Craft artisan whisky making. There is arguably no Canadian distillery that has so wholeheartedly embraced this concept as Grimsby, Ontario’s Kittling Ridge Estates Wine And Spirits. While some may be unfamiliar with the name Kittling Ridge, its less likely that the name of the distillery’s flagship whisky, Forty Creek, has flown under the radar. The company made its mark on the whisky world several years back with the release of its Barrel Select standard expression. In more recent years the distillery’s output has been wonderfully augmented with a series of unique limited releases. Each of these whiskies bears both the hallmarks of the Canadian style and the fingerprints of a distiller at the height of his craft.
I hate to say it, but for those of us who may have started off our dramming days by diving into the heavy, malty complexities of Scotch, Canadian whisky will most likely be something of an acquired taste. Its sweet, spicy character has more in common with bourbon than it does with the amber blood of Scotland. Having said that, much like anything worth trying, it’s worth investing the time to learn the intricacies of the subject before forming an opinion. Canadian whisky is a journey unto itself, and a rewarding one at that.
To quote Canadian whisky authority Davin De Kergommeaux, John K. Hall, the man at the helm, is “a chemist by education, a winemaker by trade, and a whisky maker by passion”. John has almost singlehandedly brought the prestige and national pride back into Canadian whisky. In ages past, the world was quite enamoured with this singular drink. It has served as both the saviour of parched American palates during times of prohibition, and as the trendy ‘it’ drink in earlier decades. Up until the last few years however, it has rarely been afforded the accolades we Canucks would like to be able to boast of.
But as Mr. Zimmerman once said, ‘The times, they are a-changin’’.
Aside from John Hall himself, if anyone in the spirits world has been instrumental in helping pull Canadian whisky back into the spotlight, it would be the aforementioned Davin de Kergommeaux. Davin’s brilliant book ‘Canadian Whisky: The Portable Expert’ is essential reading for anyone who endeavours to learn a little more about Canadian whisky. At some point in the future I’ll be looking at pulling together a few words on Davin and his book so let’s not dwell too deeply on that here, but I would like to draw your attention to the fact that Davin has pulled together a few great pages (Chapter 24) on Kittling Ridge, in which he does a beautifully concise job of setting the scene regarding Forty Creek and the Kittling Ridge distillery. I could sit here, play armchair hack journalist and regurgitate all of Davin’s hard work for you, but I’d be doing an injustice in paraphrasing, and instead will highly recommend you do yourself a favour and grab a copy of his book.
And finally…for those looking for a little more information direct from the source, the Forty Creek website is absolutely top notch. One of the best out there, to be honest.
A quick final note before we jump into some tasting notes…
While there’s no age statement on these Forty Creek releases, it’s a fair assumption that they are all built from fairly young whiskies. It should be noted however that much (if not most) of Canadian whisky is served up relatively young. I bring this up not to suggest that age is a qualifier in any of the following notes or scores, but simply to say that there is an awful lot of complexity packed into these bottles. Each one a rewarding experience in its own right.
I sat down one morning a few days back (yes, I said ‘morning’…what of it?) with seven different expressions of Forty Creek and my tasting note book. The results…well…see for yourself.
Forty Creek Barrel Select
Nose: Vanilla. Caramel…maybe butterscotch(?). Nutmeg. Chocolate. Salty dough. Lemon. A dusting of cinnamon. Toasted marshmallow (actually…have you ever burnt one over a campfire? There you go!). Smells of fresh baking. Almost dessert-like in ways. Great cohesion. Very easy going.
Palate: Spicy warm arrival that develops into a cinnamon / ginger / molasses cookie note. Creamy fudge (like the candy shops in Banff, my local mates).
Thoughts: John knocks it outta the park with his entry level expression.
Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve
Nose: Warm hot cross buns. Rye bread. A neat little bit of almost an ashy / peppery nip. Allspice. Slightly minty. A touch of smoke. Savoury notes too. Oddly enough, there is a slightly metallic tang here (no…this isn’t mere synesthesia from the name of the whisky).
Palate: Wow…way more tangy than the Barrel Select. More on tart fruits and zippy spices. Big rye notes. A lot of spice. Sticky saucy notes.
Thoughts: Good whisky. Even without overthinking the name of this one, we are moving closer to Scotch territory now.
Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve
Nose: Chocolate. Raisin and massive purple grapes. Rye grains, but…now some sweet corn bourbon notes too. Lemon pepper. Tart cherry and gooseberry. Seems like a lot of sherry influence here. A mixed bag of citrus zest (lemon, lime and orange shavings). Vanilla cream and clean oak.
Palate: Caramel apple. Christmas cake. Less complex on the palate than the nose would lead you to believe. Almost too easy actually.
Thoughts: Lots to this one for those who are olfactorily-inclined. I could pick notes off the nose of this one for hours. Extra points here for the nose alone.
Forty Creek John’s Private Cask No. 1
Nose: Warm chocolate. Cadbury’s Fruit And Nut bar. Some white chocolate too. Nice spice blend. More cereals and porridge-y notes now. Crème brûlée. Poached pear with a touch of pepper and old ginger. Vanilla cream and just a little banana cream too. Rye. A slightly sour tang. Very gentle…very approachable.
Palate: Melted chocolate over tart fruits…with a shake of mixed spices over the lot (cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger). Tangy again. What kind of cask play is this, I wonder.
Thoughts: Would likely make a Canadian whisky convert of most anyone.
Forty Creek Port Wood Reserve
Nose: Cinnamon and raisin bagels. Butter tarts. A slightly meaty, Bovril aroma (like those little bags of beef ring crisps you can get in the UK). Our mate Davin De Kergommeaux found celery (good nose, Davin!), but I’ll go further and say it’s more like celery salt to me. Chocolate. Dill. Old Dutch Bar-B-Q potato chips. Salty and a little smoky.
Palate: All works in an odd sorta way on the nose, but on the palate…not so much. Quite tart. I wish this had had a little less time in bed with the port. Too wine-heavy for my liking. Dried fruits and spice.
Thoughts: I’m a big fan of the uniqueness of the nose, but wish it all held together a little better. Extra point for the nose.
Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve
Nose: Creamy? More fruits now than we’ve seen so far. Crème brûlée…again. Vanilla. Caramel apple. Chocolate ganache. Rye and all purpose flour. Toffee, ginger and pepper. Lively red fruity notes. Not far off the nose of the more mature Alberta Premium releases, but sans the dusty dunnage notes.
Palate: Fresh woods and creamy custards. More vanilla cream here with some fruity notes. Chocolate. A touch of smoke. The aforementioned crème brûlée is here too.
Thoughts: Simple: I love it.
Forty Creek Heart of Gold
Nose: More of a spicy rye character now. Substantial wine notes. Massive bucket loads of jarred prunes (think those little jars of baby food). Slight smoked meat note. Damp wood. Pepper. Lots of spice. I’m getting a vague iodine (almost urine…sorry!) note here somewhere.
Palate: All prunes again. Some smoke. Dried fruits and moist rye bread. Having trouble pulling more out from around that prune character.
Thoughts: Not the integrated whole I had hoped for. Don’t get me wrong though…still a top notch whisky. Think I’ll go back to the Confederation Oak.
Sincere thanks to my mate, Piers, for helping pull together so many of these wonderful whiskies for me. You’re a good man, Piers, irrespective of what most people say. Love ya, brother.
Big cheers to Canada’s best whisky maker, Mr. John Hall.
– Words & Tasting Notes: Curt
– Photos: Curt