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Recently, the Forty Creek distillery of Grimsby, Ontario, released their latest expression, Canadian Oak Reserve. Over the launch weekend, I toured the facility and returned home with bottles to complete my stock of the current Forty Creek lineup: Barrel Select, Three Grain, Double Barrel Reserve, and Canadian Oak Reserve. Following in the footsteps of several distinguished members of the Connosr community, I will review each of these expressions over the coming days. Below is a lengthy preamble of Forty Creek’s method; feel free to skip it in order to get to the review that follows.
All Forty Creek whiskies are some blend of maize, rye, and barley, though the ages and proportions are somewhat variable. There are no age statements on any Forty Creek release; the consistency of an expression (particularly Barrel Select) is maintained by tasting. They use two copper pot stills—the larger of the pair modified by a short, stainless steel column that keeps alcohol concentrations high (at about 65%)—and they use only the first distillate. Their rye barrels are lightly charred, barley barrels are medium-charred, and maize barrels are heavily charred (also known as an “alligator” char).
Forty Creek’s owner and master distiller is John Hall, a winemaker by trade. In the making of Forty Creek whisky, Hall has taken advantage of his vintner’s background in several ways. He founded Kittling Ridge, a winery, to provide funds while his Forty Creek spirits began to mature, and he makes use of the winery’s Kingsgate Reserve sherry casks to finish Barrel Select, Forty Creek’s basic expression.
Most importantly, however, Hall’s training led to a simple, but revolutionary, method of whiskymaking. In the production of whisky (from multiple grains), the different grain spirits tend to be combined prior to maturation—a mashbill, for instance, of some proportion of maize, rye, and barley fermented, distilled, and aged together. The grain profiles are thus confounded with one another, such that the moment at which one spirit (such as the maize) achieves its desired profile may not correspond to that of the others (such as the rye and barley). Hall gets around this problem by employing a winemaker’s method, in the Bordeaux and meritage traditions, for each of his Forty Creek releases: maturing each spirit in barrels separately before blending. Once a barrel has achieved its desired profile, the spirit is transferred to stainless steel tanks for holding until the other spirits are ready for blending. Once blended, the final spirit is re-barreled from a period of several months to several years, to finish the whisky and round the final product out.
FORTY CREEK DOUBLE BARREL RESERVE
Double Barrel Reserve has been re-barreled in first-fill Kentucky bourbon barrels. It is both a large jump up in quality and in price ($60 Canadian for 750 ml) from Barrel Select and Three Grain.
The nose is charmingly complex. At times, it is bright and grassy, with dill and toasty rye notes, but there is also Chantilly cream, French toast slathered in butter, sweet corn, hints of cola and charcoal, maple, pecans, and brown sugar. It is wonderfully balanced and enticing.
On the palate are toasted walnuts, maple and vanilla, butter, toasted rye, limes, and ground pepper. It is bright and sweet (though less cloying than Barrel Select and Three Grain), and spicy. The finish is slow and deliberate, sweetness mounting on the tongue.
The body coats the glass considerably more thickly than Barrel Select or Three Grain, but the mouthfeel is still fairly light.
Double Barrel Reserve is a delightful dram, one that is leading the way towards Canadian whisky expressions that are complex, sophisticated, and unique.