40 Creek Confederation Oak
Posted by Degan on May 25th, 2011
Whisky of the Week: Forty Creek Confederation Oak
Wow it’s been busy. Who knew that married people were so busy?! Too busy even for whisky lately, it seems – perhaps partly because we’re still trying to get through the Champagne in the fridge. But we have had a couple of drams and they’ve all been quite special. Matt introduced me to Forty Creek through their Double Barrel Reserve shortly after we met and the Barrel Select went into many Rusty Nails while we were getting to know each other. So when we learned of the Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve – a blend of Canadian whisky made from rye, barley and corn and aged in 150 year old Canadian Oak barrels – it was high on the list. Unfortunately the higher things are on the list, the harder they are to come by and so it wasn’t until our dear friends Cliff and Brenda got us some as a wedding present that we were able to sample it.
It was worth the wait. Butterscotch and vanilla flavours combine subtly with woody, wheaty notes for an incomparable richness. The finish is smooth and long and lends itself to savouring. It’s a sophisticated whisky that can hold its own and it probably the best Canadian whisky I’ve ever tried.
Canadian whisky is not overly defined. They need to be made in Canada (mashed, distilled and aged), aged in wooden barrels (not greater than 700 L) for 3 years and the result must contain at least 40 percent alcohol by volume. We have a history of calling Canadian whisky “rye” whisky but that’s just for show – many Canadian whiskies have little or no rye grains and there is no requirement for them to be present.
The Forty Creek Confederation oak does have some rye grain in it, as well as barley and corn but while their regular run of whiskies are aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels, what makes this blend special is that it aged in Canadian oak barrels. John Hall, Whisky Maker, writes, “As a proud Canadian whisky maker, I have always been curious what a Canadian whisky would taste like aged in a Canadian oak barrel, because most Canadian whiskies are aged in American oak…To my delight, I discovered some massive Canadian white oak trees that were growing only 40 miles from the distillery! They must have started growing just before Confederation in 1867 because they were 4 feet in diameter and over 150 years old. The selected trees were harvested from a sustainably managed forest employing the principle of ‘no tree before its time.’”. The whisky is made the same way, with the same ingredients. And the trees are the same – technically, they are the same white oak species – but Canadian terroir (yes, it works for whisky as well as wine) throws it all for a loop and the results are astounding.
I’m no expert on trees (although I do like climbing them on occasion), but CanadianWhisky.org writes that “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.” I love it. I love having a historic Canadian whisky on my – our! – whisky shelf and I love that various versions of Forty Creek have seen us through different stages of our relationship. We’ll still have our Barrel Select Rusty Nails and we will certainly cherish this one too.