye whisky ,but in fact it is all corn.What are your thoughts.

    • In Canada it is traditional to call our style of whisky “rye whisky” because the manner in which the whisky is made gives the whisky a very rye-like flavour. In the U.S. whiskey is labeled based upon the predominant grain used. Either method of labeling leads to misunderstanding. I have tasted U.S. Rye Whiskeys which seem to my palate to be Corn/bourbon, and in Canada we have Corn Whiskies labeled as rye.

      I believe that most Canadian Whisky Companies are slowly changing their labeling to be less confusing, but traditions die hard.

  2. Mike said

    Good review. I think the lack of robustness that you noticed is simply the Highwood style. Centennial 10 and Century Reserve 15 are also very clean, subtle, laid back whiskies, as I’m sure you already know. What the 21 year old has is a richer flavour and bigger body. You really taste the age, even if it doesn’t translate into more intense flavour.

    • Actually what I mean by robust, is the ability of the flavour to remain true, in spite of different moods and palate conditions. It can be subtle and laid back, as long as it does not change, I consider the flavour robust. Other Highwood whiskies display this characteristic even though they are laid back. This whisky seemed to present a different corn flavour every time I approached it. Since the corn flavour profile was different depending upon my mood and or my palate, I determined that it was not as robust as the others i had tried..

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