Friday, November 25, 2016

Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve Whisky

In my post about Pike Creek Whisky, I explained why many Americans need to challenge their knowledge of, and prejudices against, Canadian whisky. And in my first post about the unrelated Forty Creek Whisky, I implied what I'm about to state explicitly:

Forty Creek has zero cachet whatsoever where I live. 

I am a native and lifelong resident of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Canadian whisky is clearly not big in Philly -- there's very little of it in alcohol-serving businesses, and most often, you see the usual suspects like Crown Royal and Seagram's VO. Even Canadian Club isn't served at some bars and restaurants which used to serve it. 

When it comes to Forty Creek, forget it. I almost never see it in alcohol-serving businesses. People I talk to have either never heard of it or never had it. And we must factor in Pennsylvania's state-level peculiarities: we have state-owned and operated liquor stores -- no, you cannot buy spirits at supermarkets -- and ass-backwards laws regulating alcoholic beverages. In 2016, some of these laws have been loosened considerably, but it is still illegal for me to do my liquor shopping in another state. Oh, I'm sorry; do you routinely buy a bottle of whisky in Delaware and bring it into Pennsylvania? Congratulations; you're a bootlegger. Do you get away with it? Good for you; knowing my luck, I wouldn't, so I don't try.

There seems to be a basic standard inventory across our state stores; no Forty Creek product falls into this category. Then there are items which appear in the official state store catalogue, but are only sold at certain locations; Forty Creek's deceptively-named standard expression Barrel Select is one of these. It's easy enough to find in Philadelphia if you know where to look; it's also easy enough to miss out on. Then there are items you won't find in the catalogue, and unless you stumble upon them at a state store with an adventurous inventory, they're only available online or through special order; Forty Creek Copper Pot and Double Barrel Reserve are both "special order" items, and they both come with a minimum purchase of 12 bottles. So obviously, most people (myself included) won't order them except for a business that serves alcohol. But most such businesses in Philadelphia don't serve Forty Creek!

Imagine my irritation when, on the Forty Creek Facebook page, I admitted that Barrel Select was the only expression I'd had, and someone told me that I NEEDED to try Copper Pot. I think she was trying to be helpful, but I explained to her in pedantic detail why I couldn't even though I wanted to. She did not respond.

In early October, I visited Bourbon and Branch, one of Philadelphia's more interesting whisky bars (also a music venue), and I was in disbelief: Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve was on the menu! Of course, I ordered it! I ordered it neat, and the bartender served it neat, but in a rocks glass. I went back a few weeks later with a pen and notepad so I could review it. Different bartender, and he served it in a Glencairn glass. My senses of smell and taste are pretty sensitive, so even though the Glencairn is widely considered the gold standard, I tend to feel that it over-concentrates the aromas and flavors. But for reviewing a whisky I can only get in a bar, it allowed me to isolate the whisky from other scents in the air. (For me, it goes without saying that if I can smell something, I can also taste it, but clearly, this is not a universal human experience!)

Don't judge a book by its cover: that Berenstain children's book is actually the whisky menu!

So why is this whisky called "Double Barrel Reserve"? From the product's webpage, Whisky Maker John K. Hall: "A few years ago, I had the opportunity to purchase some outstanding bourbon barrels from Kentucky. [...] After ageing my rye, barley and corn whiskies in their own special barrels, I decided to bring them together as a meritage, and placed the three whiskies into the bourbon barrels."

Meritage. You guessed it: he used to be a winemaker.

Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve
Blended Canadian Whisky
No Age Statement
40% ABV (80 Proof)

Color: Copper with golden and amber tinges.

Body: A solid medium. Nice depth, but also fleet in its movement around the glass.

Nose: Figs. Prunes. Tangy. Spicy. Citric. Woody. Caramel. The alcohol is subtle, but it dances inside my nostrils. Unmistakably Forty Creek, but more robust than Barrel Select. 

Palate: Smooth, creamy, corn-forward entry. Bold spiciness with cracked black pepper heat and nutmeg providing depth. Lemon zest. Rich breakfast cereal backbone. Assertive, tangy dark fruits. A sweet note pitched between fruitcake and panettone. Sugar-coated dates. Extremely well-synthesized grain flavors -- no clear delineation among the corn, barley, and rye. A bit of alcohol sharpness, which in this case gives the whisky a most welcome kick. A light coating of gooey caramel.

Besides Sipping Neat: I haven't tried it any other way and I doubt that I want to.

Overall: Outstanding! Not your father's Canadian whisky.

Thank you for reading and as always...Happy Drinking!

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