Thursday, September 26, 2013

Forty Creek's 2013 Limited Release - Heart of Gold...

Still at Forty Creek

Earlier this year I attended the Spirit of Toronto Whisky Gala. We were there for a few extra days so we managed to squeeze in a visit to the Forty Creek Distillery.  I am more than happy we did. Not because I was able to see John again or meet some of the fantastic people on his team but because I was able to see with my own eyes how John works and creates the way he does.

I spent the better part of an entire day there and not only got the grand tour with John but we finished it with a special tasting. Yes, many distilleries do this as well BUT...  this tasting was very special because a) Ralfy was there and b) we were very privileged to try Heart of Gold. We didn't know that beforehand so I was vibrating on this inside when I found out.

There is something magical about trying whisky right out of the barrel. That feeling was heightened by the fact that I was getting a glimpse of John's next release. We were asked not to broadcast what we thought, which I respected. I did however, enjoy discussing what I thought with John, Ralfy and the others as well as made many notes in my whisky book, which I share below.
Heart of Gold is truly another labour of love for John. This whisky's inception started 10 years ago. In the event you didn't know, John was a wine maker for the majority of his career. Ok, so what? you think... That makes him a first generation whisky maker which means he isn't trapped by tradition, old recipes, or by the "norms" of Canadian Whisky making.  John doesn't do on purpose to be different, he is just being himself. Having met John several times and spending time with him, it comes as no surprise to me that he consistently creates whiskies that are only non-conformist but innovative (alot like his personality I think...) Dave Broom recently wrote an editorial in Whisky Magazine (issue 113) that described the fact that most Scottish Distilleries were so entrenched in their beliefs that they are not exploring the possibilities of flavors by using different yeasts. Here's the innovative part:  That whisky, that John started working on 10 years ago, is made with a wine yeast strain. Now... is John the only whisky maker doing this -> No. There are a few. But he's currently the only Canadian Whisky Maker that has. So why use a wine yeast for the fermentation? Sounds a bit odd for whisky if you think about it. Well, from my perspective (chemistry background), it only makes sense that if you use a different yeast strain, you will end up with a different mash. Wine yeasts are traditionally used for grapes which have a high sugar content. They are more tolerant to acidic PH as well as temperature fluctuations. John states that he wanted to bring out more flavors in the rye component of his whisky.

Rye is a denser grain with less maltose (a type of glucose) but higher nitrogen content. It can withstand higher mash temperatures (2-5 degrees). Rye wort is more acidic then barley or corn. John postulated that using a wine yeast would bring out the more floral aromas and flavors that rye has. This may surprise some people. Rye whisky is traditionally recognized for its spicy, rye bread with caraway seeds sort of profile. He also came to the conclusion that the subtle floral part of the grain often gets masked by the spicy components. So, by using a yeast that would bring out the delicate part of the grain AND by ensuring that the distillate "heart" cut was much narrower he achieved exactly what he wanted:  Heart of Gold.

Forty Creek Heart of Gold Reserve, 2013 release, 43% ABV.

Color:  May & September 2013 - Dark yellow with hints of amber. Reminds me of tarnished gold painting frames.

Nose:  May 2013 - Fresh sawn wood, a bit of ginger spice and something else I recognized but wasn't sure at first. Then it hit me:  Geraniums.  I find the smell of geraniums very "spicy" compared to other flowers like hyacinths or roses. It's a pungent but very distinct and pleasant smell. September 2013 - Geraniums are still there! Picking up a bit more on the spices this time however they are not overwhelming. I went and got a bottle of Lot 40 to do a nose comparison. The rye spice is there, but much more subtle and delicate then on the Lot 40. I quite like it.  It's not "in your face". After my glass sat for a little while, I noticed the more recognized aromas of butterscotch and fresh sawdust.

Palate:  May 2013 (from my notes...) - Wow! Not at all what I expected from the descriptors John is using. I don't get "rye forward". I taste creamy marmalade with a hint of zest in the corners.  It is spicier on the palate then the nose. Surprising! September 2013 - Lovely flavors of dried fruit: Like figs or apricots maybe, followed by a bit sour (like rye bread) and peppery! Once it sat, the sweetness seems to be disappearing and spices are at the forefront:  Ginger, earl gray tea (tannic, cardamom, mouthwatering).

Finish:  May 2013 - I wrote LONG! That's it... hehe September 2013 - Sweet & spicy! White pepper meets crystallized ginger! What a delicious combination. Lingers, beautifully...  

Heart of Gold... Now, this is my personal opinion:

Although John and some of my Canadian counterparts state and describe this as a rye forward or rye spicy whisky, I'm going to disagree somewhat. Don't expect to pour this in your glass and be enveloped in the heavy spicy aromas of a dark rye bread coming out of the oven.  NOPE! This whisky is delicate on the nose and leads you in an area of the unknown if you are not used to finding the more tender & light aromas in a whisky. Gibson's 18 is the same way for me = Very delicate but so beautiful.

So do me and the whisky a favor when you nose it. TAKE YOUR TIME. Appreciate and try to localize the aromas that are there. They are truly magical and missing more often than not in 95% of the whiskies I've nosed. The flavor combination that this whisky offers is quite unique. Well balanced, slightly spicy and sweet enough to tease the palate and make your mouth water. Can you taste the "house profile" of Forty Creek, barely...  but it's there.

Heart of Gold being released September 28 at Forty Creek Whisky Weekend (which I'm attending... ). Only 9000 bottles available. If you don't believe I put my money where my whisky is, I've purchased 3 bottles for myself and 2 more as gifts.  First wave of release:  Ontario and then will spread across Canada (if it lasts that long...).

John...  I have no idea how and what you are working on now, but it's hard to believe you will be able to top this one.  My hat off to you, once more for creating something that is different, beautiful from start to finish and special.

Kissing the sleeping "Gold"

As I leave on the plane for Toronto, I bid you all farewell and very much look forward to being back at the Forty Creek Distillery Saturday & Sunday September 28 & 29th for Whisky Weekend.  Many Heart of Gold bottles will fly off the shelf and I'll raise a toast to all my whisky fabric friends in Canada as well as the rest of the world....

Searching for a Heart of Gold (I had to include the Neil Young title, come on....)


1 comment:

  1. as long as we're canadian, cite Neil Young, please!

    great review. Please make sure Maryse does not drink my bottle by herself, as i cannot make it this weekend after all ;)