Review: Pike Creek 21 Year Old Double Barrel Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Pike Creek 21.jpg
ABV
45%
Aging
21 Years; Finished in Various Barrels
Recipe
Double Distilled Corn Whisky & Rye Whisky
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

This is part of the very impressive “Rare Range” (previously Northern Border) collection, and, in the "Pike Creek" tradition which highlights the impact of finishing. In 2017, the release was finished in a scotch cask sourced through a chivas regal connection (both Pernod Ricard). They also sent over some lot no. 40 casks, for their finishing purposes - so if you see a "rye finish" somewhere in the chivas family/distillery set, it's a good chance it's lot no. 40.

In 2018, the whisky was finished in a variety of different oaks. About 50% of this blend was finished in French oak - both Quercas Robor and Quercas Petrea, about 25% of the blend was finished in Hungarian oak from the danube forest region (seasoned for 36 months), while the remainder was American oak. Each type of oak has a different set of characteristics, and the flavour compounds vary significantly - for example, in one sample of wood, vanillin was the highest in French oak, 20% less in American oak, and 35% less in Hungarian oak. Similar analysis can be done for other flavours - almond, smoky notes, etc. The finishing regime here highlights the breadth of oak, and, the best part is that it still isn’t too oaky.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 2017 (Finished in a Speyside Malt Cask)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

It smells old! And, indeed, it is. A rich nose, that just develops. Not really the same thing at all as it’s younger brother, the 10 year old pike creek finished in rum casks – the brand is about finishing, not about necessarily having the same profile (as when they switched from port to rum casks, but kept the brand the same). Not nearly with the same buttery, brown sugar notes of the rum finish. In fact, though they’re part of the same brand, I wouldn’t really compare them at all.

The whisky is largely double distilled corn whisky matured in reused casks...e.g., what is in Wiser’s 18 Year old, but a bit older and finished in a Speyside malt cask (take a guess... a Speyside from Pernod Ricard – Wiser’s also sent over some Lot no. 40 casks for them to use in finishing, though I haven’t seen the result of this yet). However, there’s also a bit of rye added in this time too. But, from the nose to the finish, a different whisky than the 10 year old.

The nose has rich blueberry, mushy peas, green apple, white grape, corn oil, and some old oak. Maple, toffee, candied nuts. The palate is very clean – light grain, celery seed, prune, with a finish that is slightly dry and spicy – an ever so light touch of either earthy barley or peat. Nice mouthfeel. Ever so lightly bitter on the finish – as I have found with most Pike Creeks, in fact. The finish, though, is still bright and fruity – mulberries, spices, and dried fruit (raisins, apricot). Finish isn’t very long, but is nice and grainy while it sticks around. A very nice whisky – those old age notes present in this whisky are continuing to attract me, and this blows the other pike creeks out of the park.

An interesting pour beside Wiser’s 18. Much lighter, more elegant, refined, and less spicy. But, better...Don Livermore, the master blender, said if he were to have two whiskies to sip from the Northern Border collection, he’d have Gooderham Little Trinity and Pike Creek 21. Interesting.

Terrific whisky. Fun to see Canadian whisky stepping up its game.

Score: 88/100

Value: 62/100 (based on $90)


Review (2018)

  • Batch: 2018 Rare Range (Finished in European Oak Casks)

  • Bottling Code: 54SL24 L18235EW1202

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Oaky, through and through – and it’s nice. But it’s not the bourbon sort of oaky, where it’s loaded with new wood. Also not the Scottish “too oaky” – it has a huge kick of oak, complex, but it still sits lightly above a fairly vibrant, aged corn whisky underneath. It’s very nice – there are nice grain notes lurking underneath, and rich spices – green cardamom, nutmeg, clove. If you like oak, but in a broad sense (i.e. not just heavily caramelized oak) you’ll love this.

The palate has dried fruits, light spice, and some jujube-like fruitiness at the centre – but oak sits overtop everything – like a freshly sawn pile of oak. Earthiness finds its way into the centre of the palate before tannins take over and we are left with light, sweet corn, spice, and white grape. Honey, too – and sweetness opposes the light oak quite nicely.

The finish has a rich, dried flurry of spice – a mixed old bag of baking spice (clove, white pepper, nutmeg, green cardamom) and a kick of dried fruit that slowly unpacks itself alongside some toasted almond.

Natural comparators are last year’s Pike Creek, or this year’s Seasoned Oak – a 19 year old whisky finished in seasoned oak. At a very basic level, this is more oaky, the seasoned oak is much more fruity and seems to have more influence from vibrant rye, and last year’s Pike Creek 21 has light barley overtones like Scotch (as one might expect) – think applesauce and green apple.

I like this a lot more than last year’s release (which was also great). Highly recommended. Also, I prefer the seasoned oak release, which is in a similar category (old finished corn whisky) but quite different.

Score: 90/100

Value: 73/100 (based on $100)


Review: Lot No. 40 Cask Strength Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Lot no. 40.jpg
ABV
55.0-58.4%
Aging
Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
100% Rye
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

Here we have a rarity - a cask strength, 100% Canadian Rye whisky, well matured and released by a major producer. The only other bottle I can think of which fits into this category (so far) is Whistlepig's Boss Hog, an independent bottling from Alberta Distillers (though I must note that there are some notable young cask strength ryes from micro distilleries like Stalk & Barrel). Basically, it is the connoisseur's dream - this juice.  Given the splendor of the standard Lot no. 40, you'd expect this to do some good work too. Originally single casks of this were handed around at whisky festivals, but now we have an annual release - beginning at a very commendable 12 years of age. The golden age of Canadian whisky is here! 4968 bottles.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: 05 05100 (55.8%)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: June 2016

This sample was generously sent to me by Mark Bylok of whisky.buzz, who also reviewed this batch of Lot no. 40 CS.

Lots of onion pickle, in fact, in this tasting. Dill, floral rye, new wood, and lots of nuts - hazlenuts, walnuts, almond, clove, floral rye, black tea, terrific caramel, cinnamon, dried rose, dried hibiscus, praline, rosehip….

Brilliant tingling spices on the palate, with lots of spice, caramel, orange, clove, blood orange, cola, walnut…immense at cask strength and lots of rye! But it comes easy with lots of nut, tea, and oak notes surrounding. Some terrific dried floral notes too. Dries off in a huge, spicy finish still with lots of nuts and more light rye notes – almost jasmine-like in their floral nature - and cinnamon, tobacco, drying reeds in the fall, arugula, nut brittle, and some orange peel. Not to mention lots of continued floral notes. Not hard to drink and balanced at cask strength.

This is amazing – but I can only imagine a batch version. As it is, you can tell it is more of a single barrel given the profile and doesn’t quite have the breadth of complexity in some lot. No 40s, but it makes up for it with emphasis and magnitude.

Score: 91/100

Value: N/A (not available on the market)


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 1st Edition

  • Bottling Code: 54SL24 L17200 EW13:27

  • Bottling Date: 2017

What a whisky! What a nose. This is definitely Lot no. 40, and exactly what you would expect – a lot of punch and flavor! Coincidentally, natural colour too. Rich: caramel, lilacs, loads of spices, dried fruits, apricot, brioche, lilacs, clove, nutmeg, icing sugar...it gets better with air. The palate has lilacs, loads of rye, dried apricot, patchouli, cedar, dried apricot, black tea – wow. This batched version is better than the barrels I have tasted. The finish is loaded with rye and oak, along with dried fruit (prunes, raisins, dried apricot), cumin, lemon zest, orange peel (dried), icing sugar, fresh spinach, and a touch of dill.

This batch smells older and a bit more developed than the lot no. 40 which is on shelves now, though I think I’ve had a bad batch in my last bottle – but this still smells a bit more mature than the lot no. 40s on shelves now.  If you like Lot no. 40 (at all), you should buy this. Amazing whisky.

Score: 94/100

Value: 98/100 (based on $70)


Review (2018)

  • Batch: Second Edition (11 Years Old; 58.4%)

  • Bottling Code: 54SL24 L18204 EW1325

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Very different than last year’s release (but still lot no. 40) - it came from a different bond, and each bond has different characteristics. It is very fruity – strawberries, cherries, plums, prunes, and green apple – but also with floral notes – lilac, spice, clove, loads of brown sugar and oak. There’s a nice caramelized nut characteristic too, verging on corn – like candied pecans or caramel popcorn. Rich, deep oak opens up as it sits. Gorgeous. The sweet nature of the oak really comes out too – it is a nice complement to the massiveness of the whisky everywhere else.

The palate is rich, oaky, fruity – tons of lilac and tons of spice. It’s what you expect from the nose – but the fresh fruit character, like strawberry jam that has just started to boil when you make it – is central and exceptional. Still, it’s tempered by loads of spice and oak. Really big, even with water added. Also, a bit less of a “grip” and movement on the palate compared with last year, even with a bit less ABV. But, still absolutely awesome.

Really nice tannins on the finish, and dries out really well. Spices slowly unfold, alongside dried fruit, green apple skins, and tannins. The more you drink, the bigger and better it gets. Lovely.

In comparison – last year’s release was more woody, richer, and heavier – and you get the full range of coconut and rich nut oils and black tea there which aren’t as big here. Think spicy/oaky /floral/fruity vs fruity/spicy/floral/oaky in terms of flavour impact. And the fruit is more vibrant – like fresh berries – vs say berry jam. This is still epic, but I liked the darker richer character last year – and it was a bit deeper.

Score: 92/100

Value: 85/100 (based on $100)


Review: Forty Creek Unity Limited Edition Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Forty Creek Unity.jpg
ABV
43%
Aging
4-10 yrs
Recipe
Blend of barley, corn, and rye whiskies
Distiller Forty Creek (Grimsby, Ontario)

One of my favourite times of the Canadian whisky calendar is when Forty Creek releases their annual special release. Perhaps more than with any other release, I don’t have any desire to rush my analysis because these releases have truly represented some of the best Canadian whisky has ever offered. There were a few years which I didn’t like as much, yet, generally, the whiskies coming from Forty Creek have been in contention for my favourite whiskies of the year. Last year’s heritage fell into that category – I really liked it, and Evolution (2013), Heart of Gold (2012), and the initial Confederation Oak special release are among my favourite Canadian whiskies ever.

This whisky was a blend selected by five Forty Creek fans from a variety of potential blends developed by Forty Creek’s whisky maker, Bill Ashburn.

The whiskies have followed something of a wine theme few years, with Evolution and the two portwood releases all being blended with wine (it worked well). This year, Forty Creek did use some wine, but in a different way. The same style of wine used to make the barrels for the Portwood releases was added directly to the blend, being added in a small quantity directly to the whisky. Chemically, this is no different than the effect a short finish of a few months, as a “finish” is just the diffusion of the liquid soaked in the barrels into the whisky within the barrel (unless the maturation time is more than a few months, at which point actual aging effects from a different wood can take place). The whisky is made from a 4 year old sub-blend which was then matured further in a barrel with mocha staves. To this was added a 10 year corn whisky and a touch of 15 year old starboard wine.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: Lot 012

  • Bottling Code: BG/GG17176

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Terrific nose: Rich, nutty port notes and tannic red wine, hazlenuts, sharp rye spices I don’t see often in contemporary Canadian whiskies but rather older spicy ones, chocolate, toffee, and a light oiliness. I love the oaky, spicy house style of Forty Creek – it is present in all their whiskies and it is great. The nose develops over several minutes (impressive) before fading out. We also get wine gums, dried cherries, and green pear.

The palate is spicy and rich, and slightly oily in a similar manner to Forty Creek Copper Pot. However, it has a really nice subtle port influence and the finish has a developing wine influence with a good kick of oxidized wine. Very rich, with light earthiness too – the richness seems to grow as you drink more, which is great for both the analytical and casual enjoyment of this – it is gripping. Some of the youth isn’t ironed out, but I don’t mind – I find quality distillates are enjoyable, even younger than others might be in order to be similarly enjoyable.

White pepper on the finish, orange peel, toffee, tannins, toasted oak, prunes, almonds, and Ferrero rocher.

Too bad I don’t have a portwood to compare to. It would be quite an interesting comparison, I expect. The nose has complexity but not the depth of the best Forty Creeks – but I am now being perhaps overly critical – the benchmark has been set very high. Great stuff, and some of the best stuff in the past few years (but…don’t forget Confederation Oak – it’s always around, and it’s often better than the special release and the best thing on the shelves…).

I should note that I have liked the portwood releases less than some of my esteemed friends with good palates, so readers may like the wine integration more than me. It’s worth noting that Davin De Kergommeaux rated this a 93, very highly, and Blair Phillips a 92, similarly highly. I trust their ratings and palates, so I put that as an aside to those who have liked the more wine-driven Forty Creeks - you will probably like this. However, I also liked Evolution more than most of those friends, so maybe it’s not only the wine…

It took me a long time to grade this. That’s always a good thing - it means it could have gone a lot higher - rating whisky is more than a linear scale. Highly recommended if you like to analyze, assess, and savour whiskies - this is very entertaining.

Score: 87/100

Value: 71/100 (based on $75)


Review: Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
43%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
Blend of rye, corn, and barley whiskies
Distiller Forty Creek (Grimsby, Ontario)

Whisky is a fascinating process, packed with flavour, partially because of the amount of time it takes to make whisky. Not only does whisky spend years in a barrel, the flavour for whisky really starts with the wood – which takes years upon years to form before being put into a barrel. This whisky pays homage to that fact in name as the trees from which the barrels come were around 150 years old – meaning that they started to grow in the 1860s – sometime around the time of the Canadian Confederation, which was the process by which Canada was formed into an independent nation in 1867. Hence, it is called “Confederation Oak”, and the the batches are labeled 1867.

John Hall, the whisky maker at Forty Creek, always wanted to see what whisky would taste like which is aged in Canadian Oak, as most whisky is aged in either American or European oak – different species which yield different flavours. Canadian oak is still the same species as American oak, but, because of the harsher winters it tends to be more dense resulting in a slightly different chemical composition interacting with the whisky. At present, this is the only whisky aged in Canadian oak.

Sourcing Canadian oak was not easy, and it happened nearly by accident – John Hall noticed some trees being cut down near the distillery, and went over and ended up buying the three trees. 90 barrels were made out of the trees, and, if my memory serves me correctly, the staves made from the oak were air-dried for 2 full years before being dry enough to make into a barrel. The trees were taken down to the US and made into barrels by the same supplier which makes most of the barrels used to make Kentucky Bourbon. John Hall says they are perhaps the most expensive barrels ever produced with all the work he had to put into them.

This whisky is made in line with the Forty Creek process, with aged, single grain barley, rye, and corn whiskies being blended together before being finished in the Canadian oak barrels for two years.


Review (2015)

  • Batch: 1867

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2010

Here is a legend of a Canadian whisky, near impossible to find now- the first batch of Forty Creek Confederation Oak. It was the first whisky to be matured in Canadian oak in the modern era, and was originally a limited release from Forty Creek before it was put into regular production. This sample was graciously sent to me by a friend, who gave me the last half oz of his bottle (#548) which had been open more than 4 years, so oxygen has done some work on this, but here is the review of the sample.

Nose: Caramel, toasted oak, vanilla, woody earthiness, dried corn maple, and some fruity elements as well. It evolves to show more nuttiness, maple, and lots of dried fruits with a sherry-influenced feel.

Taste: So syrupy - maple syrup dominates the palate, and the feel is very syrupy and mouthcoating - as if you are drinking oil which coats the mouth and lingers a bit. Toasted oak, candied orange, cinnamon, milk chocolate, nutmeg, clove, and a lingering sweet, dry, vanilla-tinged spiciness at the end. Fabulous creamy mouthfeel - magnificent. Being open so long certainly can't have brought too much disintegration to this whisky. On the palate, one of the best I have ever tasted from the feel to the complex layering of flavour.

Finish: Fabulous mouthcoating feel. Largely vanilla, spices, and oak, though there is more subtlety bringing in other elements - it lingers very nicely. Elegant.

There aren't too many canadian whiskies that I would describe as "elegant", a sublime whisky put together well and with a great mouthfeel, integration, and subtlety - but this is definitely one. Fabulous stuff from Forty Creek. This is a bottle I would have loved to have in reserve. The confederation oak series has changed batch to batch, but this one is pretty magnificent. This, along with batch B, are both stuff of legend.

Score: 95/100

Value: 99/100 (based on $70)


Review (2013)

  • Batch: 1867-B

  • Bottling Code: 31A12 13:01:15

  • Bottling Date: ~2012

Nose: The nose is complex, and multifaceted – there appears to be a grain, cream, fruit, sweet, wood, and spice component all in this one nose, brilliantly integrated together. On the grain side, rye shines through brilliantly, with a fresh bread element – like fresh and hot rye bread. The rye is slighly grassy, reminding me a bit of a an irish pot still type grassiness. On the cream side, there’s wonderful creamy butterscotch and brilliant sweetness in the nose. The creaminess is fascinating – there’s butterscotch, whipped cream, caramel, and vanilla all shining through. On the sweet side, there’s honey, with some floral hints of lavender, and maple, which takes its place ahead of the oak that is present in the nose as well. In terms of spice, there is slight, subtle cinnamon spice and some pepper. I also get some stewed, slightly sour fruit like apricots or plums along with a bit of tartness as with blackberries.The nose evolves, with a bit more smokiness and fruitiness coming out as it sits and I incredibly enjoy appreciating all that is going on. It’s wonderful too, that it changes as you continue to sip through the bottle. On this, my third evaluative tasting, navel orange peel is rising like mad out of the glass. An absolute pleasure.

Taste: Silky smooth, with sweet citrus entry with some orange, as rising rye spice is balanced with beautiful vanilla sweetness which gives way to more vanilla and some nuts. A bit oaky as well, not too much, but just enough. it’s fruity, sometimes even showing some brandy character, as well as some raisins – a touch of a fruitcake comes in at times. A touch smoky, with the signature forty creek toasted oak present in the middle. The sweet/spice dynamic is brilliant, and the fruitiness is just about perfect to compliment the two. And even with that, there’s some intriguing tartness.

Finish: Long, slow, tingly, warming, slightly dry, and sweet. Very pleasant – you can chew on the flavour for some time. A bit earthy, with good depth and some maple syrup, nuts, vanilla, and some grassy rye. The tingly spice is also brilliant, with a touch of clove, and it is one of my favourite mouth experiences. Also, the tartness is also ever so slightly present just asking you to take another sip. As I sip, I find the finish has a bit more and more oak.

Hugely enjoyable with a fantastic (and approachable) flavour profile and brilliant balance. The soft, sweet flavours sit beside the spicy and bolder flavours, and a remarkable amount is going on. This is one of my absolute favourite Canadians.

Score: 95/100

Value: 99/100 (based on $70)


Review (2015)

  • Batch: 1867-C

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2013

Nose: Showing some bourbon-like creamy vanilla notes, some different profiles of oak - musty, toasted, and charred - light rancio, and some fatty corn. Complex, and well integrated, but lacking some of the multi-dimensionality of the best Confederation Oak releases. A bit of light fruit (like grape) emerge as it sits, too.

Taste: Classic smooth delivery, with good viscosity in the mouth and a balance of sweet and spice. Toasted oak, citrus, and a spicy underbelly to this one, and light acidity once again doing some good work to hold everything together. The spice, in fact, I like in this - but it makes it less elegant than some of the releases. As might be expected, the palate finishes off with a touch of nuttiness.

Finish: Vanilla and oak come through at first, with some tingling spice (clove and dried ginger) and citrus and a very light bitterness, but not one that detracts much - perhaps more like a strong tea than a bitter coffee. Lightly creamy as well.

Conclusion: Interesting - this release seems a bit more driven by the grain than any of the other Confederation Oak releases that I have tasted - Batch D seemed more cask driven, and Batch B and F had a better balance between them (the better releases, in my opinion).

Score: 87/100

Value: 74/100 (based on $70)


Review (2015)

  • Batch: 1867-D

  • Bottling Code: 21D14 09:42:33

  • Bottling Date: ~2014

Nose: Sweet, with light corn and some rich, buttery maple notes too which continue to grow with time. Vanilla, also, emerges with time. It still holds the signature toasted oak, baked bread, and lightly earthy characteristics which are prevalent in Forty Creek. There is a touch of stale bitterness here, unfortunately. Still quite a complex offering but it doesn’t fit together as it should.

Taste: Rich and sweet, with grape and vanilla – but not that spicy or sharp. Toasted oak notes and tannins are felt, and some of that oakiness is quite rich. The light acidity also keeps it nicely in check. Delivery is quite nice, but here the balance is such that the sweetness is a tad too high, I think. Still controlled, and long though – it draws out the flavours nicely.

Finish: There is lots going on – vanilla, oak, currants, dried fruit, coconut some tingly spices…a bit dry with touches of tannin too and a bit of bitterness. The bitterness doesn’t help, and it’s not singing in harmony, though the feel is good.

Frankly, I’ve been quite surprised at this. It’s still quite nice – but it shows flashes of brilliance with some awkward bits rather than just being brilliant, as I’ve seen from this bottling before.

Score: 86/100

Value: 69/100 (based on $70)


Review (2015; Blind)

  • Batch: 1867-F

  • Bottling Code: 4G/DF29226

  • Bottling Date: 2015

Nose: Fresh oak, vanilla, and creamed corn along with some underlying nuttiness. The nose is quite sweet, and evolves to more maple. The nose has more oak than some of the previous confed oak releases - batch D at the least. Slight acidity too - there is a good amount of complexity for those who are willing to take time with this.

Taste: A nice, rounded mouthfeel. On top, maple with some underpinning toasted oak, caramel, spices, and dried fruit. It's more oaky and less fruity than some of the previous confed oak releases.  The texture is very intriguing - both syrupy on top and dry and spicy underneath, and ever so lightly creamy, along with a very light tannic structure. It still has a berry fruitiness to it - like raspberries. caramel. Quite elegant, but at times a touch simple - yet excellent, overall.

Finish: An evolving dry and spicy finish, with some orange rind, clove, raw almond, butterscotch, vanilla, and a decent amount of body and weight.  There's some berry-like fruitiness in here, with soft raspberry influences which lifts the finish up pretty well. Lightly creamy too, with the raspberry it is a bit like a campino candy.

The nose, unfortunately, is a bit restrained, but the palate does make up for that. Good to see quality coming out of the new casks at Forty Creek. Having been slightly dissapointed with batch D, it's good to see that the quality is not simply declining.

Score: 87/100

Value: 74/100 (based on $70)


Review (2017)

  • Batch: I

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Baking potato (i.e. earthiness), pencil shavings, vanilla, light oak, vanilla, and lots of classic dry Canadian spices – nutmeg, clove – and a light oily character too. Develops really nicely – older oxidation notes come through. Well worth pondering – I quite enjoy it, the most of the past 3 years of confederation oaks that I’ve tried. The palate brings forth floral notes, a dry spicy character, and a light bitterness on the end. A nice finish with waves of spices and vanilla. Really nice dried fruit, too. I do like the toasted oak house style, as I’ve said many times before…

It’s hard to put a finger on this one. The last few years haven’t given us what the first few years have supplied.

Score: 88/100

Value: 78/100 (based on $70)


Review: Forty Creek Double Barrel Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
Blend of rye, corn, and barley whiskies
Distiller Forty Creek (Grimsby, Ontario)

This whisky was originally a special release of Forty Creek, but is now a part of their regular line. Every year John Hall, the whisky maker, drives down to Kentucky to hand-pick the bourbon barrels that go into this whisky – and he doesn’t accept just any old cask – it must match the profile he wants. In the style of forty creek whiskies, the barley, rye, and corn are distilled and aged separately in different casks, and then married together and combined into a bourbon barrel. The bourbon barrels are sourced from a number of different distilleries in Kentucky (not Wild Turkey, as many assume - they are both owned by Campari).


Review (2013)

  • Batch: Lot 240

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2013

Nose: It’s forty creek with a bourbon edge! there is the Forty Creek signature toasted oak, alongside bourbon aromas of earthy corn, dried apricot, and caramel. Honey and rye comes through very nicely, as well. A nice graininess comes through as well, reminding me of white flour and oats, and, interestingly, hot green pepper.

Taste: The bourbon flavours make up the base to this one, upon which sit rye, toasted oak, vanilla, a slight sweetness, and cinnamon, a touch of clove, and warm spiciness. There are some dried fruits as well – raisins, prunes, and dried apricots. The toasted oak and wonderful subtle sweetness and spiciness is still present, and is wonderful. There are some strawberry notes too.

Finish: Dried fruits slowly fade to a slightly dry spiciness and oakiness. Nice mouthfeel as well, with the whisky coating the inside of the mouth and slowly breaking down as well.

The bourbon cask wonderfully complements the forty creek style, and the style is still very much present – the cask does not overwhelm it at all. However, it’s not as deep or as rich as some of the other releases (and I find the price point a little difficult when it’s so much cheaper to go with copper pot or barrel select, which are both fabulous whiskies).

Score: 84/100

Value: 67/100 (based on $60)


Review (2015; Blind)

  • Batch: Lot 258

  • Bottling Code: 4G\DII5313 09:38:29

  • Bottling Date: 2015

The nose is interesting and complex with vanilla, caramel, milk chocolate, vanilla, almonds and fresh oak with a bit of a chemical solvent-like backdrop. Some beautiful bourbon casks here. On the palate, the oily youth of the spirit comes through, though the backdrop is quite good. The grains, the spices, the wood, are all nicely balanced but just need a bit more time together - the whisky is brimming with potential but for a bit more time in the barrel.

Score: 79/100

Value: 55/100 (based on $60)


Review (2016)

  • Batch: Lot 256

  • Bottling Code: 27J14 13:10:16

  • Bottling Date: ~2015

A dominant, clear, first impression of toffee - also creamy and lightly earthy, with nutty notes, the classic Forty Creek toasted oak, maple, cacao - complex and full on the palate but still showing too much youth on the corn whisky in this batch for me. Otherwise, well integrated and very delicious, with some fabulous spice in the mix too. The finish is creamy, and full – very nice.

Score: 85/100

Value: 71/100 (based on $60)


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Dry and spicy, with coconut, clove, prune, toasted oak, and a rich underlying grain character. The palate has a rich, oily base which carries lots of toffee, dried apples, and a variety of classic baking spices and brown sugar. Nicely distillate driven, but still too raw and young. I do like the classic Forty Creek characteristic which comes through – the toasted oak, yet it is different than the other expressions (nicely so).

Score: 81/100

Value: 61/100 (based on $55)


Review: Forty Creek Barrel Select Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
Blend of rye, corn, and barley whiskies
Distiller Forty Creek (Grimsby, Ontario)

“Barrel select”, the flagship rye of Forty Creek, is so named because no two barrels of whisky taste the same – each are hand selected. Some young barrels taste “older”, and some older barrels taste “younger”, depending on the barrel, even in a climate controlled warehouse. Barrel select is formed from single grain whiskies typically 6-10 years old, after which time they are blended and further aged in a sherry cask.


Review (2013)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2013

Nose: Quite the nose! Spicy rye, vanilla, marmelade, and a very distinctive toasted oak smell. A bit of lighter tropical fruit, almost like guavas. Oak also comes through, with heavy vanilla notes and caramel. The spiciness in the rye is very inviting. Additionally, it’s quite creamy, with scents of buttercream. The vanilla, the rye, the toasted oak are all quite prominent and well balanced. Black currants, plums, and orange peel are also to be found lift the nose to be fresh and light – in some ways, the fruitiness is reminiscent of port wine. Cinnamon is present in the nose too, which builds as it sits…

Taste: Slightly viscous, with a dry rye spice build up, which dies down and subsides to vanilla and a reasonably complex grain taste and toasted wood. In the middle, malt seems to come a tiny bit forward with a bit of a grassy note, and creaminess from corn also comes in. Fruity, with a bit of a sherry note, and a few dried berries seem to emerge at the end with some of that marmelade from the nose. The spices tingle slightly at the end, with touches of clove and ginger. The toasted oak plays center stage, with the rye vying heavily for it. The sweetness is at a great level, I think too, for this whisky – just enough, but not too much for the profile.

Finish: A bit dry…light with a bit of rye and the oak, but it’s not very complex or engaging. I find that as I drink more the spices come out a bit more, which I certainly don’t mind, with come cinnamon and ginger and white pepper. A bit of the creaminess comes through as well, as well as a bit of black currant after some time…I did hope for a bit more than this after the nose and taste.

Great for the value; with a beautiful nose, enjoyable and complex taste, a bit of a lacking finish. Very enjoyable, and incredible value – good to sip and also good to mix. Additionally, I have to say, the flavour profile of Barrel Select is just about perfect for a rye and coke, and is my rye of choice for the drink as the flavour does not get lost or forgotten, but still wonderfully complements the coke.

Score: 81/100

Value: 73/100 (based on $28)


Review (2015; Blind)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2015

Oakleads the way - slightly musty and earthy, with some clove and almond and some vanilla, coffee cake, butter icing playing about subtly in the background. The grain and spice balances out the oak quite well. Cacao on the palate, with a bit of saccharin sweetness, and some maple in the mix too. A bit of rising spice at the end, which adds nicely to everything.

Score: 80/100

Value: 71/100 (based on $28)


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: AEG297279 09:58

  • Bottling Date: ~2016

It’s been too long since I’ve reviewed a nice portion of this - this was from a 200 ml bottle. I had a batch that tasted quite young last year, so I was curious to see how this one fared since that might have been a botched taste (I had a cold at the time).

Toffee, toasted oak, nice corn husks, and some rich malted barley come off the nose along with some green grassy spices. The palate leads with toffee, old oak, vanilla, and some tingling clove and cinnamon on the finish. Though I’ve had my issues with the more expensive bottling of Forty Creek the last few years (special releases and double barrel) – this is still terrific whisky. The full finish develops with tannins and spices.

Not as complex, but I’d still take a bottling of this over the past two special releases at Forty Creek. Did this get better or change? No…I just don’t think I got it right the last few years.

Score: 83/100

Value: 79/100 (based on $28)


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Toasted oak, prune, green pear, maple, and clove on the nose. The palate reveals oily grain, prunes, dried apricot, and some lettuce. Light tanginess on the finish makes it quite intriguing. The whisky has medium body, but a nice middle of dried fruits and spice which bring things together nicely.

Score: 81/100

Value: 74/100 (based on $29)


Review: Westland Garryana American Single Malt Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

 Image courtesy of Westland Distillery.

Image courtesy of Westland Distillery.

ABV
56%
Aging
American Oak and Garry Oak; 4 years old
Recipe
100% Malted Barley (5 malts)
Distiller Westland (Seattle, Washington)

Westland is obsessed with portraying the land they live on - the pacific northwest, and part of their journey to being authentic to their landscape was to investigate the local Garry oak, a rich and rarely used style of oak which was first used for wine but was too powerful. Rather than release single Garryana casks, Westland decided to blend around the powerful wood to showcase different elements it displays. At first I was dissapointed, wanting to taste the unique wood directly - but as soon as I did, I understood, and now I can taste it come out differently in all of the Garryana blends.

When I visited Westland, I asked Matt Hoffman, the master distiller, and Steve Hawley, marketing director what was in Garryana 3.1. They both laughed, said it was complicated, and wouldn't give me an answer. Shane, their blender, finally let me in, and I understood why the others skirted the question...

It is a blend of 7 casks, with a bit less than 1700 bottles produced. It is Shane's version of the original vatting of Garryana, blended by Matt Hoffman, which was never released. The original recipe had been vatted with about 20% Garry oak amidst other cask types, but rather than being released, it was put back into the barrels that they came from. Of these 10 or 11 casks, 4 were pulled out for this blend - 2 Garry oak and 2 ex-bourbon. These were then vatted with 1 washington malt ex-bourbon cask, 1 peated new oak, and 1 five-malt recipe matured in new oak. The youngest whisky in the blend is 51 months (4.25 yrs) and the oldest is 58 months (4.8 yrs).

Bottled non-chill filtered and without caramel colouring.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: 3.1

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Garry oak is so intense – and I like intense whiskies – so I was always curious why they blended this until I tasted a straight garry oak whisky. It is intense. If you water this down, you can taste the garry oak – it is quite central – rich toffee, buckwheat soba noodles, molasses, and a deep spiciness – that’s the garry oak. It is very balanced, and broader than the first two releases – the first which was focused more on the phenolic, smoky elements of garryana and the second on dried fruit. This does it all - wood, smoke, malt, roasted malt, and a complex finish.

The nose brings together a lot - white grape, white oak, dried cherry, dried apricot, toffee, burning conifers, and an umami characteristic like a subtle soy sauce. The palate has light licorice, hickory smoke, roasted lemon, toffee, an incredible woodiness, clove, and jam too – quince, apricot, peach. The finish is drying, spicy, smoky, and still full of stone fruit jams. Cacao, too – and a nice flash of garry oak!

This is complex, awesome stuff. One of my favourite American whiskies I’ve tasted of late, both delicious and extremely interesting.

Score: 89/100

Value: 18/100 (based on $200)


Review: Westland Garryana Single Cask American Single Malt Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
N/A
Aging
New Garry Oak
Recipe
100% Malted Barley (5 malts)
Distiller Westland (Seattle, Washington)

Here is a rarity - Westland matures a lot of their whiskey in Garry oak, but blends it into their limited releases rather than release it straight. I understand why - this is intense! However, I graciously was able to try this. It may well get blended into a future garryana release.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: Cask 2951

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: N/A

Now this is quite something! While I have heard that garryana oak is quite unique, I’ve never been able to taste a straight garry oak whisky! It is rich and thickly woody – sweet wood, caramel, toffee, nutmeg, almond, and a rubbery sort of phenolic character. It’s not smoky, to me, but it’s like smoke. Dried orange, dried papaya, dried mango, candied mandarin, buckwheat – it’s still a bit young, but this is very complex and very interesting! It’s no wonder garry oak didn’t work well for wine – you’d need a massive wine to tame this beast!

The finish is also fascinating – it is woody, but very different than what I’ve tasted before – as if the vanilla has been replaced with toffee, or perhaps dulce de leche, and the clove notes are more along the lines of the smoky elements of brown cardamom. I was also expecting it to be more tannic – but perhaps the good dose of seasoning has dealt with that!

I love nosing this stuff...wow. This is amazing rich stuff, but not quite complete on its own – it’s no wonder that they blend it! It would be marvellous as part of a blend.

Score: 84/100

Value: N/A


Review: Westland Amaretto Cask American Single Malt Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
50%
Aging
Amaretto Cask
Recipe
100% Malted Barley (5 malts)
Distiller Westland (Seattle, Washington)

I got a sample of this while I was at the distillery and was astounded. I tasted lots at the distillery, but this was my favourite, and I would never have thought it would work so well. The Amaretto comes from the Sons of Vancouver distillery.

Bottled non-chill filtered and without caramel colouring.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: Cask N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: N/A

What a nose! Lightly smoky, with dried cherries, charred oak, pencil shavings, chili, and a slight almost rubbery note. I really like this stuff – it’s a fascinating nose – unique and not at all what I was expecing, which was a whisky that was loaded with almond. I discovered after the fact that this is in part due to the fact that Sons of Vancouver’s amaretto isn’t loaded with almond – it’s made with apricots, bourbon vanilla beans, orange peel, and demerrera and blackberry honey. The palate follows from the nose, with a light dry-ness to it and some very nice smoke integrated in, along with a growing earthiness. This is fantastic! The finish has cherries, apricot, oak, spice, and candied orange. The smoke/earthiness that is integrated in so well to the fruit (quite rare) is so intriguing and works so beautifully – this is one of my favourite whiskies tasted this year. The smoke battling the apricot on the eventual end of the whisky is amazing.

The finish is nice, but not long enough – and it is, perhaps, a touch too sweet – but I expect this could easily be eased with a bit of blending.

I would buy a few of these, and there aren’t many whiskies in the world which I’ll commit to like that.

Score: 91/100

Value: N/A


Review: Westland Eureka Cask American Single Malt Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
56%
Aging
34 Months; PX Sherry Cask
Recipe
100% Malted Barley (5 malts)
Distiller Westland (Seattle, Washington)

I tried this bottle and really liked it, because it is so deeply sherried. The flavour is mostly from the cask, but this is a nice sherry cask! It was bottled exclusively for Eureka burger.

Bottled non-chill filtered and without caramel colouring.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: Cask 311

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

I really liked this cask, just because it is so deeply sherried. Loads of sweet rancio, dried fruit, baking spices, and honey. It’s quite cask driven, but there is some roasted rice and soy notes too – when you dig deeper into these you start to see the grain bill of westland poking through nicely. It seems very asian-style to me, with buckwheat noodles and five-spice coming in beside the rice and soy. The palate follows on from the nose, with rich sherry notes. It doesn’t vary much from the nose, except a bit more defined spice character and pronounced sugar caramel. It’s quite cask driven, but it’s nice sherry, and a nice cask, and sometimes that’s just what I’m in the mood for.

Score: 85/100

Value: N/A