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Settled in the Niagara Region of Ontario, Forty Creek Distillery opened its doors in the town of Grimsby on the banks of Lake Ontario. Between Hamilton and St. Catharines, Grimsby has a modest population of approximately 27,000. Today, the distillery is listed as one of the top attractions in Grimsby on Tripadvisor.

Initially established in 1972 by Otto Rieder, the distillery was later acquired by John Hall in 1992. That same year, Hall re-opened the facility as a combined winery and distillery called Forty Creek, with the first Forty Creek whiskies hitting the market in the year 2000. In 2012, the winery was divested, and the focus turned to whisky.

Bill Ashburn, Forty Creek’s master blender, has been a part of the brand’s journey since 1987. Prior to Forty Creek, Ashburn had gained extensive experience in aged products, blending and product development while seconding the winemakers at an Ontario winery. He made the transition to distilling, pursuing his lifelong passion for distilled spirits.

Bill Ashburn, Forty Creek’s master blender
Bill Ashburn, master blender, Forty Creek Distillery

Ashburn had the opportunity to learn the spirits blending process from start to finish under the guiding hand of a knowledgeable German master distiller. Six months into distilling, he had an “Aha!” moment – he was given the chance to run the stills on his own on the overnight shift and immediately felt a connection to the work.

He is passionate about uncovering new flavours and creating taste experiences that push the standards of Canadian whiskies to new heights. Each whisky Forty Creek offers is artfully crafted to the perfect blend. From carefully blending different batches to match each whisky’s classic flavour profile to creating an altogether new expression, Ashburn maintains the standard for these unique processes which set Forty Creek apart in the market.

When asked what his favourite product to enjoy is, Ashburn shared that his go-to is always Forty Creek poured over a single cube of ice. However, he also divulged he is known to enjoy a little bit of Forty Creek Original Cream in his hot chocolate or the Forty Creek Barrel Select with lemonade.

Using both traditional pot and column stills in the production of their spirits, one of Forty Creek’s key pieces of equipment is the oak barrels for their maturation program. Forty Creek specifically is a barrel-to-blend whisky. This means they focus on the innovative use of wood and artful blending to create a smooth flavour.

Using both traditional pot and column stills in the production of their spirits, one of Forty Creek’s key pieces of equipment is the oak barrels for their maturation program. Forty Creek specifically is a barrel-to-blend whisky. This means they focus on the innovative use of wood and artful blending to create a smooth flavour.

Typically, the distillation process is a single or double pass. The process begins with blending different batches of whisky from separate barrels into one product. Using mostly American White Oak, the barrels are a mix of new and seasoned ex-bourbon barrels mostly from Wild Turkey, Forty Creek’s sister company in Kentucky. They also have a limited number of Canadian Oak Barrels that are used specifically for Forty Creek’s Confederation Oak Reserve that were sourced from the Canadian Oak Barrel Company.

Each batch is carefully tasted and compared to ensure the whisky strikes the perfect balance of flavours and aromas before it is bottled. Whiskies can take years or even decades to mature. Each September, Forty Creek announces a special release.

No stranger to the podium, Forty Creek is a well-awarded brand, receiving a Gold Medal at the 2024 Canadian Whisky Awards for Forty Creek Barrel Select, and a Gold Medal from the 2023 San Francisco World Spirits Competition for Forty Creek Cherrywood Reserve.

Bill Ashburn, Forty Creek’s master blender
Photos courtesy of Forty Creek Distillery

The Gold Medal from the 2023 Global Masters Awards for Forty Creek Barrel Select is the award Ashburn is most proud of because a product that has been in the market for over 23 years and continues to win gold medals at international competitions is quite the feat. Another noteworthy product line is the Forty Creek Creams, with all three products, Original Cream, Nanaimo Bar Cream and Butter Tart Cream, winning at the Canadian Whisky Awards for seven of the last eight years. Sold across Canada, Forty Creek can also be found on shelves in the U.S. and select Asian countries.

In 2014, Campari Canada acquired Forty Creek, quickly becoming one of its cornerstone brands. Other brands under Campari Canada include Appleton Estate Rum, Grand Marnier, Campari, Aperol and SKYY Vodka, to name a few.

Campari Canada’s leadership is comprised of senior industry management across marketing, sales, trade marketing, human resources, finance and supply chain management. Campari Canada continues to evolve their product portfolio while ensuring that the existing product range remains consistent for their customers.

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