Review: Forty Creek 22 Year Old Rye Whisky / by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Forty Creek.

Image courtesy of Forty Creek.

22 yrs
100% Rye
Distiller Forty Creek (Grimsby, Ontario)

This is a real rarity, and a real “limited edition” - only 102 bottles made. Furthermore - it is in rarefied territory - a 100% rye whisky over 20 years old. So far, there are only a few in recent memory - the dazzling Alberta Premium 25 year old and 30 year old whiskies, and the Collingwood 21 Year Old - all very distinguished bottlings. It was a pet project of Forty Creek’s chief Whisky Maker Bill Ashburn, who carried all the grain to the fermenter, pot distilled the lot, and selected the barrels - even hand bottling each of them himself! When it was distilled, John Hall and Bill Ashburn didn’t think it was very good, but a long time in the barrel did some real good! This whisky won the 2019 Canadian Whisky Awards, beating out over 100 other whiskies as part of a non-profit whisky competition judged blind by a panel of 10 people.

These notes are from my sample as part of judging the Canadian Whisky Awards, so no, the bottle hasn’t been released yet - I know many have been eagerly awaiting its release.

Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

This is quite unlike any Forty Creeks I’ve ever tasted. It’s very grainy, with a rich fruitiness – licorice, fennel seed, rye oatmeal – and a very rich oak character. We also have banana, rhubarb, spice cake, red river cereal, and rich oak. Awesome complexity, with both a subtle earthiness and creaminess which add significant intrigue.

The palate is clean, with oak, loads of rich rye, sharp spice and dried fruit, and a slightly drying, tannic finish full of spices and grain. There is a terrific size to the grain here, and fascinating notes of chilli pepper and roasted grain throughout – not to mention rye-heavy bread loaves. The whisky, throughout, has a great sense of umami. The finish has oak, dusty earth, mixed dried fruits (including prune, raisin, and dried apricot) and more sharp spices like fennel and white pepper. If you’ve ever had a rye loaf full of whole wheat rye - sharp, spicy, and earthy – this is similar.

In my blind tasting, I actually mistook this for a micro distillery product (it’s similar to North of 7) because of the rich grain focus and sharp spice, which most big distilleries don’t do in the same way – but this has a terrific depth to it, and the roundness and intrigue of the entire product is just fantastic. One of my favourite Forty Creeks of all time, vying for greatness alongside the best of Forty Creek (indeed, some of the best of Canadian whisky): early batches of Confederation Oak, Heart of Gold, and Evolution. Just brilliant.

Very Highly Recommended (16% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). It’s great to see Forty Creek release more spectacular liquid.

Value: Low. While it is true that it is extremely hard to find rye whiskies above 20 years old (near impossible), $225 means that the whisky has to be near perfect - to me. This is excellent, but there are better value buys.