Whisky is a fascinating process, packed with flavour, partially because of the amount of time it takes to make whisky. Not only does whisky spend years in a barrel, the flavour for whisky really starts with the wood – which takes years upon years to form before being put into a barrel. This whisky pays homage to that fact in name as the trees from which the barrels come were around 150 years old – meaning that they started to grow in the 1860s – sometime around the time of the Canadian Confederation, which was the process by which Canada was formed into an independent nation in 1867. Hence, it is called “Confederation Oak”, and the the batches are labeled 1867.
John Hall, the whisky maker at Forty Creek, always wanted to see what whisky would taste like which is aged in Canadian Oak, as most whisky is aged in either American or European oak – different species which yield different flavours. Canadian oak is still the same species as American oak, but, because of the harsher winters it tends to be more dense resulting in a slightly different chemical composition interacting with the whisky. At present, this is the only whisky aged in Canadian oak.
Sourcing Canadian oak was not easy, and it happened nearly by accident – John Hall noticed some trees being cut down near the distillery, and went over and ended up buying the three trees. 90 barrels were made out of the trees, and, if my memory serves me correctly, the staves made from the oak were air-dried for 2 full years before being dry enough to make into a barrel. The trees were taken down to the US and made into barrels by the same supplier which makes most of the barrels used to make Kentucky Bourbon. John Hall says they are perhaps the most expensive barrels ever produced with all the work he had to put into them.
This whisky is made in line with the Forty Creek process, with aged, single grain barley, rye, and corn whiskies being blended together before being finished in the Canadian oak barrels for two years. (For more information on the Forty Creek whisky-making process, see my review for Barrel Select). It was originally a special, limited release, but it has been put into the regular lineup. This review is from batch 1867-B, the follow up batch from the original. I have also reviewed another batch – 1867-D.
Nose: The nose is complex, and multifaceted – there appears to be a grain, cream, fruit, sweet, wood, and spice component all in this one nose, brilliantly integrated together. On the grain side, rye shines through brilliantly, with a fresh bread element – like fresh and hot rye bread. The rye is slighly grassy, reminding me a bit of a an irish pot still type grassiness. On the cream side, there’s wonderful creamy butterscotch and brilliant sweetness in the nose. The creaminess is fascinating – there’s butterscotch, whipped cream, caramel, and vanilla all shining through. On the sweet side, there’s honey, with some floral hints of lavender, and maple, which takes its place ahead of the oak that is present in the nose as well. In terms of spice, there is slight, subtle cinnamon spice and some pepper. I also get some stewed, slightly sour fruit like apricots or plums along with a bit of tartness as with blackberries.The nose evolves, with a bit more smokiness and fruitiness coming out as it sits and I incredibly enjoy appreciating all that is going on. It’s wonderful too, that it changes as you continue to sip through the bottle. On this, my third evaluative tasting, navel orange peel is rising like mad out of the glass. An absolute pleasure. 28.5/30 (95%)
Taste: Silky smooth, with sweet citrus entry with some orange, as rising rye spice is balanced with beautiful vanilla sweetness which gives way to more vanilla and some nuts. A bit oaky as well, not too much, but just enough. it’s fruity, sometimes even showing some brandy character, as well as some raisins – a touch of a fruitcake comes in at times. A touch smoky, with the signature forty creek toasted oak present in the middle. The sweet/spice dynamic is brilliant, and the fruitiness is just about perfect to compliment the two. And even with that, there’s some intriguing tartness. 28.5/30 (95%)
Finish: Long, slow, tingly, warming, slightly dry, and sweet. Very pleasant – you can chew on the flavour for some time. A bit earthy, with good depth and some maple syrup, nuts, vanilla, and some grassy rye. The tingly spice is also brilliant, with a touch of clove, and it is one of my favourite mouth experiences. Also, the tartness is also ever so slightly present just asking you to take another sip. As I sip, I find the finish has a bit more and more oak. 18.5/20 (93%)
Conclusion: hugely enjoyable with a fantastic (and approachable) flavour profile and brilliant balance. The soft, sweet flavours sit beside the spicy and bolder flavours, and a remarkable amount is going on. This is one of my absolute favourite Canadians, if not my favourite. 19/20 (95%)
Overall Score: 94.5/100