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Forty Creek Canadian Whisky

By Dominic Roskrow

You know there's something different and special about the way John Hall makes whisky at Kittling Ridge as soon as you see his stills.

There are two of them - but unlike the conventional single malt distillery operation where the two work in tandem, here they are independent of each other. Single still production? Surely some mistake?

Distillers from other places thought I was mad

"Distillers from other places thought I was mad," agrees John with a wry smile. "But the way I figure it is if you distill twice or even three times then each times you do it the more flavour you're taking out. So because of this i decided I really only wanted to distill once. The problem with that, though, is that after first distillation the strength of the spirit is nowhere near high enough for whisky making.'

Hall's solution was to add on what is effectively a doubler on to the neck of the still. It's a somewhat bizarre and cranky looking operation but technically it's not a million miles from the state of the art Faraday still which was invented for use at Penderyn.

"It sort of evolved but it works," says Hall contentedly. "It produces spirit that comes off the still at somewhere between 68 and 72 ABV, so that works."

John Hall isn't your conventional whisky producer, but he is special. So special, in fact, that I have to make a confession and admit that he single-handedly got me to take another look at a national whisky style that I had all but dismissed. Unfairly, it turns out, but understandably, because the Canadians traditionally haven't been very good or very keen to tell their story outside their national boundaries, and much of the best of Canada stays in Canada.

At the top of that 'best of' is Forty creek, the whisky made by John at Kittling Ridge, about an hour outside Toronto. Forty Creek is named after the creek next to the distillery from which it draws its water, and which is 40 miles from Niagara Falls.

John has a wine background and he still makes great wine, including a highly regarded ice wine, but over the years he has branched out and makes a number of other alcoholic beverages including a Canadian version of sherry and port, a maple spirit and brandies, vodkas and gins.

But I'm here for Forty Creek whisky, a rich full and creamy toffeed creation which is served in a number of expressions but is uniformly excellent.

So what, apart from the distillation, makes it different?

Forty Creek is made of a recipe which includes corn, malted barley and rye, and nods south towards the United States. But is smoother, rounder and arguably more full-flavoured than bourbon. And there's a very good reason for that, asys John.

"I make the three different styles of whisky separately and then blend them together before marrying them for a final stage," he says. "Corn is different to barley and barley is different to rye so why mix them together? My way is the way it is how you would make a wine and it's obvious to me that's the way to do it. My whiskies are the equivalent to noble wines that are eventually blended together.

"I can't understand why you would mix the grains together at the outset and suppress the flavour. I believe that's what happens. And I think the only way they do it like that in America is because that's the way it's always been done and nobody questions it. I am a first generation whisky maker and can go with my intuition. a 12th generation distiller might not be able to exercise that choice."

The final departure is the use of Canadian oak for some of the maturation process. It reacts very differently to American oak, he says, and offers him more variety.

Undoubtedly John Hall has been ploughing a lone farrow, but with the craft distilling revolution in full bloom in america now, his time has come and his talents are being recognised across the world.

"There can be no doubt that I'm following a dream," he says. "And I hope many more people will follow."


Forty Creek Barrel Select 40%

The nose is young and sporty and not the best, but thankfully t picks up on the palate. It's a layered attack of flavours with some swirling toffees fruity notes swirling under a smooth and rounded surface.

Forty Creek Double Barrel reserve 40%

Soft, fruity and candied, with sweet fruits including citrus and berry, and some oily grain and spice. The delivery is wrapped in caramel and cram. As the taste develops it is surprisingly confidence. Daringly different and a helper skelter ride in to the unknown. Very good indeed.

Forty Creek Portwood Reserve New Batch 45%

Big bold and red fruity nose. rich, full and almost liquor-like. The creamy and oily delivery coats the palate and you can taste the battle between corn, rye and a port and fruit influence. It is intense and chewy, very sexy and genuinely different though a cousin to the port whiskies coming out of India and Australia.