Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve Canadian Whisky

Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve (40% alc./vol.)

November 27, 2011


Butterscotch, fresh-cut wood, toasted oak and wood smoke.  Sweet vanilla, berries, barbeque sauce, mash, granola. Restrained, but full-flavoured. Rich & Round. ★★★★☆

Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve is the fourth special release from whisky maker John Hall’s Kittling Ridge Distillery. At 16,800 bottles, this is also Hall’s largest special release. Hall produces Confederation Oak Reserve with his traditional Forty Creek “Meritage” process whereby he ages the corn, rye, and barley spirits separately before blending them together. He then re-barrels the blend for a period of marrying prior to bottling. However Confederation Oak is very much a unique whisky in that the marrying process takes place in barrels made from Canadian white oak trees that grew in a forest just forty miles (65 km) from the Grimsby distillery.

For the most part, Hall uses American Bourbon barrels imported from Kentucky and Missouri for his Forty Creek line. But when he found a grove of local oaks, he realized they would be ideal for making whisky. He shipped the logs to a Missouri cooperage where they were made into barrels, custom toasted, and shipped back to his distillery in Grimsby. It turns out these trees first took root more than 150 years ago, at the time of Canadian Confederation. This is why Hall chose the name Confederation Oak Reserve. Sensitive to ecological concerns, Hall is quick to point out that these older trees were being culled from a sustainably managed forest on the principle of “no tree before its time” and their removal helped promote the growth and reproductive vigour of younger trees that were left to take their place.

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. A veteran winemaker, Hall refers to these qualities as contributing to a Canadian “terroir.”

Barrel selection is paramount at Kittling Ridge Distillery and since each cask has its own personality, the whiskies are tasted as they mature. Only when each of the individual whiskies has achieved the desired flavour profile are they married together in common barrels. Fortunately Hall is a very patient man. The months he thought it would take to polish this already mature whisky in Canadian oak eventually turned into years. Although he had seasoned the barrels carefully, after a year in Canadian oak the whisky was so loaded with extreme aromas that Hall feared he would end up having to re-distil it. Instead he decided to let nature take its course and after leaving the whisky in the Canadian oak barrels for two additional years, his patience was finally rewarded. Time had smoothed it out creating this exciting, Canadian oak special release.

Nose:  Begins with a fleeting citric-sourness, then sweetens up immediately to hints of vanilla and caramel. Sweet balsam begins a procession of many unusual notes that develop over time. It’s tempting to take that first sip right away, but if you wait you are rewarded with aromas of sweet caporal tobacco, mashed grain, dark fruit and berries, shellac, oranges, barbeque potato chips, and charred firewood. There is a lot happening here but it needs some time to develop. The wood never overwhelms although it becomes a dominant feature with fresh lumber notes sawdust and hints of charred wood.  This is the dry fresh oak of long-lost vintage Canadian whiskies.

Palate:  Sweet butterscotch melds into rich vanilla before fresh cut wood and a smoky, rain-soaked campfire take over the palate. An odd fruitiness, both sweet and sour, is reminiscent of raspberries. Slowly developing pepper begins as little more than a warming glow, but becomes much more assertive on the second and subsequent sips. Just for a second, you can almost taste bacon. Just as the vanilla builds, fresh toast and breakfast cereal waft in to balance it out. Lingering flavours of wood, vanilla and mild pepper provide a nicely integrated base for the more fleeting berries, unlit cigar, hints of rubber, and barbeque sauce.  The medium-weight body feels good. This is a complex whisky which rewards patient sippers with a constantly evolving palate.  Confederation Oak is sweeter than but not as weighty as Forty Creek Double Barrel, and not nearly as sweet as the toffeed Barrel Reserve.

Finish:  Medium-long. Peppery with sweet but subdued vanilla out front, and cedar in the background. Later on there are almost tannic suggestions of toasted oak.

Empty glass:  fresh-cut lumber,

$70.00 at LCBO

Highly recommended. ★★★★☆

Forty Creek Barrel Select is reviewed here.

Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve is reviewed here.

Forty Creek John’s Private Cask No. 1 is reviewed here.

Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve is reviewed here.


43 Responses to “Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve (40% alc./vol.)”

  1. Yello to Mello:

    This is a good one. I havent had any since my first dram over a week ago but Im going to get into these woods notes again. I really wish I got one of the PW finishes when they were available.

    Im getting another Forty Creek BS before the Promo is over for the DB miniature….lol I have one and want another…the DB will probably go on sale after Oct 10th anyway when LCBO gets into their whisky promotion and it will be $55.

    I just want the DB miniatures and at least a good bourbon to taste next to the Con. Res. so I can get a better essence of that Canadian oak. This is a good wood nevertheless.

    • Davin:

      I really like it. Let us know what you think once you have tasted them head to head.

  2. Colin Krawchuk:

    I am a Canadian expat living in Germany at the moment. My mother is comming over and I have asked her to bring some Canadian Whiskey which I miss over here. Does any one know a good store in Edmonton that I can point her to.

    • J. Wheelock:

      Hi Colin,

      Try the Chateau Louis or Sherbrooke (north side), Ottewell (east side), Aligra (WEM) and/or Ramada (south side). The Ramada did have some Alberta Premium 25 not so long ago but they may well be sold out.

      Best of luck!

      • George:

        Chateau Louis on Kingsway Ave has the Double Barrel – $60. I bought one a couple days ago.

        • Davin:

          Thanks George! I assume you are in Alberta, but what city are you in?

          • George:


  3. George Jetson:

    Davin, check out the glowing review over at WDJK. He is not highlighting the wood influence as much, which has held me back from a pildrammage to pickup the COR. John’s notes synch almost exactly with mine on the Bush Pilot’s, but it doesn’t seem you agree on the creaminess and lushness and you are picking up a lot more spice.

    • Yello to Mello:

      Hi George.

      I have noticed the review at WDJK earlier today and also noticed he does not highlight the wood influence. Although what he put is interesting, I can tell you that the wood influence is unique. I still think John’s notes werent that bad.

      Looking at my last post here, the DB is on sale for $55…lol.

      • George Jetson:

        YtM, I will be visiting family in Motown w/in the next couple of weeks, so I will definitely have to check out the Windsor LCBOs and pick up a bottle or two. I went back and looked at my tasting notes for the Small Batch Reserve and they look fairly close to the COR notes from Davin here. Has anyone done a h-t-h with the SBR?

        • Davin:

          Hi George,
          I don’t have any Small Batch Reserve at hand and of course it has been sold out for years. However, a friend is bringing me some in November and I will let you know how they compare. Will do a Bush Pilot’s HTH as well. But if you will be in Detroit, go ahead and pick up a bottle or two of the Confederation Oak. It’s really nicely put together.
          Incidentally I was chatting with John Hall on Friday and he told me he expects it to be sold out by Christmas.

  4. I appreciate the obvious efforts you make in researching each Whisky you review. You offer the reader far more than just tasting notes. I was wondering how Canadian Oak might differ from American Oak (or french oak for that matter) and as I read your review I found more than I hoped for. Great job Davin!

    I just received my three numbered bottles of FCCO all signed by John Hall yesterday. When I place a story on my blog regarding the Confederation Oak Whisky I will be sure to provide a link to your review (with your permission of course)!

    (Reading your review has my mouth watering a little, but I am determined to await a special occasion before opening the first bottle. )

    All the Best
    (AKA Arctic Wolf)

    • Davin:

      Hi Chip,
      Thanks so much for your kind comments. Of course you know I am a Rum Howler (and now Whisky too) fan and lurker. I’d be delighted to have you link to my review and I’ll link back to yours. Just let me know when it’s posted.

  5. [...] “Butterscotch, fresh-cut wood, toasted oak and wood smoke.  Sweet vanilla, berries, barbeque sauce, … (click the tasting notes to link to his full review) [...]

    • Davin:

      Hey Chip, thanks for linking your Rum Howler blog to this review! I see we are both big fans of Forty Creek whiskies.

  6. John:

    Hey Davin, any chance of you reviewing the Port Wood? there were only 3000 bottles made though. I’m not sure if its still available.

    • Davin:

      Hi John,

      Yes, I do have a bottle of Forty Creek Portwood Reserve waiting for review. Right now I am judging a whisky competition, which takes a lot of time and getting ready for the year-end round-up, but eventually all the Forty Creek bottlings will be reviewed on these pages. Thanks for your interest.

  7. I managed to secure a case of the Portwood last year, and I have been rationing it out slowly dram by dram. I have found it to be a superb whisky and agree with John Hall that it is his best to date. My review scored it very high, however, having said that, I also would love to read your thoughts on this special whisky Davin.


  8. [...] Connoisseur Whisky of the Year – Multiple Markets: Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve This is an iconic Canadian whisky matured in Canadian oak barrels made from trees that sprouted at the time of Canadian Confederation. Made in a winemaker’s fashion, by John Hall, Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve earns this award for its creamy, rich and robust flavours. Confederation Oak is available in Canada and selected U.S. markets. [...]

  9. [...] Read more about the Malt Advocate Whisky Awards on John Hansell’s blog. A detailed review of Forty Creek Confederation Oak is posted here. [...]

  10. Mike:

    Great review. I just picked some of this up. I totally agree that it needs time to develop. I also find a touch of water or a small ice cube helps it out a lot. It is a bit of a difficult whisky to pin down.

  11. Scott Ferguson:

    I opened one of my two bottles last night with a friend and was very impressed by the quality of the Confed Oak. I enjoyed the creamy vanilla and butterscotch notes — unlike others, I found when I added water – it took away too much of the flavours and softened it where it didn’t need to. I can see why this whisky has won awards like it has. Very nice bottle.

  12. Shaggy:

    Another great review! I know it’s old, but I’m just now catching up. Keep up the great Canadian Whisky reviews.

    P.S. I hate you just the littlest bit for having access to these Forty Creek limited bottlings. Eight months later and I’m still trying to track down a bottle of this in Texas. I’ve all but given up on the Port Wood Reserve and have little to no faith on ever seeing John’s Private Cask No. 1. Still sitting on three bottles of Small Batch though…

  13. mark Schlossberg:

    Dear Canadian Whiskey,
    I am interested in purchasing some of the whiskies I have read about. I live in NJ, and work in NY, are they available here? Especially Forty Creek , Lot 40,????

    • Davin:

      I’m not really sure about U.S. distribution. If you are not too far from Niagara Falls you may want to think about coming up to Grimsby on the weekend of Sept 15. You can visit the Forty Creek distillery and take home a range of outstanding Canadian whiskies that are only available here in Canada.

  14. Chris Brown:

    Has anyone tried the new release of C. O. to see how it compares? I’m assuming that it’s a fresh batch and not more of the original.

    • Chris Brown:

      Here’s the reply to my question from John Hall himself:

      “Surprising, tasting notes for both releases are exactly the same! The reason for this is the barrels still retain a tremendous amount of oak extracts , sugars and tannins and flavor. Also when I had the barrels made, I had the staves 1 inch thick vs. a typical whisky barrel which is ¾ inch thick so I have 33% more wood in each barrel. Many thanks for your support. John Hall Whisky Maker”

  15. Mike from Sarnia:

    Davin…price alert, the price has been dropped to $50 at the LCBO…was waiting to try first when (hopefully) visiting Kittling Ridge in June, however couldn’t pass up the price. Memories of Gibson’s Oak…great taste and smell…wondering if I should pick up another bottle before it disappears! Great stuff, and thanks for all your hard work!

    • Davin:

      Thanks for the price alert. It’s a steal at $50. Glad you like the site.

  16. Yello to Mello:

    I went head to head with the first batch and lot b. They are very similar. The new batch is a little sweeter and more vanilla in it while the original has slightly more oak. That is all.

    when mr hall poured me a dram at SofT i noticed it was like candy and sweeter than i remembered (had many drams before that) and why i sought after it. i like both batches equally as much and like it more than the johns private cask release

  17. Paul:

    pepper, quiet heat steeped in smoldering oak.. a very clean lingering after taste. smooth and a delight to drink over iceberg ice.

  18. [...] Forty Creek Confederation Oak is reviewed here. [...]

  19. [...] Forty Creek Confederation Oak is reviewed here. [...]

  20. Bob Caron:

    This is one of my favorite Canadian whiskies but living in the states makes it hard to get a hold of some. After thinking about two other Canadians that I can easily get, Pike Creek export version (similar taste but sweeter) and Canadian Club Classic 12yo (similar taste but thinner and drier, I decided to mix them and I figured out a way to blind taste test myself. Two identical Glencairns, two opaque identical stickers on the bottom with the ID, 20ml 40 Creek in one and 10ml/10ml of Pike Creek/Canadian Club Classic 12yo in the other. Placed 180 degrees opposite each other on my record turntable (ya, I still have one of those) and gently spin it with my eyes closed. Walked away with eyes still closed. Did something else for a few minutes. Went back with eyes still closed and spin some more. Sitting in a darkened room and started nosing and tasting. Nosed for five minutes and could not detect any difference, then started tasting a little of each, sometimes one after the other and sometimes with a rinse of water in between. Still not detecting any taste difference but after the swallow, one seemed to have the tiniest bit more tingle left on the back and sides of the tongue than the other. I still felt I was taking a wild 50/50 guess but the one with the less tingle was 40 Creek COR. Everything was 40% ABV straight out of the bottles with no water added. I picked the 40 Creek but not because I thought it was better, but because in my mind, I wanted the 40 Creek to be the one that was just a tiny bit smoother. Maybe changing the ratio of Pike Creek to CC12yo would make the tingle identical but it was so slight, it’s not even worth trying and it might make it a tiny bit sweeter than the 40 Creek.

  21. Andrew:

    I just purchased my first bottle, and it says that it is from Lot 1867 C. Was the quoted figure of 16800 bottles the total amount made for several releases, or are 16800 bottles going to be released each year?

    • Davin:

      As far as I know they will be doing a batch each year as long as they can get the wood.

      • Andrew:

        Good to hear that, but I wonder if John harvested the grove all at once and has been slowing filling the barrels three years before their release, or if he filled them all at once and has whisky that been in the Canadian Oak for what would now be 7 or 8 ywars

        • Davin:

          He buys a tree here and a tree there from the local Conservation Authority. They don’t harvest at all but from time to time they have to cull older trees, so he really has to wait until they’re cutting. Luckily they manage their forests carefully so some trees are cut nearly every year.

  22. [...] are astounding.I’m no expert on trees (although I do like climbing them on occasion), but writes that “Long cold winters ensure that Canadian white oak is much more dense than [...]

  23. [...] Canadian Whiskey [...]

  24. Mike G:

    I must have passed by the distillery a hundred times over the years, but yesterday I decided that I would stop by on my way home from Niagara. I’m not a drinker, but I do appreciate and enjoy occasionally. I’ve never heard of this special edition of whiskey. The sales person in the store was very helpful and let me sample a few different products. At $70 it was the most expensive bottle in their little store. I was somewhat reluctant to shell out that kind of money on a single bottle. When I sampled the product, it tasted smooth, clean, and flavourful. I knew I was going home with a bottle of it. It reminded me of other imported liquors that are far more expensive. What a fantastic Canadian Whiskey! Well done Forty Creek!

    • Davin:

      Yup, it’s a genuine treat.

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