Forty Creek John’s Private Cask No. 1 Review

August 15, 2011


Bursting gingery spice bombs, dark fruits, clean sweet wood, and crème caramel. A spice “Monster.” Sultry fruits and dusky rye spices like fireworks in an ancient muggy rainforest. Spicy Rye. ★★★★★

Islay’s gift to whisky is the renowned “peat monster.” Speyside has given us the “sherry monster.” And now Central Canada makes it three beasties with a “spice monster” to round out the titanic trio. John Glazer’s Spice Tree teased us with flavour possibilities heretofore barely known in whisky. Wiser’s Legacy tantalizes us with a whole lush Zanzibar of fragrant spices. And now the “spice flares” that simply explode onto our palates in John’s Private Cask No. 1 make it official: Whiskydom, the spice monster has arrived and it’s carrying dynamite.

Forty Creek whisky maker, John Hall, has a tradition of introducing a new, small-batch whisky each fall. These are premium whiskies and they never fail to impress. Big, rich, robust, and mouth-filling like past offerings, this year’s edition strikes out in an entirely new direction. Or is it an old one? For John’s Private Cask No. 1 takes the real traditional flavours of Canadian rye and seemingly concentrates them into a flavour-bomb that detonates the instant it enters your mouth. The sheer scale of the flavour will have you checking the alc./vol. because, yes, this is 40% although the flavour careens hard into cask strength territory.

Now, about the name – John’s Private Cask No. 1. With 9,000 bottles, that must have been quite some cask. Hall explains that what really happened is that he mingled the contents of 23 separate reserve barrels together to create this, his latest achievement. But how did he select those 23 barrels? According to Hall, as he goes about tasting his barrels, every now and then he comes across one that is, in his words, “over the top.” He marks these with chalk for future reference. When it came time to make this year’s special release he went through these reserve barrels and selected 23 with flavours that complement each other. The good news is that if he selected 23 barrels from among his reserve stock, that means there are still more barrels there for another time.

Some of the barrels he chose were filled with corn whisky while others had rye, or barley whisky in them. Each of these makes its essence known in the final whisky. The creaminess of corn is obvious in the mouthfeel, but it’s not silky corn like you find in Forty Creek Double Barrel. The barley, Hall tells us, is evident in those cereal nutty notes that appear right away and then disappear into hot spices. But it is rye that leads the charge here. Corn may provide the foundation and barley the structure, but the balance, the complexity, and the sheer entertainment come from the interplay of rye spices – and probably a good whack of toasted oak.

Bottles should be on the shelves at LCBO on September 13, but if you can wait just a few days longer it would be well worth your while to trek over to Kittling Ridge Distillery in Grimsby, Ontario, on September 17 or 18 where Hall will be signing bottles. And while you are there, you can get him or one of the staff to show you around the distillery. It’s too late to reserve your numbered bottle but there will be plenty on hand so you can take one home with you.

There is also a little bonus for smart phone users. Scanning a graphic (QR code) on the box brings up a secret tasting video. Hall, at his folksy best, talks a bit about the whisky then walks you through a virtual tasting. Fun!

Nose: Very fruity and rich, the nose is immediately reminiscent of those old fruity lumber smells of whiskies like Canadian Club 30-year old with its prunes and dry figs and sweet wood and lushness. This dark fruit slowly evolves into fresh fruit – maybe berries, maybe kiwi – while rye spices, ginger and some slight herbal notes simmer away well below the surface. Gradually the rye ripens into cloves and especially ginger with lots of that generic Canadian rye whisky smell. Butterscotch envelopes a sweet Canada balsam woodiness, or is it dry wood strapping in a hot attic? Campfire notes teasingly hint at smoke, leaving more room for wood than char. A certain brightness is cloaked in heavy fruit, muskiness and the muggy weight of a sweet virgin redwood forest. Imagine a damp West Coast Trail on a brilliantly sunny morning.

Palate: Bursting blasts of candied ginger quickly overpower a huge surging creamy butterscotch. Oh, it’s hot, but a spicy hot, not peppery. These are real rye spices – traditional rye spices – with ginger at the fore. They immediately take siege of the palate, yet the palate remains broad and rich with constant action from bittersweet citric elements such as candied orange rind. And every here and there a few odd things creep in such as milk duds, gelatin caps and brown sugar, only to scurry quickly away. A warming Christmas-fire glow coats the throat.

The rich, mouth-filling, medium-to-robust body, though creamy, is by no means smooth. No: Eruptions of spice take care of that. Hot glowing ginger dominates the middle and as it fades into the finish it tingles like ginger ale. Rich dark fruit permeates supple tannins that pull gently at your cheeks as cedar lumber and pencil shavings linger long on the tongue and in the nose.

Finish: Very long; it never really disappears. Spicy and refreshingly citric with lots of ginger and grapefruit pith.

Empty Glass: Crème brulé, sweet fresh-cut hardwood, teasing hints of a campfire, sweet and sour sauce, and vanilla.

$69.95 at LCBO from September 13, 2011.
Very highly recommended ★★★★★

Forty Creek Barrel Select is reviewed here.

Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve is reviewed here.

Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve is reviewed here.

Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve is reviewed here.


35 Responses to “Forty Creek John’s Private Cask No. 1 Review”

  1. Mike:

    Wow, this one sounds like a winner. After having Confederation Oak I’m willing to take a chance on this one too. Can you make any sort of comparison between the two?

    • Davin:

      Hi Mike,
      They are both great whiskies, but that is about where the similarity ends. While the Confederation Oak is creamy and quite heavily influenced by the oak, this one is a real spice bomb. I suspect he used a lot of toasted oak to pull all those spicy notes out of the rye, but I don’t know. The thing with this one is that the flavour is way over the top, like a cask strength whisky but without the high abv.

  2. dbk:

    Sounds excellent, Davin! Thanks for the update. I can’t wait to try it.

  3. thomas mckenzie:

    Davin, I really enjoy your site. I will have to seek this whiskey out and give it a try.

    • Davin:

      Thank you Thomas. Much appreciated.

  4. Yello to Mello:

    I almost forgot about this since the # reservations, sounds good to have a spicy profile and less than a month away.

    BTW Davin, is this the first photo it appears that your Glencairn Canadian Whisky glass has your site’s logo etched in it?

    • Davin:

      Yes, the logo doesn’t photograph well when the glass is cold and frosty but I got these as a gift and think they are quite neat. I’d been using that glass anyway so it was cool to have a couple with the logo on it.

  5. Richard Culver:

    Just tried the Private Cask and decided to read your review again. I thought your comments were spot on except for the finish not being as long as some other drams I tried recently. Do you find a difference in length of finish based on country of origin? Or just the grain? Or is it the distilling process? Ian Miller said he was recently asked how long is a “long finish”! Maybe you can comment on this in a future article.
    Regardless; This one’s an ACE!

    • Davin:

      Hi Richard,
      Finish is interesting because different people have different ideas of what the finish is. I remember Jim McEwan telling the story of someone challenging him to define a long finish in seconds. He told the guy he was daft. We used to talk about “Ardbeg mouth” – you could still taste the whisky next morning when you woke up. Well that was not the case with John’s Private Cask, but it did just go on and on and on with the spices – one of the longest finishes I have tasted recently. I think it just boils down to more flavour and more complexity take longer to fade.

  6. Wendy Harker:

    Thank you, Davin. As usual, I loved your tasting notes. To my delight, I was able to purchase from the LCBO a bottle of John’s Private Cask on September 8th. With heading up to the Muskoka’s the following day for a four day weekend, I couldn’t imagine a better atmosphere to crack open this new Canadian release. To say the least, I am loving it! It is indeed a full flavoured/rounded whisky that is also quite elegant. The sweet and zesty nose offer a generous welcome mat for the warm spicy embrace that seem to follow with each sip. A big Canadian thumbs up from me.

    • Davin:

      Thanks Wendy,
      I think John Hall has really topped himself this time. I really love it and I tried it in all kinds of different flights to see how it stood up to others.

  7. portwood:

    Saw this on the shelves yesterday. I know it’s about the contents, but, what UGLY packaging!

    I love the barrel select bottle. Why not use the same bottle shape – perhaps with clear glass – for the other “premium” releases????

  8. Marc:

    Hi Davin,
    Drove over to Kittling Ridge Distillery today with my wife. Purchased my reserved bottle of John’s Private Cask #1 among other things. Got there early before the scheduled bottle signing session began, we were pressed for time as we had a previous commitment and couldn’t wait for for the session to begin. One of the staff members inside the gift shop went to John Halls office and asked if he’d come out and sign my bottle. A few moments later, he walks in, introduces himself, signs my bottle and a few other related items, talks to us about the new bottling, cask selection, future releases, etc… It really was like having our own private meeting with a world renown whisky maker. It made my day and was an experience I will never forget. John Hall is a real class act and in my opinion produces some of the best whiskies in the world. Will crack open the new bottle soon.

    • Davin:

      Hi Marc,
      I’m not surprised and I agree with you that the whiskies are great and John Hall is very personable.

  9. Brian:

    Hey, I was at the Kittling Ridge distillery today to pick up my numbered bottle of this and I noticed they had a printout of your review up on the bulletin board! Marvellous work and pretty marvellous whisky as well.

    • Davin:

      Hi Brian, Thanks for letting me know. That’s quite a compliment. It sounds like it was a great weekend for one and all.

  10. Wendy Harker:

    Hi Davin,
    It is no surprise that this dram is able to hold its’ own in a flight of whiskies. But, none-the-less, I was thrilled by your comment. Congrats on your posted tasting notes at Forty Creek. I’m sure the Whisky Weekend at Forty Creek/Kittling Ridge was a wonderful time for all.


  11. [...] Private Cask No. 1 (actually drawn from 23 different casks). There’s no way I could do justice to Davin de Kergommeaux’s tasting notes, but I agree with every word he says. "Aged in Canadian [...]

  12. Rob:

    How old is this stuff? I have a bottle waiting for me at home, can’t wait! Davin would you say this is one of the better Canadian Whiskeys you have tried?

    • Davin:

      Unequivocally yes. This is really outstanding whisky. I am not sure how old it is. It’s like Niagara fruit – harvested at the peak of perfection. I am sure your anticipation will be rewarded.

  13. Darko Vusir:


    Your review was spot on. This is one great whisky. As you said, a real spice bomb! It really shows IMO what Canadian whisky is capable of.

  14. Rob:

    Truly amazing stuff, possibly the best Whiskey I’ve ever tasted.

  15. Jdub:

    Does anyone else find this one has more of an alcohol smell than other Forty Creek whiskies? Especially compared to the Confederation Oak Reserve.

    • paddockjudge:

      Hello Jdub,
      I can’t detect ‘more of an alcohol smell than other Forty Creek whiskies’ – I’m on the other side of the fence on this one. I have experienced the same thing with other whiskies – not every day is the same.
      I find this to be one smooth blend with a very unique taste profile – easy to recognise in a blind taste.

      I was overwhelmed by Forty Creek John’s Private Cask No.1 on the first try and waited almost a month before returning. Now I’m not waiting quite so long.

  16. Glenn:

    First of all what a great web site ….. A question: Will the No. 1 be like the other special editions and not available in the USA? The only one I could find down here was the Double Barrel reserve which was awesome.

    • Davin:

      I don’t really know but I seem to recall hearing that he was ending some down there. Last year the Confederation Oak sold out so fast in the U.S. that some people wondered if it had ever arrived. So, if you see a bottle, buy it. It won’t be there when you go back.

      Thanks for your kind comments about the site. It is a lot of work but it is also a lot of fun.

  17. Zoran K:

    The best wiskey I ever had… equal to some of the best cognacs I usualy prefer.

    It become my benchmark wiskey.

  18. Sid:

    I’m sitting here in the U.S. thoroughly enjoying some Double Barrel Reserve wondering if I’ll ever manage to get my hands on the Private Cask No. 1. I’ve had friends in Canada check at least four LCBOs and several duty free stores for me and I’ve checked 2 LCBOs myself when I was up there visiting.

    All of this is over the span of about 4-5 months now. Are we looking in the wrong places or is this just really that hard to find even in Canada? I even tried asking several people working at the stores and they’ve never even heard of it, though I’m not too surprised about that. Has it become extremely scarce/sold out completely?

    Thanks for all the great work on the site as well.

    • Davin:

      Hi Sid,
      As far as I know it is all gone now. Sorry.

  19. [...] Canadian Whisky “rock star” John Hall has scored another big hit with his latest offering: 5 out of 5 stars from Canadian whisky expert Davin de Kergommeaux. One of my new favorites, and a must-have for appreciators of fine [...]

  20. Paul:

    It is a rare beast forsure. Iam planning a trip to mainland canada lil later this month. i have located 3 bottle in that province one just down the road from my hotel.hoping it go’s un noticed until i arrive to snatch it. Anyways sid. keep looking there is always the odd bottle hidden from view or out priced for most.. unless people know what they are looking at . many canadians are akin to mixing whisky and are saddly un aware of the premium whisky sitting in the bottle waiting to be sipped.most provinces have websites that make it easy to track down ghost bottles. i found 3 AP30YR last year in edmonton when most said it was all gone.happy hunting

  21. Dustin:

    This Is a great wiskey I have one bottle left unopened I can’t find anymore anywhere.

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

  23. Rob:

    Have a bottle of this. Getting rid of it email if interested.

  24. Rob:

    My bottle has been claimed.

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