Forty Creek Barrel Select

You might remember my blind tasting of Té Bheag blended scotch, in which a reader sent me a blind sample to review. Well, thanks again to Scott N. for a second sample, this time in a miniature bottle simply marked “Canadian” – at least I get a clue this time. 🙂

As before, I don’t normally taste things blind. For one reason, anyone who pretends to know anything about wine, beer, spirits, etc. knows to avoid blind tastings like the plague because they have a way of revealing exactly how full of crap we are. For example, at a recent tasting group I attended, 24 whisky enthusiasts had two chances to guess the origin of a mystery pour for an opportunity to win a bottle. It turned out to be Johnnie Walker Green Label (which is now back on shelves after a hiatus), and nobody even got close. At a similar event last year, nobody was even able to guess that a blind pour was rum instead of whisky!

This sample smelled blindingly sweet (so I could guess low-end Canadian blend) and the color was a very dark red-gold. After a taste, my best guess was one of the Crown Royal special editions. Surprise! It was Forty Creek’s Barrel Select, the entry-level product from the upstart Canadian distillery. As it’s positioned as a direct competitor to the entry-level Crown Royal, the flavor profile makes sense. It definitely tastes like a “higher end” Crown for not much more money. It’s also cheap enough to mix with. Forty Creek ages their copper pot-still components (rye, corn, and barley) in separate barrels and then carefully blends them together for the final product, an unusual approach. I’m also looking forward to tasting some of the celebrated higher-end products from the distillery. Or am I?

Please remember that these notes were written while tasting blind, which show clearly that I don’t really know what the heck I’m talking about.

Nose: Initially, heavy new-make character (grassy, vegetal, reminds me of white dog) – that dissipates after a rest in the glass, leaving a thick layer of caramel, with buttercream frosting and a thin veneer of tannic oak. Vanilla pervades, while the caramel is verging on burnt caramel, with wisps of char.

Palate: Thick, sweet, syrupy. Did I mention sweet? Repeated caramel notes, butterscotch candies, dulce de leche, etc. It all tastes heavily sweet, but not in a fake/corn syrup way.

Finish: Medium-short in length. Initially, vanilla dominates and then gives way to coconut extract and marzipan (almond). No bitterness.

With Water: A few drops of water release a little cinnamon (now it smells like a Cinna-Bon), and perhaps thins the body a touch.

Overall: Like many cheaper Canadian whiskies, this is over-the-top sugary sweet. The effect is decadent rather than fake (a major plus), reminding me of a high-end bakery treats rather than cheap mass-produced candy. Aside from the various iterations of sugar, there’s just a little bit of oakiness and not much complexity. A dessert – something that might be good poured over ice cream.

I’m marking this as “Try Before Buy” because it’s a little too young and a little too sweet for my tastes. However, if you regularly drink Crown Royal, this is a MUST HAVE for you. Yes, you, I’m talking to you. Don’t try to hide in the back.

Forty Creek Barrel Select
40% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $22 - $27
Acquired: (Sample) Courtesy of Scott N. Thanks Scott!

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  • Thanks for the review Nathan. Always happy to see more Canadian whisky content here (even if it is the entry-level brands). 🙂

    By the way, Forty Creek Barrel Select is actually cheaper than regular Crown Royal everywhere in Canada. For the standard 750mL bottles, the difference is typically ~$2 cheaper on average (ranges from $0.50 to $5.50 less, depending on the province).

    And here in Ontario, we actually have a dozen whiskies that are as cheap or cheaper than Forty Creek – and a bunch more at the same price as Crown Royal. According to my database, all but 4 of them are higher ranked than Crown Royal. 😉 Forty Creek is one of the best choices in the entry-level market of Canadian whiskies.

  • I can’t see how anyone could find a similarity between the entry level Crown Royal and Forty Creek Barrel Select. Crown Royal Deluxe is virtually flavourless. It’s practically vodka. Terrible stuff. Forty Creek Barrel Select has a lot of flavour, coming mostly from the sherry-type wine barrels in which it is finished. I think Barrel Select is one of the best bargains in whisky, in Canada at least. In my province (British Columbia), it sells for the exact same price as Jim Beam White Label ($23.49), and is a dollar less than Evan Williams Black Label, while being a hell of a lot better than either of those two bourbons.

    • Hi moretears,
      The similarity is in the sweetness. For an American palate, used to drier whiskies, the two seem to share characteristics such as syrupy sweetness and mild grain alcohol notes (grassy/acetone). That’s why I said they were similar. The differences are what make the bulk of my recommendation: the Forty Creek’s sweetness is natural, like high-quality baked goods, while Crown Royal’s is cloying and artificial, like cheap candy. Crown’s young grain tastes (as you said) like vodka, while Forty Creek’s just tastes like immature pot-still whisky: grassy and herbal.

  • “Forty Creek ages their copper pot-still components (rye, corn, and barley) in separate barrels and then carefully blends them together for the final product, an unusual approach.”

    This is NOT an unusual approach for Canadian whisky, it is the NORM. Unlike American whiskey that is distilled from a mashbill of grains that are combined, Canadian distillers typically distill AND age the 3 main grains (corn, rye, barley) separately. John Hall, the founder of Forty Creek has always made it sound like he was doing something special in Canada with this “meritage” of whiskies aged separately when in fact all his competitors do it – including Crown Royal! Even the pot still distillation of SOME of Forty Creek’s whisky is not unique – other Canadian distilleries also have pot stills (see for example Lot no 40 which is all from pot stills and some other Wiser’s products)


  • Hey SN,

    That “professionals” can’t even necessarily pick rum from whisky makes me feel so much better. I’ve been cursing my “underdeveloped” palate lately. I am often having whiskeys side-by-side to prove to myself they taste and smell differently and thus justify the habit (currently: Quinta Ruban and Lasanta – the differences are striking, but so hard to identify the “exact” flavours (i.e. deconstructing it), which is what has been making me feel bad!)!

    I know what I like and I guess that’s what counts most.


    • Indeed it is, Mark! Like any hobby, what matters most is the enjoyment you derive from it. Experimentation like you’ve been doing is the key to expanding your palate and your ability to sense (and appreciate) variations in whiskies. Most people who are presented with a glass of Johnnie Walker Red and a glass of Macallan 25 would be able to tell you that the Macallan was much better, but it takes a lot of “practice” to be able to describe exactly what the differences in taste, texture, and aroma are. Cheers!

  • If you think this is good, the double barrel aged version will knock your socks off. It was $48 usd in Canada when I went up for a trip last fall. Limited quantities made though.

  • The picture for the region is off, it is depicting a blended scotch and not canada.

    Anyway, this is one of the few canadians I like, as where I Am you can’t get 40 creek. I found it to have a doughy, nougat cookie taste, with orange peel, cocoa, sweet wine and a black walnut finish. I found it makes a really nice manhattan since it’s light enough that the addition of sweet vermouth doesn’t seem cloying.

  • USED to love Forty Creek. It was inexpensive, still purchased while it became more and more expensive; still loved it. It recently changed! They now have their own distillery…’s horrible!! Can no longer drink it. So terribly disappointed…..don’t buy it!!

    • I’ve heard it was bought out and that might have something to do with it. I just bought a bottle so I don’t know about the older stock, but it seems like a good product for the price to me.

      Does anyone know what’s changed?