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

Forty Creek Unity.jpg
4-10 yrs
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.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average. A reasonable price for a whisky this good.