Forty Creek John’s Private Cask No. 1 Review
Bursting gingery spice bombs, dark fruits, clean sweet wood, and crème caramel. A spice “Monster.” Sultry fruits and dusky rye spices like fireworks in an ancient muggy rainforest. Spicy Rye. ★★★★★Islay’s gift to whisky is the renowned “peat monster.” Speyside has given us the “sherry monster.” And now Central Canada makes it three beasties with a “spice monster” to round out the titanic trio. John Glazer’s Spice Tree teased us with flavour possibilities heretofore barely known in whisky. Wiser’s Legacy tantalizes us with a whole lush Zanzibar of fragrant spices. And now the “spice flares” that simply explode onto our palates in John’s Private Cask No. 1 make it official: Whiskydom, the spice monster has arrived and it’s carrying dynamite.Forty Creek whisky maker, John Hall, has a tradition of introducing a new, small-batch whisky each fall. These are premium whiskies and they never fail to impress. Big, rich, robust, and mouth-filling like past offerings, this year’s edition strikes out in an entirely new direction. Or is it an old one? For John’s Private Cask No. 1 takes the real traditional flavours of Canadian rye and seemingly concentrates them into a flavour-bomb that detonates the instant it enters your mouth. The sheer scale of the flavour will have you checking the alc./vol. because, yes, this is 40% although the flavour careens hard into cask strength territory.Now, about the name – John’s Private Cask No. 1. With 9,000 bottles, that must have been quite some cask. Hall explains that what really happened is that he mingled the contents of 23 separate reserve barrels together to create this, his latest achievement. But how did he select those 23 barrels? According to Hall, as he goes about tasting his barrels, every now and then he comes across one that is, in his words, “over the top.” He marks these with chalk for future reference. When it came time to make this year’s special release he went through these reserve barrels and selected 23 with flavours that complement each other. The good news is that if he selected 23 barrels from among his reserve stock, that means there are still more barrels there for another time.Some of the barrels he chose were filled with corn whisky while others had rye, or barley whisky in them. Each of these makes its essence known in the final whisky. The creaminess of corn is obvious in the mouthfeel, but it’s not silky corn like you find in Forty Creek Double Barrel. The barley, Hall tells us, is evident in those cereal nutty notes that appear right away and then disappear into hot spices. But it is rye that leads the charge here. Corn may provide the foundation and barley the structure, but the balance, the complexity, and the sheer entertainment come from the interplay of rye spices - and probably a good whack of toasted oak.Bottles should be on the shelves at LCBO on September 13, but if you can wait just a few days longer it would be well worth your while to trek over to Kittling Ridge Distillery in Grimsby, Ontario, on September 17 or 18 where Hall will be signing bottles. And while you are there, you can get him or one of the staff to show you around the distillery. It’s too late to reserve your numbered bottle but there will be plenty on hand so you can take one home with you.There is also a little bonus for smart phone users. Scanning a graphic (QR code) on the box brings up a secret tasting video. Hall, at his folksy best, talks a bit about the whisky then walks you through a virtual tasting. Fun!Nose: Very fruity and rich, the nose is immediately reminiscent of those old fruity lumber smells of whiskies like Canadian Club 30-year old with its prunes and dry figs and sweet wood and lushness. This dark fruit slowly evolves into fresh fruit – maybe berries, maybe kiwi – while rye spices, ginger and some slight herbal notes simmer away well below the surface. Gradually the rye ripens into cloves and especially ginger with lots of that generic Canadian rye whisky smell. Butterscotch envelopes a sweet Canada balsam woodiness, or is it dry wood strapping in a hot attic? Campfire notes teasingly hint at smoke, leaving more room for wood than char. A certain brightness is cloaked in heavy fruit, muskiness and the muggy weight of a sweet virgin redwood forest. Imagine a damp West Coast Trail on a brilliantly sunny morning.Palate: Bursting blasts of candied ginger quickly overpower a huge surging creamy butterscotch. Oh, it’s hot, but a spicy hot, not peppery. These are real rye spices – traditional rye spices – with ginger at the fore. They immediately take siege of the palate, yet the palate remains broad and rich with constant action from bittersweet citric elements such as candied orange rind. And every here and there a few odd things creep in such as milk duds, gelatin caps and brown sugar, only to scurry quickly away. A warming Christmas-fire glow coats the throat.The rich, mouth-filling, medium-to-robust body, though creamy, is by no means smooth. No: Eruptions of spice take care of that. Hot glowing ginger dominates the middle and as it fades into the finish it tingles like ginger ale. Rich dark fruit permeates supple tannins that pull gently at your cheeks as cedar lumber and pencil shavings linger long on the tongue and in the nose.Finish: Very long; it never really disappears. Spicy and refreshingly citric with lots of ginger and grapefruit pith.Empty Glass: Crème brulé, sweet fresh-cut hardwood, teasing hints of a campfire, sweet and sour sauce, and vanilla.$69.95 at LCBO from September 13, 2011.Very highly recommended ★★★★★Forty Creek Barrel Select is reviewed here.Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve is reviewed here.Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve is reviewed here.Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve is reviewed here.