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One of my all-time favourite Canadian whiskies were the earlier batches of Forty Creek. And not just mine – of so many. It was a blend of corn, rye, and barley whiskies that were finished in a few custom (and very expensive) Canadian oak casks.
I still remember the 2010 review from John Hansell of Whisky Advocate when he said “Perhaps the finest Canadian whisky I have ever tasted. Creamy and seamless from beginning to end. Gently sweet, with orange creamsicle, marzipan, sultana, praline, maple syrup, and a hint of coconut macaroon. Forty Creek whiskies have always been very good, but none have ever had the right stuff to reach classic status. Until now, that is. An outstanding, very distinctive whisky!”
That is an endorsement. I myself was enamored. What has happened over the past number of years is a travesty – and not just with this brand, but with all the Forty Creek brands. The standard releases have been hallmarks of Canadian whisky for years, and I never gave up hope even after Campari bought the distillery and we started to get young, oily, raw and pricy releases that were worse than Barrel Select. There were a few exceptions (Heritage and Master’s Cut), but, generally, not good. I don’t wait for them or buy them anymore. Other than Master's Cut and Heritage, my special releases since 2014 have either been given away free or dumped down the drain.
Is it just me? Has my palate changed? Worth a thought.
I pulled out some comparable minis from 2014. Indeed, huge difference! Barrel select is fruity, winey, watery, oily, and waxy – it still has some good notes and complexity but it also seems to have a lot of very light corn whisky blended in, and not corn whisky aged in new oak casks as Forty Creek always claimed – this tastes (tastes to my palate…not reporting…) like there is a core of light, refill corn whisky in it. Is 2014 different? Yes. Hugely. The nose has some really nice oak barrel notes, it’s balanced, not raw, oily, watery, or winey. The palate is richer, sharper, and has a kick of sherry. Rich, well-balanced, enjoyable. I rate 2022 a 78. In 2014, I rated this an 83. I stand by those ratings, but the gulf actually seems larger. I’m a bit shocked – I assumed it was similar but just tasted worse – indeed, the profile is altogether changed. You wouldn’t know they were the same whisky.
As for copper pot, another old-time favourite – the side-by-side is jarring. The parallels are similar. It’s oily, fruity, and raw today. 2014- you had those good oaky notes, rich grain, balance, and it is quite delicious on the palate. I want more from my 2014 sample (a lot more). Terrific finish. The 2022 is going down the drain. 2022- 76/100. 2014 – 88/100. I am shocked, even more than I thought I would be.
Now what about confederation oak? The side-by-side that I have is from batch F (~2015), not a particularly bad batch, but not as good as some of the earlier batches (A&B, which would have been reviewed by John Hansell). I rated it an 87/100.
I’m scared to do this.
The 2022 confederation oak is oaky, and continues with those deep nutty oils and a bit of bitterness. The cask character is bad, and this is weirdly fruity (think bad wine). Out of balance, all over the place, and the finish is unpleasant. I don’t like the nose, the palate is somewhat bearable, and I don’t like the finish. It tastes raw and immature. That’s all the tasting notes I’ll afford it. Batch F, from 2015, is clean, not oily, with a really nice cask character and a complex nose. The palate is rich, with a unique and important oaky character. It has a toasted oak character that used to be my “house identifier” for Forty Creek, a character that isn’t prominent anymore (my new identifier is nut oils and raw-ness). Pleasant nose, pleasant taste, pleasant finish. Intriguing and complex at points. 2022 Confederation Oak – 77/100. 2015 Confederation Oak – 87/100. I stand by it after the side by side.
On a side note, the downfall of Forty Creek seemed to occur after @paddockjudge and I visited Forty Creek for the whisky weekend in 2015. Things seemed to go downhill after that. Did we jinx it?
I no longer recommend any Forty Creek products, or the brand. And I’m quite disappointed by that. They used to be the evangelists of Canadian whisky, and they had quality of whisky to back it up and open eyes. They are still evangelizing, but they are doing the opposite. They don’t have anything to back up their claims and they aren’t showing how good Canadian whisky can be, anymore.