Forty Creek Distillery in Grimsby has just launched its Niagara Whisky Guild, an on-site learning and tasting experience that will introduce patrons to the history of whisky (and whiskey!), the history of distilling and of cocktails, and the intricacies of the art of blending. It is a three-course master class, and you can sign up here.

Forty Creek Distillery
The Tasting Room at Forty Creek Distillery

As part of the media preview of their brand new tasting rooms and museum, we had the chance to sample the Guild Curriculum. We tasted some whiskies of the world and a range of Forty Creek’s whiskies with Master Blender Bill Ashburn and Brand Ambassador Chris Thompson. We learned about the rules regulating whiskies around the world (and why some countries spell it with an “e”). We also had a cocktail class with the crew from Civil Liberties, Canada’s #1 best bar for two years running.

Nick Kennedy was our guide, and what I appreciated about the class was that Nick framed it as a list of common mistakes. Through that frame he taught us the importance of all the steps of the cocktail making. First and foremost, a cocktail should make the hero ingredient “ring like a bell.” The objective is to draw out the characteristics of the spirit, not to cover them up. With a view to making the Forty Creek whisky sing, he walked us through the steps of cocktail making.

Common Cocktail Mistakes

Not enough ice

Fill your mixing glass with ice all the way to the top. The ice in the mixing glass not only chills, it dilutes the drink. Make sure you have plenty.

Fill your rocks glass with ice all the way to the top, even over the top of the glass. The objective is to avoid floating ice and to keep the drink well-chilled from beginning to end. Too little ice will over-dilute the drink in the glass because the ice melts faster.

Too much syrup

Don’t over-sweeten a cocktail. Start with a ratio of 1/4 oz of syrup to 2 oz of spirit. You can always add more if you feel it needs it.

Too many dashes of bitters or skipping the bitters

Two dashes is usual, three dashes is plenty. Again, you can always adjust once it’s stirred and diluted to see if it needs more. The aim is to balance bitter and sweet and spirit. As an experiment, try stirring your cocktail without the bitters, and taste it. Then add the bitters and taste that blend. It’s amazing what depth and character two or three dashes of bitters can add to a drink.

Too few stirs

The objective of stirring a cocktail before it is served in the glass is to dilute as well as to chill it. Water is an essential part of the balancing act. As a rule of thumb, stir as many times as the proof of the spirit. Forty Creek Copper Bold is 43 proof, so stir it 43 times. Once it’s stirred, taste it to ensure you have a balance that pleases you. This is when you can add more sweetness or bitters if you feel it’s necessary.

Don’t forget the garnish

The garnish is not just there for decoration. It serves a flavouring and aromatic purpose. If you are using a twist of orange peel, for example, don’t just drop it into the drink. Squeeze the peel over the drink to express the oils from the peel. The oil will sit on top of the liquid and add aromatic lift. You can also run the peel around the rim of the glass to flavour the first sip.

Forty Creek Old Fashioned
Forty Creek Copper Bold Old Fashioned

The Perfect Old Fashioned

It’s a classic for a reason. An Old Fashioned is so-called because it refers to the old fashioned cocktail, which was just bitters, sugar and spirit. (“Perfect” when used in front of a Manhattan or Martini means that the vermouth in the drink has been split 50/50 sweet and dry. This is not that kind of perfect!)

Nick encouraged us to play Mr. Potato Head with ingredients, swapping out a flavoured syrup for a simple syrup to complement the spirit. In this case, he used maple instead of simple syrup, and it really did make the Copper Bold sing. If you have different bitters on your bar, play around with how they impact the flavour.


2 oz Forty Creek Copper Bold

1/4 oz maple syrup or maple-flavoured simple syrup

2 dashes Angustora bitters

Fill a mixing glass with ice and add whisky, syrup and bitters. Stir until thoroughly chilled and diluted. Fill a rocks glass with ice and strain the cocktail into the glass. Express a strip of orange peel over the cocktail and drop it into the glass as a garnish.

And now you know how to make the perfect Old Fashioned, up your whisky knowledge and cocktail-making skills at the Niagara Whisky Guild.


For more things to do around the city, check out the June City Girl’s Guide.

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