Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Better Get Used To It: A Review of Forty Creek Barrel Select

If you believe the chatter on the internet, most Canadian whisky is "brown vodka". At the risk of repeating myself, this is nonsense. Hogwash. Claptrap. Poppycock. Balderdash. Every time a Canadian whisky gains a measure of repute, the popular media, at home and abroad, treats the subject as a rare miracle. It is not. This country regularly produces fantastic whisky. It's time we stop acting surprised about it. Like Gordie Johnson from Big Sugar sang: "You better get used to it, baby!" Every whisky-producing country makes "mixer" whisky. Despite what we enthusiasts like to think, those are the big sellers. Wiser's Special Blend, Dewar's White Label, Johnnie Walker Red Label, Jack Daniel's Old No.7, Bushmills Original; these are the whiskies that "keep the lights on" for the distilleries producing our favourite neat sippers.

Gordie knows how great Canada is
But does a whisky's price tag reflect its suitability as a whisky worthy of examination sans mixer? Of course not. One of the advantages of living in Canada (besides our total domination of hockey) is the availability and affordability of our top shelf whiskies. Highland Park 18 Year Old single malt will run you $200, while you can get a Wiser's 18 Year Old for $80. Let me stop you before you respond with "yeah, but Single Malt Scotch". I'm a fan of malt whisky, but it is not "better" than other types of whisky. Single malt scotch has more prestige, largely owing to better marketing, but it is not inherently superior. Tastes are incredibly subjective. De gustibus non disputandum est. If I had a loonie for every time someone told me they prefered Lot No.40 or Forty Creek Barrel Select to my smoky Islay scotches, I'd be a rich man. Well, maybe not; I don't know that many people who drink whisky. I'd definitely have enough for a footlong Subway Club with bacon.

Editorializing aside, if you've never heard of Forty Creek, you need to pay attention.

Forty Creek: where's that? What's that?

From their website:

The Forty Creek distillery is located in Grimsby, Ontario –halfway between Niagara Falls and Toronto. The Niagara region is home to many beautiful and historically significant cities and towns – and Grimsby is certainly one of them. Founded in 1790, Grimsby was formerly named ‘The Forty’, since the river running through the centre of town was exactly 40 miles away from Niagara Falls. Today, that river is named Forty Mile Creek – and it is the body of water that inspired the name of our whiskies.

The Master, hard at work

In an era where clear spirits were all the rage and most whisky companies were playing it safe , winemaker John K Hall took a chance and brought his unique experience and perspectives to the whisky industry. He laid down the first stocks of what would become Forty Creek whisky in 1992. Hall's innovation and commitment to quality reinvigorated the Canadian whisky industry. His efforts did not go unnoticed. In 2001, whisky writer Michael Jackson (not the King of Pop) said Forty Creek was the “richest-tasting Canadian whisky” he had ever tasted  In 2007, Hall was recognized by Malt Advocate Magazine as “Pioneer of the Year”, and was the first and only Canadian whisky maker to receive such a prestigious award.  In 2017, John was honoured with the first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Whisky Awards. That same year, he was inducted into Whisky Magazine's Hall of Fame. Barrel Select is Forty Creek's flagship offering. If you've ever seen Forty Creek in a liquor store, chances are it's been this one.


Tasting notes

Nose (undiluted): lots of sweet notes. Butterscotch, very much like Werther's Originals, caramel popcorn, rich and  deep brown sugar notes, and light rye spice in the background. Take your time and let it breathe and you may notice some nuttiness in the background and a slight savoury note. Very full and inviting.
Palate (undiluted): Rich arrival, surprisingly rich for a 40% ABV whisky, more butterscotch/caramel, a bit of milk chocolate, very light rye and pepper notes in the background with a bit of a light citrus note throughout.
Finish: Medium length, buttery and sweet with hints of berries (blackberries, raspberries) making an appearance. This is a very friendly whisky.
Adding water or ice doesn't change much in the way of flavours. The sweetness is a bit muted, but that might be a function of dilution rather than temperature. Maybe it's a combination of both. Either way, this is a very easy drinking whisky. It makes for a great "background" whisky when you're having drinks with friends and you don't want to spend all of your time or attention on what you're drinking. But... sip it from a Glencairn glass and take your time, and there is some serious complexity here, albeit subtle. I can't help but feel this one would be improved at a higher proof, maybe around 46% ABV. But I'm biased towards higher proof whiskies. I'm also convinced this would be great in a whisky sour, where the sweetness of the whisky would be a nice contrast to the lemon juice. I omit the egg white in my whisky sours, but you do what you like. I'll also wager you'd like it in an Old Pal. "What's an Old Pal", you ask? An Old Pal is similar to a Boulevardier (which is itself a variant of the Negroni), but it uses Dry (White) Vermouth in place of the Boulevardier's Sweet (Red) Vermouth. The rich sweetness of Forty Creek balances out the dryness of the vermouth and the bitterness of the Campari. I'd recommend you start with the following recipe and adjust to suit your taste: 
  • 4.5 cl (1.5oz) Forty Creek Barrel Select
  • 2.2 cl (0.75oz) Campari
  • 2.2 cl (0.75oz) White Vermouth
  • Pour all ingrediends into a mixing glass, add ice to chill
  • Stir and strain into a cocktail glass (or an old fashioned tumbler, my preference)
  • Garnish with a lemon or orange twist


Some whiskies should be a mainstay in your cabinet. Forty Creek Barrel Select is one of those whiskies. It is affordable, versatile and inviting. It's a great whisky to use when you want to introduce someone to whisky sans the Coke or Ginger Ale mixer. It's terrific on ice and quite approachable neat. The whisky neophyte will not be intimidated by this whisky, but that shouldn't imply that the more seasoned sipper won't enjoy it as well. Forty Creek founder John K. Hall spent decades honing his skills in the wine industry and his skills as a blender are evident in the company's flagship whisky. Mr. Hall may be retired, but his legacy is evident in the quality of Forty Creek's whiskies. Barrel Select, to my palate, outperforms many whiskies that cost twice as much. Canada's whisky enthusiasts are fortunate to count Forty Creek among our own. Recommended.
Rating: 3/5 moustaches
Here's to cheating, stealing, fighting, and drinking.
If you cheat, may you cheat death,
If you steal, may you steal a lover's heart,
If you fight, may you fight for a friend, 
And if you drink, may you drink with me.


  1. I've only had the copper pot though I do have the double barrel and the confederation oak unopened. How does the barrel select compare to the copper pot?

    1. I prefer the Copper Pot to the Barrel Select, but the profiles are similar. Barrel Select isn’t as fruity as Copper Pot and not quite as rich either. The Double Barrel is my favourite Forty Creek, other than perhaps Heart Of Gold, which was a magnificent limited release. That one was so rich and full, I felt like I had to chew it.