John’s Private Cask No. 1

You want to be careful when attaching your name to something. Like whisky, for instance. John’s Private Cask No. 1 is the latest special release from John Hall, distiller and blender at Niagara, Ontario’s Forty Creek Whisky, a part of the Kittling Ridge Distillery.

As the name suggests, this is a whisky near and dear to Hall’s heart, a special release focused not on the cask in which the spirit was finished — as were the Double Barrel, Port Cask and Confederation Oak, the last of which I raved about in Malt Advocate and City Bites, and am about to again in the September issue of Sharp — but on, in Hall’s words, “the taste of the varietal graiuns…showcasing the complexity of the aromas and tastes.”

So first, a little background. John Hall doesn’t make whisky the way most people make whisky. Instead, he ferments and distills single grain whiskies, made from barley, rye and corn, and ages each separately before marrying them together for a short honeymoon in sherry oak prior to bottling and release. (At least, that’s how he handles the basic Forty Creek. Others have the same start but get different treatment on the finish, a full three years worth of blended aging in the case of Confederation Oak.) This bottling starts the same way, but is proprietarily blended by John to maximize the impact of the specific grains. At least, that’s what he says.

Nosing and tasting it, I am left with no doubt that Hall did exactly what he says he did, and feel I have gained keen insight into the man’s palate for the experience. This is a good whisky, perhaps a very good bordering on excellent whisky, but it’s not one that I find especially to my taste, at least not initially. Instead of vast complexities on the nose, I’m left with an overwhelming sense of peppery butterscotch, richer, even, than the just-released-in-Canada Collingwood Canadian Whisky, which I thought was rather intensely sweet on the nose, and much less complex than the Elijah Craig 12 Year Old Bourbon I’ve been swooning over of late.

On the palate, however, a funny thing happens. Sure, it’s sweet and almost unctuous up front, but as it crosses the tongue spices begin to dance, with evident pepper — white and black — hints of nutmeg and mace, and closer to the finish, a touch of cinnamon. Alongside all this is fruit both dried and muddled, emphasis on the citrus, and the expected vanilla, but also a dryly toasty oakiness at the finish. Here, then, is the complexity I was looking for in the nose.

(And, I might add, a strong case against those who would insist that you can gauge everything you need to know about a whisky by sniffing it. As if!)

There are only 1,500 cases of this whisky being released in September, and as the ad copy says, when it’s gone, it’s gone forever. My assessment would be that it is very much worth trying at very reasonable $69.95 a bottle, but if it came down to a choice between Private Cask and Confederation Oak, I’d opt for the latter.

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