On the eve of the 2013 World Series, one of baseball’s biggest fans was working in a different capacity. It is my pleasure to introduce you to towineman’s newest correspondent Jeremy Gibson… AKA @500levelfan. While he is a baseball blogger in his other life he represented towineman.com last night at a special tasting event for Canadian Whisky Forty Creek. I’ll let him recap the evening for you in his own words.
Whisky. It is such a simple word yet such a complex spirit, one that carries with it everything from different spellings (whisky in Canada and Scotland, whiskey in Ireland and the United States), to different ingredients (malt, grain, corn, and wheat to name a few), to different names (Scotch, Rye, Bourbon).
I have been drinking whisky for a long time, beginning when I was young and crazy in my university days. Back then I drank whisky less for its complexities and flavours, and more for its innate ability to render me completely carefree, confident, and happy (AKA drunk). But with age brings wisdom and respectability, and though I can’t say for certain that I have grown any wiser or more respectable, I can say that I have definitely increased my appreciation and fondness for whisky.
Over the past few years, my single malt scotch collection has slowly but steadily increased, but my taste for Canadian whisky had still been left lacking. However, last night I had the pleasure to represent TOWineMan at a Forty Creek tasting event at the Spoke Club in Toronto, and let me say this – my appreciation for Canadian whisky has gone up incredibly.
Aside from tasting it a few times at family functions in Grimsby (where the Forty Creek distillery just happens to be located), my knowledge of the brand was limited. I had never purchased a bottle from the LCBO (and to be honest had no plans to buy one anytime soon). But after meeting the master distiller himself last night, and hearing his passion for his product (and yes, after sampling quite a few), things have changed.
First a bit of background – Forty Creek Whisky is the brainchild of distiller John K Hall, a wine maker who plies his trade in the aforementioned town of Grimsby, Ontario. He is the owner of Kittling Ridge Distillery, who after 22 years of making wine decided in 1992 to create a premium Canadian whisky, a decision that has certainly panned out as shown by the list of awards Forty Creek has won in the past few years:
- Gold Medal at the Beverage Testing Institute in Chicago (2010, 2011, 2012)
- Gold Medal at the 2010 International Whisky Competition
- 2008 Distiller of the Year by Whisky Magazine
- 2007’s Pioneer of the Year Award winner by Malt Advocate Magazine
- Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition
- Gold Medal – The World Selection in Belgium
Last night’s even took place at the Spoke Club (600 King St W, Toronto), a private members club located right downtown. The venue itself was great, offering nice views of the street, with a quaint and intimate set-up.
But as nice as it was, I was not there for the venue – I was there for the whisky.
The main attraction was none other than John K Hall himself, delivering a private, de-constructed tasting of the award winning whisky to small groups of five people. Each tasting consisted of three samples of the ingredients that make up Forty Creek, followed by a sample of the finished product itself. Because, as Mr. Hall explained to us, as most whiskies are made with a single ingredient, he wanted Forty Creek to be full of complex flavours, and decided to therefore combine three ingredients: rye, barley, and corn. Each of these ingredients are distilled in individual barrels – each barrel containing just the right amount of char for the smoke flavour – and then combined in a sherry cask for six months to allow the flavours to come together.
Each sample of the de-constructed product came directly from Mr. Hall’s barrels, and each on its own could have been bottled and sold. The rye whisky tasted like a Canadian whisky, such as a Canadian Club. The barley malt, the main ingredient in single malt scotch, could have passed for a Glenlivet sample. The third sample was the corn whisky, which, with its sweet finish, could have been bottled and sold as a Kentucky Bourbon – if, of course, we were in the States. The fourth glass contained the finished product, and after tasting each ingredient in isolation, it is easy to see where Forty Creek gets its signature, complex flavour.
I also had the opportunity to try the two newest products of the Forty Creek brand. Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve is a bolder version of the regular whisky, amped up to 43% alcohol. On the rocks, as I sampled it, was delicious – so delicious that I bought a bottle for myself at the LCBO after the event. Forty Creek Cream, the second new offering, is marketed as the first Canadian whisky based cream liquor – think Bailey’s, but made right here at home. It was outstanding on the rocks, but I could only imagine how good it would taste mixed with a morning coffee.
But there was more to the event than just the whisky and the food samplings (5-year old cheddar grilled cheese? Yes, please.). There was the chance to meet John K Hall himself. As one would expect from a man with over 40 years of experience in the industry, he was knowledgeable. But more than anything, he was entertaining – a great storyteller who spun tales ranging from his desire to name the whisky “Johnnie Hall” (a la Johnnie Walker); to demonstrating the look on his wife’s face when he told her he wanted to create his own whisky. Priceless.
Overall, the event was a great experience – educational, interesting, and fun all rolled into a few hours.
Special thanks to Jillian at Penelope PR, and Angela at iyellow Wine Club (@iyellowwineclub) for putting on the event, and the esteemed TOWineMan for passing along the invite. Most of all, thanks to Forty Creek Whisky and Mr. John K Hall (@John_K_Hall) for a wonderful evening.
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman