Forty Creek Barrel Select
Review: Forty Creek Barrel Select Canadian Whisky (84/100)
a Review By Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted on September 4, 2011
For those who do not know, John Hall is the mastermind behind Forty Creek Whisky. (He has owned the distillery and been making his whisky since 1992.) The flagship brand for his distillery is Forty Creek Barrel Select Whisky and it is constructed as a blend of three grain whiskies: a corn whisky aged in heavily charred white oak barrels; a rye whisky aged in lightly charred white oak barrels; and a barley whisky aged in medium charred white oak barrels. Each grain whisky and each barrel type was chosen carefully to add specific characteristics to the final blended whisky which is then ‘married’ or finished in Forty Creek’s own sherry casks. Each of the original grain whiskies is distilled only once in a practice which is practically unheard of in the whisky industry. However, John Hall felt that if he captured the heart of the first distillation for each grain, he would also capture the best flavours of each grain.
When I mentioned to Dave Gordon, the Regional Manager of Shiralli Agencies that I was reviewing a few Canadian whiskies on my website this summer. He arranged for me to receive a bottle of Forty Creek Barrel Select Whisky to re-acquaint myself with the Forty Creek style. Although I have previously reviewed this whisky, I felt it was appropriate to revisit it and provide a new review. (I have left my original review at the bottom of this page so that my readers can easily see what changes I noted in the blend since my first review.)
In the Bottle: 4.5/5
The Forty Creek Barrel Select Whisky bottle is a medium-tall whisky bottle, dark brown in colour. I like the design of both the bottle and the label. They seems to have just the right colour scheme to imply professionalism. There is something about this whisky that catches my eye every time I see it on the shelf. And that is the point of a good presentation. It should catch your eye in a positive way, and perhaps stir the inkling in the person looking to think that whatever is inside must be worth investigating.
In the Glass 9/10
The Barrel Select displays a brilliant copper colour in the glass which has obvious tints of orange and red when you hold it up to examine in the light. The immediate nose is of honeycomb mixed with caramel with an obvious taint of corn. When I tilted my glass and gave it a slow swirl, I noticed the whisky imparted long slender legs which traveled at a moderate pace back into the glass.
I allowed the glass to decant and began to notice a nice marmalade scent alongside the corn and caramel. Some light baking spices were developing as was a delicate smokiness. As the glass was allowed to breathe the baking spices seemed to deepen with obvious tinctures of vanilla growing in the breezes. In fact, the longer you allow the glass to sit and breathe, the more scents and aromas seem to drift up from the glass.
In the Mouth 50/60
The Forty Creek enters the palate as a soft but dry whisky with little oil apparent in the mouth-feel. Honeycomb, lightly punky corn, and warm oak spices are the initial flavours to greet me; but I immediately sense more complexity. I can taste a little marmalade that has more than a little orange peel in its flavour, and I can taste the lightly bitter nutty flavours of almond and hazelnut.
It seems as though the longer I allow the whisky to decant the more flavours come through, dry fruit is evident which gives the whisky a lightly smoky flavour, and I believe I taste light touches of leather and tobacco bobbing in the currents of the flavour profile. Yet, in spite of all this wonderful complexity, I find myself wondering where the sweetness sensed on the nose is hiding. Things are just a little too dry, and the lightly bitter flavours need a counter balance.
In the Throat 12.5/15
The Forty Creek Whisky has a dryish finish with some hot oak spices which warm the throat and the back of the palate. Smoky dry fruit flavours seem to trail down in the finale where a touch of bitterness at the end dropped the score a little. However, I should point out that adding two ice-cubes made the ending very enjoyable.
The Afterburn 8/10
Based upon the tremendous nose, I am disappointed to some degree with the Barrel Select Whisky. It is hard to put my finger on the problem as this is a whisky with tremendous depth to the flavour profile. My tasting notes are full of great descriptors. But I think that in the midst of all that complexity, I could not find a central theme which tied the whisky together for me.
I found myself wishing I could taste the individual grain whiskies which make up the Forty Creek blend. My instinct tells me I might like these single grain whiskies more than I liked the final blend. I think this is because I find the final blended whisky too busy; I sense confusion rather than harmony, and that is a pity, because this whisky is on the verge of greatness.
You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.
2 oz Forty Creek Barrel Select Whisky
1/8 oz Maraschino Liqueur
1/2 oz Dry Vermouth
Dash of Angostura Bitters
Chill a small cocktail glass until it is very cold.
Aromatise the glass with Maraschino Liqueur. (This can be done by pouring a little in the glass, swooshing it round and expelling any excess. The object is to coat the inside of the glass with a film of the Maraschino liqueur.)
Place the Forty Creek Whisky, Dry Vermouth, and Angostura Bitters into a metal shaker with cracked Ice.
Shake until the shaker chills.
Strain into the chilled glass.
Garnish with a Frozen Blackberry
As always you may interpret the scores I provide as follows.
0-25 A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49 Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59 You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69 Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74 Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky. Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79 You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84 We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89 Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94 Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+ I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.
Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be more familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and Bronze medal scale as follows:
70 – 79.5 Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5 Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95 Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+ Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)
Note: Below is my original review published in November of 2009, the score has not changed that much and perhaps the only difference from the old review to the new is that my tasting notes are becoming more detailed.
Review: Forty Creek Barrel Select Canadian Whisky 84.5/100
A Review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted on November 8, 2009
Forty Creek Whiskies are the brainchildren of Master Distiller John Hall. John Hall bought the Kittling Ridge Estates Winery in 1992. Although primarily a winemaker, when John discovered a small pot copper still on the estate he couldn’t resist the urge to experiment with another product he loved… whisky. The wine making heritage combined with the love of whisky has produced what I consider to be a unique Canadian Whisky. Each batch of whisky is produced upon this small pot copper still, but what makes Forty Creek Whiskies special is that John doesn’t use a single mash for his whisky like other producers. He makes three separate batches. A corn mash produces a corn whisky, a barley mash produces a barley whiskey, and a rye mash produces a rye whisky. Each whisky is aged separately in a variety of oak barrels, and then blended and finished in sherry casks. The sherry is actually made right at the winery so Forty Creek can utilize their own sherry casks for the final finishing.
In the Bottle: 4.5/5
The whiskey presentation on the shelf is very nice. The bottle is a dark brown, and the back of the bottle features a good promotional vignette about the whisky and its production. A promotional advertising card featuring comparative scores from Whiskey Magazine’s Michael Jackson (deceased), shows the Forty Creek to be rated higher than other Canadian whiskies in its age and price class. The information is a little dated, but accurate if you go back a few years.
In the Glass: 9/10
As I pour the whiskey in the glass I immediately get a whiff of bourbon sweetness which dominates the aroma. This is not surprising as in making the whiskey the separate Corn mash whiskey would be very much like bourbon. The whiskey also uses rerun bourbon barrels in aging so the character of the corn should show through. I am also hit with a mildly punky smell almost reminiscent of peat smoke. This smell has kind of a dark cherry influence.
In the Mouth: 50/60
I would not call this a robust whisky. The flavours in the mouth are very sensitive to what your palate has experienced previously. The whisky flavours are however extremely complex. A mild bourbon vanilla profile mixes with a spicy rye profile. On some days vanilla, honey and bourbon is all I can taste, on other days I experience a far greater depth of flavour. This depth includes hints of plum and cherry, as well as the faint smoke I noted on the nose. This smoke I believe is coming from the sherry cask finish which gives the whisky a heavier body than other Canadian whiskies. There is a distinct bitterness that lies at the back of the palate which I believe is associated with the sherry influence as well. The process used to make the whiskey, especially the large variety of barrels used for aging are giving this whisky an amazingly complex profile. But they are also responsible for the tender nature of this complexity.
In the Throat: 12.5/15
The whisky is typically smooth like most Canadian whiskies. Aftertastes of vanilla and honey are mixed with that sherry influenced smoke. On some days the smoke turns to bitter punk, and on others it stays tamed.
The Afterburn: 8.5/10
This is a go to whisky when I have friends who want to experience something familiar, yet distinctively different in a Canadian whisky. It is almost a masterpiece of craftsmanship. The staggering complexity and depth of flavours is at times perfect. But it is a delicate perfection. The sheer variety of different oaks used in aging, the three separate whiskies which must be married into one, and the sherry cask finish all need to be in perfect balance. When this whiskey hits the right notes I absolutely love it. When it doesn’t quite reach those heights, it is still very good.