Forty Creek Forges Ahead / by Jason Hambrey

The first whisky over $50 that I purchased was a Forty Creek Portwood reserve from 2012. I had just gotten interested in exploring whisky. At the time, Forty Creek was defying expectations regarding the Canadian whisky ceiling, releasing highly-lauded releases that raised the eyebrows of critics all over the world.

I convinced 3 friends to buy a bottle of Portwood together. We went to the whisky weekend at Forty Creek distillery, waited in line to get our bottle signed by John Hall, and we cracked the bottle that night - to our delight.

However, I didn’t really appreciate the best of Forty Creek until I tried Heart of Gold, the 2013 special release. Heart of Gold, to this day, contains one of the most unique and special portrayals of rye as part of a blend. Then, in 2014, Evolution was released and, with it, the nose I have found unmatched in any whisky I’ve had since. Every year, I wait for Forty Creek to dazzle me – to this day. While some releases are better than others, it’s hard to argue with the fact that every special release represents some of the most complex Canadian whisky.

Since Evolution, some of the releases weren’t up my alley. Even John Hall’s last pre-retirement release, Three Grain Harmony – the tenth of the series. Though I found it immensely complex, it was different than previous releases and I didn’t like it. In fact, I didn’t finish the bottle.  The next year, with Three Grain Harmony, I again didn’t finish a bottle of it. I wrote: “Unique, as often with the Forty Creek releases, but this time it is missing the usual mark of really high quality.”

My faith started to wane in one of the hallmarks of Canadian whisky, the annual Forty Creek release. I kept wanting to go back to releases in the older style, and got fixated on the “old Forty Creek”. To an extent, it dimmed my understanding of what Forty Creek had started – developing a new style, very in-line with the demands of the modern palate: big, brash, oaky, and fruity. After Three Grain Harmony, Heritage was memorable and delicious release in 2016. Since then, Forty Creek has focused on oak-forward, wine-forward releases the last number of years. They’ve actually been quite good.

I initially resisted liking them, always yearning to revisit my initial days of whisky appreciation. But, I think, this year I understand. They are releasing new, unique, complex whiskies – but of a different sort. Big, brash whiskies – untamed on their own – but sparred against the dominating character of new oak and wine. Is it what it was? No. But is it bad? Not at all – give Resolve a try. And, from what we know from Forty Creek’s history – the ceiling can continue to be pushed.

And if anyone thinks that Forty Creek cannot hearken back to their roots, crack open a Three Grain 20th Anniversary edition. It’s in a very similar profile as the original bottle – but the whisky is better.