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Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve

The demise of Forty Creek is real travesty

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@JasonHambreyReview by @JasonHambrey

3rd Feb 2023


Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve
  • Nose
  • Taste
  • Finish
  • Balance
  • Overall

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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.

Related Forty Creek reviews


JasonHambrey commented

By the way, if you want a ride, try taproom – a sour beer finished whisky that is currently 25% off on Forty Creek’s own website.

about one year ago 0

Nozinan commented

A scathing assessment of a once proud and innovative distillery.

The days of good confederation oak and special releases have been replaced with mediocrity.

It has been years since I sought out a special release. I probably stopped a couple of years too late.

Luckily I still have some of the original batch, as well as some Heart of Gold, one of my favourite releases.

I fear that Hiram Walker is going that way too. The early Norther Border collection releases, especially the Lot 40 CS of 2017 and 2018 were fantastic, but none of the high proof rye since then has come close. And we wait and wait for something as fantastic as the Wiser’s 23.

Other distilleries are picking up the slack, like Alberta Premium. But how long before they too forget what they came to do?

about one year ago 4Who liked this?

JasonHambrey commented

Corby seems to be in an identity crisis. And i’m not sure they ever really understood what they needed to do to maintain the connoisseur audience.

I’m glad Alberta Premium is releasing their cask strength, and i reqlly like their new Reifel Rye (more than AP CS) but it’s still disappointing that they don’t do more. If they opened the floodgates, it’d be awesome. But instead, they sell their best (and most) whisky to jim beam and others to bottle.

Oddly enough, crown is currently my favourite Canadian whisky brand. None of the noble collection releases have been bad, and the last few have been absolutely awesome. But even they leave much to be desired, given wha they have sitting around at their distillery.

about one year ago 3Who liked this?

Victor commented

@JasonHambrey thank you, friend!

As for the quality of Forty Creek whiskies, 'Sic transit gloria mundi'.


Human beings like things easy, like to assume that if you put the same label on two different bottles of juice that they will taste the same. They do not. They never have. Each batch, each bottle of whisky is unique. Human beings don't like to accept that very basic truth about whisky. It just seems like too much work for them, like life becomes too out of control if they cannot mentally control what their future sensory experiences will be by categorizing them via easy assumptions based upon identical bottle names and labels.

I am very much looking forward to the day when I eventually open my bottle of Forty Creek John's Private Cask # 1.

about one year ago 3Who liked this?

Nozinan commented

@Victor I agree that each batch will be different, but that does not mean that the quality has to deteriorate. Look at examples of distilleries that continue to put out good expressions, even if there is batch variation. Aberlour, Amrut, Springbank. If the will is there, if you put in the work, the results should usually be good.

If you get complacent, like 40 Creek, and perhaps now, Corby, things go from worse to worst.

about one year ago 2Who liked this?

OdysseusUnbound commented

Many of my friends who are more casual whisky drinkers than the fine folks here looked at me like I was nuts when I said that FC Copper Pot was suffering a sharp decline in quality a few years ago. My wife's cousin said "Look at the label. It still says Forty Creek Copper Pot. They have a winning recipe and it's not like they're changing it." Oh Mikey, Mikey, Mikey. Yes, yes they did change it and anyone who was paying attention noticed. Many on this very site feared and predicted this very thing: big conglomerate buys distillery and quality drops off big time because of increased pressure to "optimize" this and "maximize" that. It's a sad state of affairs.

about one year ago 3Who liked this?

Victor commented

@OdysseusUnbound it goes a lot further than changing the recipe.

@Nock and I have tasted side by side from his bottle of Aberlour A'bunadh Batch # 45 and my bottle of Aberlour A'bunadh Batch # 45. They were VERY different. One a 92 point whisky, the other an 82 point whisky. The differences can result from matters as simple as at what point during the bottling run was the bottle in question bottled...the beginning, the middle, or the end. Sazerac 18 Rye was bottled for multiple years from the same huge batch stored in a stainless steel tank, so that it would not change. Every year the bottlings were different. Not just the same recipe. Not just the same distillate. The same aged whiskey...did not taste the same.

@Nozinan when you discuss the subject of quality and of "deteriouration" those are completely individual judgments. What I am expressing is that no two bottles of whiski are the same no matter what anyone's assessments are relative to their quality.

about one year ago 3Who liked this?

TracerBullet commented

I have yet to try (or even find a bottle of) Forty Creek. Sounds like I might not want to bother looking at this point. Very sad.

about one year ago 1Who liked this?

Astroke commented

My last special release FC purhase was Evolution, found a couple on clearance back in the day.

I have been ranting over the years that the best Canadian Whisky is bottled in the US and it has gotten even worse with NDP brands like Found North, Cats Eye, Storytime and Barrell Spirits buying, blending and bottling hyper aged Canadian barrels of distillate at cask strength that were rotting away at the Palliser/Black Velvet warehouses and Valleyfield in Quebec. Meanwhile we get Black Velvet drech and Schenley OFC. I have tried several Found North batches and the Storytime Old Dragon Bones 15 year Hazmat Valleyfield Rye, there is not much that can touch these that are bottled in Canada. I salute Great Plains and Paradigm for putting out some limited bottles of high proof sourced Canadian Corn with a pinch of young Rye in the Great Plains to salvage the age statement.

about one year ago 4Who liked this?

65glenfarclas commented

John Hall was a GREAT whiski salesman ("meritage" LOL). He did a great job PROMOTING the brand. When he was banging the drum for Forty Creek, the Canadian whiski scene was barren: nothing but 40% bottom shelf shyte. So, slight improvements - courtesy of 40 Creek - were seen as revelations, though eons behind Scotch ... and even Bourbon. Since John Hall (and partmers) sold the company, things were bound to go back to "normal" - bottom shelf shyte, without the personal promotion from the founder. Releases during JH's time weren't as good as the hype ... but it's all whiski geeks had in CDN whisky (other than the OVERPRICED American repackaging of Alberta Distillers whisky). Therefore, it's no surprise few people care about 40 Creek ... now that all the salesmanship from the founder is nowhere to be seen!

about one year ago 1Who liked this?

paddockjudge commented

@JasonHambrey, I believe a jinx would have been a one-off occurrence. What has happened at Forty Creek is more of a curse. When we attended Whisky Weekend in 2015 the distillery was already marked, Camapari "intelligence" was present throughout the distillery. Bottom shelf carries the bottom line. Forty Creek had already begun their plunge to the b-o-t-t-o-m.

about one year ago 3Who liked this?

casualtorture commented

Very passionate review. I feel this is the unfortunate direction of many brands these days.

about one year ago 2Who liked this?

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