November-December 2010 | HALL OF FAME




Having earned a reputation as an innovator in his field, John K. Hall’s roots as a whisky distiller come straight off the vine

When winemaker John K. Hall was named “Pioneer of the Year” in 2007, there was a twist: It wasn’t for making wine. Instead, Hall took the principles he’d learned making wine and applied them, like variations on a theme, to the distillation process. The result is Forty Creek Whisky – a blended overnight sensation straight from the Canadian timberland.

In traditional whisky making, all the grains are mixed together into what’s called a mash bill. The mash is then distilled in a stainless steel column still. The effect is the creation of a neutral-grain spirit, like vodka.

Once distilled, the whisky is placed in barrels for the aging process, which is usually three to four years. The product is ultimately moved to a tank, where it awaits the bottling process.

Hall, meanwhile, approaches the process the way one would make, say, a Cabernet-Merlot blend, with single-variety grains (rather than grape varieties) of rye (for fruitiness), barley (for nuttiness) and Indian corn (for sweetness and body) distilled separately and aged separately.

For the distillation process, Forty Creek uses small copper pots to imbue the distillation with flavor, something they say stainless steel is unable to do.

Following the distillation process, each type of grain is aged individually in specific barrels designed to match the intrinsic character of the grain. Corn, for example, is aged in a heavy-charred American white oak barrel, while the rye is aged in a much more complementary light-toasted barrel. Depending on the barrels and the grains, the distillations will be aged between seven and 10 years.

Once appropriately aged, the three distilled grains are combined in sherry casks, where they are aged an additional six months for yet another layer of flavor, prior to bottling.

Though Forty Creek ages its product anywhere from two to three times longer than what’s required, the company does not declare a specific age on its label because the aging process varies according to the qualities of individual barrels. Instead, they taste and track each barrel to determine the optimal time to remove the whisky because, as Hall himself points out, whisky can be over-aged, to its detriment.

The result of all this innovation and care is what many aficionados say is an ultra-smooth, supple whisky that is simultaneously rich and delicate. Whisky Magazine’s Charles Cowdery asserted that, “no other whisky, including Canadian whisky, provides so much flavor with so little sharpness.”

Hall and his company have, in fact, won a cache of awards from that publication, as well as multiple gold medals and highest-award honors in international competitions from San Francisco to Belgium.

Forty Creek Whisky is available locally at fine liquor retailers.

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