It is a wonderful time to be a Canadian whisky drinker. Major brands are stepping up with extra-aged and small-batch whiskies, and a bevy of smaller distillers are making unique, interesting spirits. So there are plenty of options, and opportunities to expand your palate. Among the artisanal producers is Forty Creek Whisky, made at its distillery in Grimsby, Ontario and available all across Canada.
Forty Creek was a passionate idea, hatched by founder John Hall. He noted a dearth of innovation and fresh approaches in the Canadian whisky sector, and decided to do something about it: he began making his own. The first batch was laid down in 1992; it was bottled and brought to market in 1999. That same year, Hall became sole owner, and added master blender Bill Ashburn to his team. Today, they have made Forty Creek a standard bearer for high-quality Canadian whisky.
Both American bourbon oak casks and Canadian oak casks are used. There are three grains in the recipe: corn, barley, and rye. The blending process is a complex affair, demanding patience and deep knowledge of how each barrel is unique, and how each will contribute to the overall final blend. While there is a proprietary process to this, Ashburn and Hall have made subtle changes over the years, all in the name of slightly improving the whisky. Today’s Barrel Select, which is the mainstay and acts as the base for the the specialty blends, is intensely flavourful, indicative of caramel and light spice notes on a rich palate. It is full-bodied, well-structured, and finishes gracefully—ideal on its own, or perhaps with a few drops of water, which will lift the aromas slightly. Barrel Select is joined at Forty Creek by Copper Pot, Spike Honey Spiced, Double Barrel Reserve, Confederation Oak Reserve, and an annual special blend, this year’s model being Founder’s Reserve.
At the prestigious International Whisky Awards in 2016, Barrel Select won Gold for best Canadian whisky. This was the latest in a very long string of national and international awards. Gruppo Campari purchased the distillery (including all of its warehouse assets) in 2014, which likely means Forty Creek will further expand production to edge closer to its capacity of half a million cases a year. Markets, particularly in the United Sates, will expand, which is nothing but good news for any and all who know the brand. And if you don’t know Forty Creek, now is a good time to acquaint yourself.