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Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve Whisky

Review: Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve Whisky   90.5/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted on September 18, 2011

Forty Creek Whisky has for the last number of years produced a special limited release whisky and allowed the public to participate in the release by offering to let you choose your own numbered bottle. As well you can have your bottle signed by their own Master Distiller and Whisky Maker, John Hall, when you arrive to pick up your pre-ordered bottles. These special release whiskies are built upon the foundation of the company’s flagship whisky, Forty Creek Barrel Select, and are basically versions of this whisky which have spent additional time finishing in selected oak barrels. Last year’s release (2010) was the Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve Whisky. I manged to buy three signed bottles, and although it is a year later, I have decided that it is time to provide a review of this unique limited release bottling (16,800 bottles) of Forty Creek Whisky.

What makes this whisky unique is that it has been finished in Canadian Oak Barrels. These oak barrels were made from oak trees (growing only 40 miles from the distillery) which began their growth in Canadian soil approximately 150 years ago at the time of Confederation (The birth of Canada as a nation), hence the name Confederation Oak.

When I spoke to John Hall (Forty Creek founder and Whisky Maker) about this whisky, he mentioned that Canadian oak trees are heavier and more dense than American oak due to the harsher Canadian climate. As a result, the oak barrels impart a different flavour characteristic to the whisky. The vanillans are more pronounced, and the wood tannins seem to be slightly stronger. In fact, John told me he almost scrapped this whisky altogether when after the first and the second years of ‘finishing’ in the Canadian oak barrels, the whisky was, to him, harsh and unappealing. But rather than scrapping the whisky, he allowed time to take its course. To his delight the whisky mellowed considerably after the third year of finishing, and the desired flavour profile for his whisky was achieved.

In the Bottle 5/5

Forty Creek has used the same style of bottle for each of the last three special releases. I love the look of this bottle and the attractive/professional graphics and labeling which are employed. In my review of the Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve (Lot 240), I expressed discontent with the cheap looking clear plastic box the whisky arrived in, and the cheap plastic medallion which was draped around the bottles neck. The plastic box has been replaced by an attractive cardboard box with nice graphics, but the medallion is still a part of the presentation. I guess I feel generous today because despite the plastic medallion, I am awarding a perfect score for presentation.

By the way, I like the added touch of calling this particular batch of whisky, Lot 1867, in a tip to the year of Canadian Confederation.

In the Glass 9/10

The aroma from the glass begins with typical Canadian Whisky notes of light rye and oak.  Soon, however, I begin to notice caramel corn and light baking spices building, then a strong indication of the new oak barrels imparting their fresh tannin into the liquid as fresh scents of honeycomb, vanilla, cedar and toffee rise into the breezes above the glass. As the glass breathes, the oak becomes firmer and a certain smokiness from dried fruit develops. Fresh sap, raisins, dried apricots and spicy toffee are all apparent in the fully decanted glass.

The complexity of the aroma is very enticing. The aromas and smells from the glass are ever-changing in the breezes, but I sense no competition for attention, rather a certain harmony accompanies the changes.

In the Mouth 54/60

The initial sip from the glass is somewhat sweet and somewhat oaky. It is kind of a melded flavour of oak tannin and caramel, and I am tempted to  liken it to the flavour of caramel oak syrup, except that I have never tasted caramel oak syrup. I guess this is what my imagination believes caramel oak syrup ought to taste like. The flavour includes cedar planks freshly cut, and a strong influence of corn. We have same sappy undertones and some nice orange marmalade flavours within this syrup. Vanilla and baking spices, as well as flavours of canned fruits like apricots and peaches.

Something I didn’t notice at first but which became more apparent over time was a light smokey sherry presence under that caramel oak syrup with raisins, plums, and dark red cherries kind of floating in the flavour profile. The flavour is rounded off with honeycomb cereal and marzipan.  I find the overall flavour to be extremely nice, and I seem to enjoy sipping the spirit just a little more each time I revisit.

In the Throat 13.5/15

The Forty Creek Confederation Oak has a medium to long exit which features oak tannins melded into the caramelized sugars of the whisky. I taste a good helping of vanilla and honeycomb trailing down. As well, the whisky in the finish reminds me more of bourbon than of Canadian Whisky.

The Afterburn 9/10

I am very happy that Forty Creek is a distillery that believes in patience. The extra time this whisky spent in the new oak barrels has paid handsome dividends. The result was not just a good whisky. Rather it is a whisky that is so good I shall be hoarding it, and I will dole out a dram here and a dram there just for special occasions and just special friends.

You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.


As always you may interpret the scores I provide as follows.

0-25 A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49 Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59 You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69 Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74 Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79 You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84 We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89 Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94 Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+ I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be more familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)

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