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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 THREE GRAIN
Three Grain uses some malted barley. It is a step up from Barrel Select in quality, but for only a small increment in price (~$30 Canadian for 750 ml). Unfortunately, it is a bit harder to find; it was originally available in several markets, but has disappeared from the shelves, possibly to reduce competition with Barrel Select. It is still available from the distillery, however; any visitors to the Niagara region of Canada and the US ought to consider stopping in for a taste.
The nose is buttery—extraordinarily so—seemingly being warmed and slowly caramelized. There is vanilla, but also a fruit basket of cherries and chocolate-covered raisins.
The chocoloate-covered raisins show themselves on the palate, alongside some menthol. There is a distinct, round maltiness, and more butter. The finish is a little hot, but it is sweet; raisins linger for quite some time.
In colour, it is ever so slightly darker than Barrel Select, though the body is again light in mouthfeel and coats the glass with wee whisky tears.
With its malty notes and smoother finish, Three Grain is a solid step up from Barrel Select, moving into sipping whisky territory. Though it is perhaps not quite as complex or refined as Double Barrel Reserve and Confederation Oak Reserve, it is a hard whisky to beat in its price range.