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Forty Creek Evolution

Average score from 4 reviews and 4 ratings 84

Forty Creek Evolution

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Forty Creek Evolution

I love Canadian whisky. The better ones, anyway. Sometimes I feel like somewhat of a leper, or a Canadian, because almost no one on Connosr.com but Canadians (including Canadian ex-pats) and I ever talk about Canadian whisky. I think that a wider world exposure to Canadian whisky and conversation about it would be a very good thing. It doesn't help that the majority of the best Canadian whiskies are only sold in Canada

The short four years during which I have been actively exploring Canadian whisky coincides with a period of blossoming of new high quality special releases coming from Canada, and also of the establishment of new Canadian microdistilleries

Prominent among the producers of new premium Canadian designer-whiskies is John Hall, master distiller/master blender at Forty Creek distillery, now owned by Gruppo Compari. John Hall was first, and still is, a wine-maker, before becoming a whisky-maker. John's wine-love makes it not too surprising that he loves to wine-up the whiskies which he makes. The Canadian blended whisky style frequently entertains wine and wine finishes in the whisky, which is something which the US style, using similar grains, has been until very recently quite reluctant to do

I've spoken with John myself, and consider him to be a very nice man. He told me in response to my question that 70% of Forty Creek's whisky volume goes to Barrel Select, which is their basic mass market bottling. Forty Creek also makes quite a few other expressions, including a special annual limited release whisky. The 2014 limited release is named Evolution

The reviewed sample of Forty Creek Evolution from bottle # 5829 was provided to me thanks to @paddockjudge, who has the best collection of Canadian Whisky of which I am aware. (Davin de Kergommeaux has not yet invited me to see his collection.) The reviewed bottle had been open for several months, and this sample is from late in the bottle. I am doing this review in both time-sequential and non-time-sequential format, largely because, in this particular case, the results of using the two review formats contrast significantly

Sequential: N-T-F-B

Nose: heavy complex wine overlay with high, medium, and low pitches. The many wine flavours are quite lovely. There is not much to smell but wine here, but if you look hard you will also observe spiciness from rye grain in the background. Score 23/25 points

Taste: this is where it gets weird. Heavy wine flavours overlay strong spices from both rye grain and from oak. This is a classic John Hall Forty Creek Distillery house style on exhibit: lots of wine, lots of rye, and a good bit of new oak (the new oak until recently unusual in Canadian whisky). So how well does it work? For me, more often than not, wine clashes with rye grain flavours, and does so here. I love the intensity of flavour of almost everything produced at Forty Creek, and I would say that on average John Hall gets more flavour out of 40% abv whisk(e)y than any other distiller with whom I am familiar, worldwide. But are the wine and grain flavours of Evolution harmonious when combined? No. To me they are not. Score: 21/25 points

Finish: long, and stays mostly wine-dominated, with significant maple flavour developing by the death. Score: 20/25 points

Balance: No, this is not a balance I can praise. Forty Creek Evolution is certainly interesting and has delicious wine flavours, but it just doesn't come together as a coherent whisky. Score 18/25 points

Total Sequential Score: 82 out of 100 points

    • *

Non-Sequential Format Review (SQVH)

Strength: very strong, very vibrant flavours. Score 24/25 points

Quality: the quality of all of the flavours, taken separately, is quite high. Score 23/25 points

Variety: Given the large number of different wine flavours present, there is a very ample degree of variety/complexity. Score 22/25 points

Harmony: these are just not harmonious flavours, taken together. Score 17/25 points

Total Non-Sequential Score: 86 out of 100 points

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Comment: I am averaging these two scores out for an overall review score of 84 points. I attribute the difference in the two methods' scores to be to the fact that in a sequential format great inbalance in the whisky will throw off each of the facets of nosing and tasting. In conclusion, tasting this whisky makes for quite an interesting experience, and when I sat down to re-sample Evolution for the review I found myself enjoying it more than I had recently on a trip to Ontario. This was probably because it now retained my undivided attention for a signficant period of time. Thank you, @paddockjudge, for giving Mary Anne a bottle of Evolution. I have come to greatly enjoy its rich flavours, even though I consider it to be poorly balanced. I know damned well that I am writing this review mostly for my many Canadian friends, and hopefully even more Canadian-friends-to-be, because just about no one else pays much attention to Canadian whisky. Not yet, anyway. But the future always holds promise of things not yet seen

@victor, I too seem to like this one more each time I try it. Though I have to say I preferred the 2013 special release Heart of Gold. The two are very different beasts indeed.

Thank you for promoting the stuff we produce up here.

I am eager to try forty creek sometime soon, too much bland blended Canadian whiskies here outside of Canada. Would love to see more exhuberant small-scale producers soon, heres to the micro-distillers! Very well composed review, it reminded me of a Distillers edition Glenkinchie (96) i tasted last summer, it had great flavour and complexity but it was completely unbalanced between sweet wine flavours and malt.


Today we're going to look at two Forty Creeks (so Eighty Creek?), both fairly new. Our first one is their annual limited edition (their 8th so far), launched in September 2014. Most of the whiskies in 2014 Evolution are twelve years old, having been aged for three years in American White Oak, then actually re-distilled in a copper pot still. That spirit was then matured for nine years in French Oak casks that previously held Cabernet Sauvignon. Note however that the wine was actually Canadian, and was made by Forty Creek whisky maker John Hall (he is originally a winemaker, and Forty Creek used to be part of his Kittling Ridge winery). Then he threw in some whisky from other barrels, because why not? Only 9000 bottles exist; this is the first of their limited editions since Forty Creek was purchased by Campari in March 2014 for $CDN185.6 million.

The colour is a deep copper with blood orange highlights. On the nose, a mixture of rich dark fruits and berries: black cherries, figs, blackberries and rum-raisin. Vegetal, even a little mossy; add in the oak and you have a damp forest floor. A bit of cinnamon, nutmeg and tobacco. There is some vanilla back there, but fruit is the dominant note here. Add a few drops of water and finally the rye shows up to make an appearance! There is complexity here but overall seems a little flabby somehow.

On the palate, even fruitier. Extremely sweet with red grape (the Cab Sauv is front and centre now), raspberry and blueberry. And...not much else. Far less complexity than the nose, and completely dominated by the wine influence. Water helps bring some rye and spices forward, but not nearly enough. The wine overwhelms everything, unfortunately.

The finish is spicy with pepper and ground ginger, but still very winey. Well, this a major disappointment. Forty Creek is perhaps the most innovative distillery in Canada - and certainly the creation of this whisky speaks of innovation and experimentation. But the wine influence is so overwhelming that I wouldn't be surprised if he actually dumped some wine into the whisky itself (which you could legally do in Canada). About the wine: there's a reason Kittling Ridge isn't around anymore. It's terrible. John Hall was not a good wine maker (though he's usually an excellent whisky maker). Of course, I can't speak for the particular wine used in this one, but all of the Kittling Ridge wines I've had before were awful. I already have an aversion to wine finishes, but if you are going to do one - use decent wine, for God's sake.

The conversation doesn't surprise me, as Evolution is certainly an interesting one...I didn't expect to like Evolution much because I also am not keen on wine finishes. But, I found it absolutely brilliant, and that has not changed over successive tastings - to my palate, it's among the best Canadian whiskies I've ever tasted. But also one of the most unique - and I am not surprised it doesn't take to some people. This really goes to show how different our palates are in terms of what we enjoy and appreciate in whisky.

As for re-distillation, it is something John Hall has done before, it's not new. It can be done to cover up mistakes, but if you re-distill an aged whisky it allows you a chance to impart wood flavours into the spirit while also being able to filter out some of the heavier (or lighter) flavours imparted by the wood, which gives even more flexibility in crafting a whisky which has more fruit notes, or more grain notes. Certainly an interesting tactic you don't see often with aged whisky.

well, @Astroke, why not indeed? If I had the answer...I'd be John Hall,. I asked him 2 years ago when Evolution was introduced about possible releasing a CS whisky. People would go nuts about it. He felt it wouldn't allow everyone to taste it the same way (some would add more water than others). So what?

Harmony suggests that the pipeline of special whisky may be dry. It may well be time for Campari to haul Hall back into the mixing room... or even better, hire @paddockjudge to blend something awesome.


This whisky, Forty Creek Evolution, is the 8th limited release from John Hall, whisky maker at Forty Creek. John Hall was originally a wine maker, and made his own Cabernet Sauvignon at Kittling Ridge, and, thus, in theory, had easy access to wine barrels. This release is roughly 12 years old, though it has a bit of a journey – 100% corn, 100% barley, and 100% rye whiskies, in the Forty Creek style, were aged in white oak for three years, re-distilled to concentrate flavours, as John Hall often does at some stage with his premium releases. They were then re-barreled into French Oak Cabernet Sauvignon casks where they were aged for an additional 9 years. A few other of John’s “favorite barrels” were also added to balance the flavors. The name, evolution, is to signify the whisky’s capacity to change over time. A fitting name, perhaps, too, because John Hall used a wine cask now to house whisky not wine, a sort of evolution in itself. And, on another level, Forty Creek was bought out by Campari last year which may allow a lot more opportunity for growth in the brand and production as well. It was only last year that Kittling Ridge Estates and Spirits finally made the full transition to spirits and moved out all of their wine gear, the wine portion of Kittling Ridge bought out by Magnotta wineries. As far as I understand, the basic production and sourcing regions for the wine are similar. For the fun of it, I bought a bottle of Kittling Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon, assuming it is of roughly the same flavour profile as the wines originally in the casks used by John Hall for this whisky. to see how it was relative to the whisky which I reviewed further down.

Very briefly, some notes on the wine:

Nose: raisins, blackberries, black currants, green bell peppers, and dark cherries – it’s very brightly fruity, and there are very gentle wafts of light vanilla and oak

Taste: Raisins again are quite present, and it has a slight oxidized flavour with medium tannic levels and some light oak creaminess and a touch of bitterness. Lightly acidic but not as much as I often find in Ontario reds.

Finish: light and short, with a slight bit of fruit and a small tannic pull.

Now, on to the whisky!

Nose: Nutty, with some fruit chocolate aromas – raisins, dried currants, milk chocolate, toasted oak, olive oil, green bell pepper (as in the wine!), and some ruby port-type rich fruitiness and the oxidized notes of tawny port or sherry. It does have quite a bit of a wine edge to it – the tannic edge of red wine is in this one, and there is indeed some earthiness in the mix – like rooty, dark, damp soil . The olive oil is interestingly present and quite a significant portion of the nose, and they seem to develop into slightly earthy black olives. I find dates start to emerge, and I am just full of images of brandied fruitcake and fig and date bars. Light vanilla is present in the background, which is nice because it would be out of place otherwise. Terrific balance, and, indeed, it evolves – but, at least to my nose, not primarily in the earthy ways described by John Hall. However, one can think a bit of chocolate and nuts with port before getting distracted and chewing on some olives and then to dates and figs before finally settling down with some fruitcake. The spices seem to come, oddly, the most present at the end where we seem to get everything – some cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and gingerbread. A bit of a different egg coming out of Forty Creek this year. This is multi-dimensional, and quite a bit different, and very intriguing – the dried fruitiness has been elegantly balanced beside the interesting vegetal notes, nuttiness, and all the other flavours that stop along the way. I spend nearly an hour nosing this on my first sample, and kept discovering new things and “pairings”, indeed, that come in the nose. Upon successive nosings, I think this noses better in a glencairn glass than a wide-mouthed glass as it allows the development to happen a bit more slowly. 95%

Taste: Surprisingly sweet (but not too sweet), with lots of raisins, dates, and chocolate notes before some toasted oak, nuts (roasted cashews and peanuts), spice (cinnamon and nutmeg), and vanilla waves and a lightly tannic finish. Despite everything going on, it somehow works, and well, at that! The tannic edge on this just gives it a wonderful edge and shape that is little short of fascinating, and elevates the whole experience – and the toasted oak just works brilliantly with the rest. Absolutely wonderful! 95%

Finish: Cinnamon, tannins in a bit of the mold of a tannic red wine (though they’re not, of course, that intense), dates, lovely tawny port oxidized notes, and a resilient browned butter note all of the sudden. 93%

Intrigue: Is this a whisky or liquid fruitcake? I love fruitcake, port, nuts, and just about all that this whisky is about. I absolutely love this stuff. It is a brilliant whisky to analyze, but isn’t perhaps as approachable or as good of a casual sipper as, say, Forty Creek Confederation Oak, as you need to take some time to fully appreciate its brilliance, and you will probably enjoy this more if you like fruitcake and some of the tawny port notes.

To further state my enjoyment of this – an ounce of this held me to nearly two hours on my first review! Frankly, I resisted rating it so high ... but, the rating just kept creeping up and over my hours with the whisky went from a 91 to a 95, and the whole next morning I was still daydreaming about the whisky. On my two follow up tastings I had no change to make to my rating. Also, as a side note, this one makes an intriguing pairing with cheese. An absolute class act from Forty Creek, once again. 95%


Evolution is the 2014 special release from Forty Creek. As explained by the "Creator" of "Evolution", the whisky was originally aged 3 years then re-distilled and aged further, being finished in red wine casks.

This review comes after an initial tasting at the distillery. Tonight I opened a new bottle and reviewed it from a Glencairn Glass. The notes with water are entered in parallel to the neat notes, but occurred after 1-2 cc were added and the dram was left to sit for 20-30 minutes.


Neat - First thing that hits me is Niagara Cabernet Franc icewine. Rich, warm, sweet and fruity. Then I get notes of Chocolate, a hint of almond extract (which I despise but it does not detract here), also a bare whiff of butterscotch and vanilla, and the smell of raspberries that are just starting to ferment (?rot), in a good way...

With water - the nose becomes more one-dimensional with just the icewine nose. After about an hour a whiff of chocolate. I prefer the nose neat.


Neat - chocolate, sherry, sweet red wine, a very predominant wine influence on the palate. Hint of bourbon/vanilla, some fig/prune in the background

Water adds a slight tartness to it and I lose the chocolate. It increases the spiciness. I like the taste with water but I prefer it neat.

Finish - sherry, spice, sweet, Lasts longer than other non-single malts I've tried. Leaves you with some dry wine tannins coating your mouth. Nothing unpleasant here.

Balance: It is a bit heavy on the wine influence and a bit sweet.

In summary this is an excellent result for John Hall. I find it very different from last year's release, and no less or more enjoyable (though it may be helpful to put 2 or more special releases head to head). The more I drink this first dram from the bottle, the more I like it, but unlike the Heart of Gold and particularly the Confederation Oak and the Portwood, this is not a dram to just drink absent-mindedly. I think it asks for and deserves some attention. Sure, read, talk, watch TV, but when you raise your glass to your nose or lips, it's worth focusing on it.

I agree. very nice, and you need to take your time with it. Frankly, I didn't expect this one to be that great - but it is perhaps my favorite Forty Creek whisky to date, though some of the Confederation Oak batches have also been marvelous (and I missed out on John's Private Cask, so perhaps that would be up there too). I'll have to post my review soon...it is currently tied for my highest rated Canadian whisky of the 60 Canadians I've rated, and I spent a long time trying to see if I'd put it up that high...but it definitely convinced me.

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