This year, the limited release from Forty Creek is called “Evolution”. 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 and then these aged whiskies were 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 “favourite barrels” were also added to balance the flavours. 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!
The bottle, as usual, is fantastic and I like that the date has been added to this release. I wonder if Campari has given them a bit more of a marketing budget because this is the best box yet, I think. There is even a theme of film (I think?) as if this one tells a story.
On a side note, after leading a few tastings with this one – you need to sip it slowly. Otherwise you are just tasting cinnamon hearts and you miss the whole thing if it is gulped down. Also, as with other whiskies – if it is coming off bitter try refreshing your palate with black coffee and give it another go…
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. I originally had this at a 95%, but as I’ve continued to do tastings out of my bottle (and awed guests) I have to bump it up even higher. There is very little else I could ask for in a nose. 29.5/30 (98%)
Taste: Surprisingly 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! 28.5/30 (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. 18.5/20 (93%)
Conclusion: Is this a whisky or liquid fruitcake? Also – 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 – my reviews usually consist of three reviews, each of which are usually 20-40 minutes. An ounce of this held me to nearly two hours on my first review! Frankly, I resisted rating it so high especially as it was going to surpass my rating for Heart of Gold, the special release last year, which I also absolutely loved. Also, generally, wine cask finishes in whisky (though this is much more of a maturation rather than a finish) aren’t my choice. 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. Also, as a side note, this one makes an intriguing pairing with cheese. An absolute class act from Forty Creek, once again. 19/20 (95%)
Overall Score: 95.5/100