Friday Night Cocktail: John’s Private Cask No. 1

OK, so this isn’t a cocktail at all; it’s a whisky. Fall is whisky season, and sometimes all you need is a simple glass.

I acquired this particular whisky last weekend while visiting the distillery, Kittling Ridge, for their “whisky weekend” event. Every fall for the past few years, they’ve released a new small-batch whisky under the Forty Creek label, and since the standard Forty Creek Barrel Select is one of my favourite Canadian whiskies, I figured it would be a good time to visit the distillery and try out the new product.

I’ve never taken a full distillery tour before, so this was a new experience for me. I knew much of the whisky’s history already, from reading it online. The whisky maker, John Hall, had been a winemaker, and in 1992 decided to apply those skills to whisky, by distilling separate barley, rye and corn whiskies, aging them separately, then blending them and marrying them in oak for a while longer before bottling. (They refer to this as a “Meritage” process, and apparently a number of people in the whisky industry counselled them against it at first.) In fact, the separate whiskies are even aged in barrels with different levels of char: light for the rye, medium for the barley, and heavy for the corn.

The copper still where Forty Creek is made

Knowing this is one thing, seeing where it actually happens is another. As a working distillery, it wasn’t the showiest tour: mostly it consisted of big rooms crammed with enormous stainless steel tanks. Even the still itself is sort of crammed into one corner (and some of the lights were out; not the best picture-taking conditions). But because it was a special event, we got to see part of the facility that isn’t on the usual tour: the barrel room. To get there, we had to pass through the warehouse where they keep pallets of the finished product, ready to ship, which is where we learned that they do the bottling for Appleton rum in Canada. (As if I needed another excuse to drink Appleton!) The barrel room itself contained 20,000 barrels of various kinds, and was one of three such facilities, as a “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” strategy. Let’s face it, it was a big warehouse filled with barrels and, as such, wouldn’t have had a lot of romance… were it not for the aroma. All-pervasive whisky and oak: can I get that as an air freshener?

The tour also gave me the opportunity to ask a few questions, such as how hard it was to acquire a distilling license in a market traditionally dominated by large corporate distillers. (It turns out the site already had a license from a previous owner, a German distiller who made fruit eaux-de-vie that, sadly, didn’t sell.) I also asked whether Forty Creek, like most Canadian whiskies, was made by mixing a “flavouring whisky” with neutral spirits. I was told that it is, in fact, a pure pot still whisky. I’m not sure why this surprised me; after all, Redbreast Irish whiskey is also in a lighter style, and is also pure pot still.

After the tour, we headed to the tasting bar for a sample of the new release, John’s Private Cask No. 1 (actually drawn from 23 different casks). There’s no way I could do justice to Davin de Kergommeaux’s tasting notes, but I agree with every word he says.

"Aged in Canadian Oak"

The whisky is clearly still in the light, sweet Canadian style – as required by law – but is wonderfully flavourful, especially with a drop of water. What really stood out for me, though, was the body. This is a whisky with a huge, very satisfying mouthfeel. I look forward to savouring my own bottle, which John kindly signed.

In addition to this small-batch whisky and the standard Barrel Select, Forty Creek also makes several other interesting whiskies, including one aged in Canadian oak barrels. (Sadly, their Three Grain is no longer produced.) With 2012 being the 20th anniversary of when John started making whisky, next year’s small batch release should be interesting!

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2 Responses to “Friday Night Cocktail: John’s Private Cask No. 1”

  1. What about Canadian law dictates that Canadian whiskies have to be in a light, sweet style? I didn’t know it was regulated.

    As far as your tweet, “why is Canadian whisky frowned upon in cocktail circles, while Irish whiskey isn’t? They’re both similarly light in style.” I completely agree!

    I usually keep at least two bottles of Candian whisky on hand, one rye-heavy and another sweet and caramel-flavored, to use in cocktails.

  2. The standard requires that Canadian whisky “possess the aroma, taste and character generally attributed to Canadian whisky”, which by this point means that it has to be light and sweet, as far as I can tell.

    What kinds of cocktails do you mix with your Canadian whisky?