Whiskey Review: Century Reserve 21-Year-Old Canadian Rye Whisky

Highwood Distillers, in High River, Alberta, is one of Canada’s eight major whisky distilleries. The company dates to 1974, when it was founded under the name Sunnyvale.

Canadian whisky doesn’t have a great reputation among American whisky afficionados. It’s often referred to by the pejorative “brown vodka,” which is intended to convey that it’s insubstantial, smooth, and inoffensive, the type of whiskey that’s easy to pour into some ginger ale and ignore. There are, though, some expressions from our neighbors up north that are intended to be sipped more thoughtfully, and this is one of them.

First, a quick refresher on what, exactly, Canadian whisky is. Although Canadians often refer to their native whisky as “rye,” that terminology is essentially a historical quirk, as many modern-day Canadian whiskies don’t contain any rye grain. Like bourbon, most are primarily corn. Unlike bourbon, Canadian whisky is made by blending multiple whiskies after they’ve been aged. That blending process combines two so-called “streams:” a “base whisky” distilled to a high ABV and typically aged in used barrels, and multiple “flavoring whiskies,” which are often wheat or rye whiskies and are distilled to a lower alcohol content and aged in new, or a mix of new and used, barrels.

With all that said, Century Reserve 21-Year-Old Canadian Rye Whisky happens to be a 100% corn whisky, which is fairly unusual. It’s bottled at 40% ABV, and retails—in Canada only—for around $35.

Century Reserve 21-Year-Old

Tasting Notes: Century Reserve 21-Year-Old Canadian Rye Whisky

Vital stats: 100% corn, 21 years old, 40% ABV

Color: a sprightly pale amber

Nose: Major vanilla, to the point where if I close my eyes I could almost be convinced I’m smelling vanilla extract. I think I get a certain creaminess, too, but that might just be because I’m thinking about ice cream.

Palate: Opens with butterscotch, caramel, and brown sugar. There’s a fair amount of spice, too: red hots, followed by black pepper. I get a whiff of oak on the finish, which is soft and mild. On the palate, it’s light as air. After a few sips, a faintly artificial vanilla frosting note lingers.

The Takeaway

I should probably qualify this by saying I have very little experience with Canadian whisky, other than a pint of Pendleton I once split with my dad in a motel room while watching My Strange Addiction. With that said, this whisky's heavily confectionary flavor profile doesn't do much for me. The nose is vanilla for miles, and the palate has some more complexity, but nothing that really catches my interest—and texturally, it might as well be water.

Canadian whisky folks, based on my poking around online, tend to love this expression, but I don't quite get it.

2.5
User Rating 0 (0 votes)
Sending
About the author

Katelyn Best

Katelyn is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon. She's a regular contributor to the Whiskey Wash with an affinity for the unique and weird side of whiskey.