Forty Creek

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

Image courtesy of Forty Creek.

Image courtesy of Forty Creek.

ABV
43%
Aging
22 yrs
Recipe
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.


The Best Canadian Cream Whiskies by Jason Hambrey

Ceili’s photo courtesy of Highwood Distillers. Forty Creek Cream Photo courtesy of Forty Creek Distillery.

Part of my duty as a judge of the Canadian Whisky Awards is to judge flavored whiskies, which I don’t love - but I do genuinely enjoy the cream whiskies that come as a part of the group. Here are a few of my favourite Canadian cream whiskies. It didn’t take me long to realize that, as prominent (and delicious) as Bailey’s is – there are better options available in the Canadian market.

Ceili’s Signature Irish Cream

This is produced by highwood distillers, and is my favourite Canadian cream liquer. It is simple, but it does perfectly what it should – provide a thick, creamy product with a delicious centre that is enjoyable. It’s made with Canadian whisky and imported Irish cream, which is know for being floral and rich compared to other creams due to the diet of Irish dairy cows. Last year, it was the Canadian whisky of the year in the flavored category – it has won other awards as well. It is creamy, and nutty with pecans, praline, milk chocolate, brown sugar, and toffee. It has a wonderful creamy centre surrounded by caramel – a terrific sipper over ice or companion to hot chocolate or coffee. It entered 2 of the last 3 Canadian Whisky Awards, and each time was my favorite.

Forty Creek Cream

This was introduced a few years ago and is the most complex of the Canadian cream whiskies, and a very good sipper and mixer. It took home the 2017, 2015 and 2014 canadian flavoured whisky of the year. However, the complexity makes it a little less versatile because of the nutty, caramel, and coffee characteristics that can loom large. It is creamy and nutty, with Ferrero rocher, hazelnut skins, milk chocolate, and slight baking spice. It actually displays a flash of Forty Creek brilliance, which I quite like.

Gretzky cream

This is made with Gretzky No. 99 Whisky and fresh ontario cream. Nutty (hazlenuts), very creamy – with a rich rising cream coming through towards the finish. A clean, smooth finish full of cream and light wood spice.It has a terrific dairy characteristic at its core that you don’t always see in cream whiskies. The finish is smooth, sweet, creamy, and a bit spicy.

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.

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.


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.

Exceptional (3% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date receive this, my highest recommendation).

Value: Very High. For a whisky this good, 70$ makes this a terrific value in terms of typical whisky prices for exceptional whisky.


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.

Exceptional (3% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date receive this, my highest recommendation).

Value: Very High. For a whisky this good, 70$ makes this a terrific value in terms of typical whisky prices for exceptional whisky.


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).

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

Value: Average. A nice price (70$) for a nice whisky.


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.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average. A nice price (70$) for a nice whisky.


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.

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

Value: Average. A nice price (70$) for a nice whisky.


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.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average. A nice price (70$) for a nice whisky.


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).

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average. About par for the course for a whisky like this, in terms of value ($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.

Value: Average. This batch is sub-par, but it isn’t terribly expensive either in whisky terms (60$) and competes with a lot of Scotch whiskies at this price level (granted, Scotch is the worst bang for your buck in whisky).


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.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average. About par for the course for a whisky like this, in terms of value. ($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).

Value: Average. This batch is sub-par, but it isn’t terribly expensive either in whisky terms (60$) and competes with a lot of Scotch whiskies at this price level (granted, Scotch is the worst bang for your buck in whisky).


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.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average. A pretty good sub-$30 whisky.


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.

Value: Average. A pretty good sub-$30 whisky.


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.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High. I liked this batch more than usual (only slightly, one or two percentage points) but that’s enough to propel a sub $30 whisky into a high value category.


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.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average. A pretty good sub-$30 whisky.


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

Forty Creek Heritage 2.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
3-5 yrs; Finished in American virgin toasted oak
Recipe
Blend of barley, corn, and rye whiskies
Distiller Forty Creek (Grimsby, Ontario)

The new limited edition from Forty Creek, made in the model of the old Forty Creek Small Batch - their first in the line of a very impressive set of special releases - only 6000 bottles were produced, and many people thought it was similar to a bourbon in style. The 40 Creek master blender wanted to revisit that flavor profile, and spent months blending to attain something similar - finishing the whisky in heavily toasted (not charred) casks, which apparently maintains more of the barrel spices without the sweetness since the charring would tend to bring out the caramels. There is a trend these days at finishing in new oak, but it's usually heavily charred not just heavily toasted - so let's take a look!


Review (2017)

  • Batch: Lot 011

  • Bottling Code: 4G/EF282S4 13:20:36

  • Bottling Date: 2017

The nose has loads of toffee notes, alongside fresh white oak – also cinnamon, grape, orange peel, semolina pasta, browned butter, caramel, rising sourdough (I love this note), white rice, and toasted oak – very much Forty Creek. The notes are rich, and interesting – not bad. The palate is big, buttery, and full of spice and toffee – and, again, slightly sour with a slight rancio character almost as if some sort of oxidized wine was in the mix. Great bready notes and oiliness. The finish has nice browned butter, caramel, toffee, licorice root (not licorice candy), old world pinot noir, and white pepper. Very nice – one of the best things to come from Forty Creek in the past few years. I’m really happy with this release – last year was a bit of a dissapointment, as was the year before – but they’re back at it, and it’s good. Terrific fall whisky.

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.


Review: Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
43%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
A blend of 100% rye, corn, and malted barley whiskies
Distiller Forty Creek (Grimsby, Ontario)

This whisky came out in 2012, and since then has become one of my favourites and my pick of choice in general for my staple Canadian whisky – largely because of the incredible flavour and price. Forty Creek Barrel Select, though also a wonderful whisky, sits a few dollars below Copper Pot….and I think it is worth paying every cent of that extra for this version.

Copper Pot is created with a blend of single grain rye, malt, and corn whiskies which are then blended together and re-barreled before bottling. Copper Pot comes in at 43%, higher than the nearly ubiquitous 40% for Canadian whiskies – which much better suits this whisky.


Review (2012)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2012

Nose: Much bolder than the barrel select; the signature forty creek toasted oak comes forth, alongside port, ginger, cinnamon, vanilla, raisins. It’s fairly complex – even with a touch of mint and a sense of some sweetness! Caramel develops as the glass airs. I find I also get traces of chocolate and a bit of earthiness, and even a few wisps of smoke.

Taste: Fairly smooth citrus entry with some good nice oakiness (lots of toasted oak!). Spicy rye builds up followed by a vanilla fade followed by warming dry rye once again. The whole whisky has a bit of a port wine feel to it also. The whisky also can seem to change as you drink it, as if you are drinking a different one every time. Toasted oak, cloves, honey, and a bit of nuttiness also feature. There’s some good underlying sweetness throughout as well, and pretty nice mouthfeel as well…quite brilliant.

Finish: A long dry lingering spicy rye finish, with some nuttiness and a touch of grape juice. Eventually the spice dies down to vanilla, particularly if one drinks some water after. After some time there is even some black olive coming through…which to me is a manifestation and development of some of the earthiness found in the nose.

Very good (especially for the price!). Complex and interesting, with good spice and flavor balance. The finish is great and leaves a spicy and dry aftertaste. The finish even seems to nicely affect the water that is drank after the whisky.

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

Value: Very High. An awesome whisky for the price (sub 30$)


Review (2015; Blind)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

It should be noted that this outperformed Forty Creek Confederation Oak Batch F, Barrel Select, and Double Barrel not only in my own blind tastings in 2015 but also overall at the Canadian Whisky Awards in 2015. Tasting notes:

Musty and a bit earthy, with some good orange peel, apple seeds, maple, aged balsamic vinegar, toasted oak, leather, and a very intriguing wisp of smoke here and there. Also, an array of spices with clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice - and some really nice cinnamon on the end, too.

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

Value: Very High. An awesome whisky for the price (sub 30$)


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2016

I wanted to see how one of my favorite bottles continued to fare.

Lots of toffee. Caramel, toffee, toasted oak, orange peel, oak, candied nuts, and maple sugar. The oaky and spicy cereal notes breed complexity in the background. The palate is big and broad, with lots of oil and spice notes, orange, toasted oak, milk chocolate and a corn-driven, sweet vanilla finish abounding with Ferrero Rocher. Terrific.

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

Value: Very High. An awesome whisky for the price (sub 30$)


Review: Niagara Bench VSOP Canadian Brandy by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
>4 yrs
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Forty Creek (Grimsby, Ontario)

I can't resist putting up Forty Creek's brandy contender amidst some of the Armagnacs that I posted last week. Let's see how it does...


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

Very fruity, and slightly raw – lots of dried apricot, fig, white raisin, mulled red wine, and anise. Not bad, certainly, on the nose. Caramel, candied orange peel. The palate is spicy, with lots of pepper, cinnamon, clove, licorise, and anise candies. It also retains lots of orange peel. Some bready notes too. Nice, but not incredibly complex. Some nice old world qualities to it, though.

Value: Average to High. It’s not expensive, and I like it, but there are still better jewels to be found on the lower level shelves.


Review: Forty Creek Founders Reserve Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
45%
Aging
4-9 Years
Recipe
Blend of barley, corn, and rye whiskies
Distiller Forty Creek (Grimsby, Ontario)

Here we have the tenth limited edition release from Forty Creek, which also marks the end of John Hall's time at Forty Creek. Sadly, he has retired, passing on the reins to his long-time friend Bill Ashburn. This whisky is a mix of 4(why?...)-9 year old whiskies, with a particular focus on the barley whiskies in the mix. 12,000 bottles were produced.

John Hall has brought us some of the best Canadian whiskies ever, including some of my all-time favorites in Evolution and Confederation Oak. He applied his winemaking experience, applying it to whisky, crafting a special process tailored to each grain used at the distillery, for both distillation and aging, before blending all together. He pioneered the use of Canadian oak in a terrific Confederation Oak release, and provided hugely diverse and complex special releases for the last ten years. What is more, though, is that through taking Forty Creek distillery, which he founded in 1992, to its place of prestige now, he started a huge movement in Canadian whisky towards the tailoring of craft whiskies which have boomed now with a number of new and special releases from Crown Royal, Wiser's, and Corby's. So, pick up a bottle, and toast John Hall.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: 4G/EF282S4 13:20:36

  • Bottling Date: 2016

Fresh doughnuts, caramel, orange, anise – but I can’t get over the immaturity, though this lifts off as the glass sits – leave it 20 minutes if you find this. There’s so much complexity in the mix, but the last two years the special releases and the double barrel whiskies have just had some components that are just too immature. I suppose it's done for body, but it brings in some harsh oily notes. Anyway, to the complexity – stone oven baked bread, cigarette butts, brilliant spice – nutmeg, clove, white pepper – and some soft, creamy oak eases in as well. As it opens up, it does get better. Apple butter, maple butter, and touches of menthol. Hay. Terrific nose.

The palate has lots of orange, oak, brown sugar, with some light rye notes feeding in wonderfully in the background. The finish has lots of oak and spice, along with some orange peel, custard, black pepper, rich toffee (much like last year), wafts of bourbon, and a touch of tannin. Great complexity, and, actually, 90% of it is very nicely balanced. But there are just a few bits of unpleasantness – it makes me think that I would have withheld a few of those casks.

I actually had a hard time making up my mind up about this whisky. There is a lot of complexity but there is some harshness and bitterness – yet it opens up so beautifully. It probably will get better as it gets a bit of air and some of that harshness wares off. If the special releases continue in this vein, I will be less inclined toward them (they have comprised some of the best Canadian whisky I have ever tasted in the past) - the immature components are not too much to my liking. But don't get me wrong - this is still a nice whisky. More in the profile of last year than any other special release - a bit broader and complex – but a bit less unique. The ABV helps, for sure. If you’re just finding it harsh, drink it a bit slower – as typical with these forty creek releases. But, buy a bottle, toast John Hall, and admire the complexity. It is worthwhile celebrating his legacy.

Value: Low. I didn’t like it much, so I wouldn’t give it a high value score for a $75 whisky.