Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve (40% alc./vol.)
Butterscotch, fresh-cut wood, toasted oak and wood smoke. Sweet vanilla, berries, barbeque sauce, mash, granola. Restrained, but full-flavoured. Rich & Round. ★★★★☆Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve is the fourth special release from whisky maker John Hall’s Kittling Ridge Distillery. At 16,800 bottles, this is also Hall’s largest special release. Hall produces Confederation Oak Reserve with his traditional Forty Creek “Meritage” process whereby he ages the corn, rye, and barley spirits separately before blending them together. He then re-barrels the blend for a period of marrying prior to bottling. However Confederation Oak is very much a unique whisky in that the marrying process takes place in barrels made from Canadian white oak trees that grew in a forest just forty miles (65 km) from the Grimsby distillery.For the most part, Hall uses American Bourbon barrels imported from Kentucky and Missouri for his Forty Creek line. But when he found a grove of local oaks, he realized they would be ideal for making whisky. He shipped the logs to a Missouri cooperage where they were made into barrels, custom toasted, and shipped back to his distillery in Grimsby. It turns out these trees first took root more than 150 years ago, at the time of Canadian Confederation. This is why Hall chose the name Confederation Oak Reserve. Sensitive to ecological concerns, Hall is quick to point out that these older trees were being culled from a sustainably managed forest on the principle of “no tree before its time” and their removal helped promote the growth and reproductive vigour of younger trees that were left to take their place.Long cold winters ensure that Canadian white oak is much more dense than American although both are the same species: Quercus alba. Slow growth in the harsh Canadian climate imbues the oak richly with vanillins. A veteran winemaker, Hall refers to these qualities as contributing to a Canadian “terroir.”Barrel selection is paramount at Kittling Ridge Distillery and since each cask has its own personality, the whiskies are tasted as they mature. Only when each of the individual whiskies has achieved the desired flavour profile are they married together in common barrels. Fortunately Hall is a very patient man. The months he thought it would take to polish this already mature whisky in Canadian oak eventually turned into years. Although he had seasoned the barrels carefully, after a year in Canadian oak the whisky was so loaded with extreme aromas that Hall feared he would end up having to re-distil it. Instead he decided to let nature take its course and after leaving the whisky in the Canadian oak barrels for two additional years, his patience was finally rewarded. Time had smoothed it out creating this exciting, Canadian oak special release.Nose: Begins with a fleeting citric-sourness, then sweetens up immediately to hints of vanilla and caramel. Sweet balsam begins a procession of many unusual notes that develop over time. It’s tempting to take that first sip right away, but if you wait you are rewarded with aromas of sweet caporal tobacco, mashed grain, dark fruit and berries, shellac, oranges, barbeque potato chips, and charred firewood. There is a lot happening here but it needs some time to develop. The wood never overwhelms although it becomes a dominant feature with fresh lumber notes sawdust and hints of charred wood. This is the dry fresh oak of long-lost vintage Canadian whiskies.Palate: Sweet butterscotch melds into rich vanilla before fresh cut wood and a smoky, rain-soaked campfire take over the palate. An odd fruitiness, both sweet and sour, is reminiscent of raspberries. Slowly developing pepper begins as little more than a warming glow, but becomes much more assertive on the second and subsequent sips. Just for a second, you can almost taste bacon. Just as the vanilla builds, fresh toast and breakfast cereal waft in to balance it out. Lingering flavours of wood, vanilla and mild pepper provide a nicely integrated base for the more fleeting berries, unlit cigar, hints of rubber, and barbeque sauce. The medium-weight body feels good. This is a complex whisky which rewards patient sippers with a constantly evolving palate. Confederation Oak is sweeter than but not as weighty as Forty Creek Double Barrel, and not nearly as sweet as the toffeed Barrel Reserve.Finish: Medium-long. Peppery with sweet but subdued vanilla out front, and cedar in the background. Later on there are almost tannic suggestions of toasted oak.Empty glass: fresh-cut lumber,$70.00 at LCBOHighly recommended. ★★★★☆Forty Creek Barrel Select is reviewed here.Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve is reviewed here.Forty Creek John's Private Cask No. 1 is reviewed here.Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve is reviewed here.