John Hall

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.


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 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.


Review: Forty Creek Evolution Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Forty Creek Evolution.jpg
ABV
43%
Aging
3 years; blended & redistilled; cabernet sauvignon casks for 9 years
Recipe
Blend of barley, corn, and rye whiskies
Distiller Forty Creek (Grimsby, Ontario)

This year, the limited release from Forty Creek is called “Evolution”.  Evolution is the 8th limited release from John Hall, whisky maker at Forty Creek. John Hall was originally a wine maker, and made his own Cabernet Sauvignon at Kittling Ridge, and, thus, in theory, had easy access to wine barrels. This release is roughly 12 years old, though it has a bit of a journey – 100% corn, 100% barley, and 100% rye whiskies, in the Forty Creek style, were aged in white oak for three years and then these aged whiskies were re-distilled to concentrate flavours, as John Hall often does at some stage with his premium releases. They were then re-barreled into French Oak Cabernet Sauvignon casks where they were aged for an additional 9 years. A few other of John’s “favourite barrels” were also added to balance the flavours. The name, evolution, is to signify the whisky’s capacity to change over time. A fitting name, perhaps, too, because John Hall used a wine cask now to house whisky not wine, a sort of evolution in itself. And, on another level, Forty Creek was bought out by Campari last year which may allow a lot more opportunity for growth in the brand and production as well.

On a side note, after leading a few tastings with this one – you need to sip it slowly. Otherwise you are just tasting cinnamon hearts and you miss the whole thing if it is gulped down. Also, as with other whiskies – if it is coming off bitter try refreshing your palate with black coffee and give it another go…


Review (2014)

  • Batch: Lot 2014

  • Bottling Code: 15G14 09:41:10

  • Bottling Date: 2014

Nose: Nutty, with some fruit chocolate aromas – raisins, dried currants, milk chocolate, toasted oak, olive oil, green bell pepper (as in the wine!), and some ruby port-type rich fruitiness and the oxidized notes of tawny port or sherry. It does have quite a bit of a wine edge to it – the tannic edge of red wine is in this one, and there is indeed some earthiness in the mix – like rooty, dark, damp soil . The olive oil is interestingly present and quite a significant portion of the nose, and they seem to develop into slightly earthy black olives. I find dates start to emerge, and I am just full of images of brandied fruitcake and fig and date bars. Light vanilla is present in the background, which is nice because it would be out of place otherwise. Terrific balance, and, indeed, it evolves – but, at least to my nose, not primarily in the earthy ways described by John Hall. However, one can think a bit of chocolate and nuts with port before getting distracted and chewing on some olives and then to dates and figs before finally settling down with some fruitcake. The spices seem to come, oddly, the most present at the end where we seem to get everything – some cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and gingerbread. A bit of a different egg coming out of Forty Creek this year. This is multi-dimensional, and quite a bit different, and very intriguing – the dried fruitiness has been elegantly balanced beside the interesting vegetal notes, nuttiness, and all the other flavours that stop along the way. I spend nearly an hour nosing this on my first sample, and kept discovering new things and “pairings”, indeed, that come in the nose. Upon successive nosings, I think this noses better in a glencairn glass than a wide-mouthed glass as it allows the development to happen a bit more slowly.  There is very little else I could ask for in a nose - this is one of the best I've ever come up against.

Taste: Surprisingly sweet, with lots of raisins, dates, and chocolate notes before some toasted oak, nuts (roasted cashews and peanuts), spice (cinnamon and nutmeg), and vanilla waves and a lightly tannic finish. Despite everything going on, it somehow works, and well, at that! The tannic edge on this just gives it a wonderful edge and shape that is little short of fascinating, and elevates the whole experience – and the toasted oak just works brilliantly with the rest. Absolutely wonderful!

Finish: Cinnamon, tannins in a bit of the mold of a tannic red wine (though they’re not, of course, that intense), dates, lovely tawny port oxidized notes, and a resilient browned butter note all of the sudden.

Liquid fruitcake? I love fruitcake, port, nuts, and just about all that this whisky is about. I absolutely love this stuff.  It is a brilliant whisky to analyze, but isn’t perhaps as approachable or as good of a casual sipper as, say, Forty Creek Confederation Oak, as you need to take some time to fully appreciate its brilliance, and you will probably enjoy this more if you like fruitcake and some of the tawny port notes.

To further state my enjoyment of this – my reviews usually consist of three reviews, each of which are usually 20-40 minutes. An ounce of this held me to nearly two hours on my first review! An absolute class act from Forty Creek, once again.

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

Value: Very High. One of my all time favourite whiskies; I’d have no problem paying 70$ for it.