I’m a late entry on the Canadian whisky scene for these whiskies. Like my review of the Collingwood 21 yo, these two reviews come about as a result of recent “mystery swaps” that I have done with other whisky enthusiasts on the whisky network of Reddit.
This is a fun challenge whereby you hone your whisky sensory analysis skills by tasting (and reviewing) whiskies “blind”. In this case, I had two mystery samples from redditor 89Justin, with no indication as to what was in the bottles (no info on country, style, ABV, etc.). See my full reviews there to see how well I did in my guesses for these two whiskies.
Unlike the Collingwood experience, you can actually still buy these two 66 Gilead whiskies – but probably not for much longer. They were recently marked down to $40 CAD for clearance at the LCBO, so you may need to hunt around to find a local store that still carries them.
Based in the Prince Edward County region of Ontario, 66 Gilead could best be described as a craft distiller. With their close association to wine makers in the area, they have had the ability to experiment with some interesting barrel finishes. Their two signature whiskies are the Crimson Oak (finished in red wine casks, mainly pinot noir, and made up of 100% unmalted rye) and Wild Oak (done “bourbon-style”, matured in new charred oak casks with a custom mashbill of 51% corn, followed by rye, wheat and peated barley, in that order). I don’t know the exact age of the whiskies, but they are both believed to be young (i.e., I’ve seen 3.5 to 4.5 year old estimates online). Both are bottled at an impressive 47% ABV.
They don’t score particularly highly for Canadian whiskies – here is how they compare to other Canadian “craft-like” whiskies in my Meta-Critic Database:
66 Gilead Crimson Rye: 8.30 ± 0.47 on 6 reviews ($$)
66 Gilead The Wild Oak: 7.99 ± 0.58 on 5 reviews ($$)
Alberta Premium Dark Horse: 8.63 ± 0.33 on 15 reviews ($)
Canadian Rockies 21 yo: 9.04 ± 0.29 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Danfield’s 21 yo: 8.61 ± 0.56 on 12 reviews ($$)
Forty Creek Evolution: 8.85 ± 0.65 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Confederation Oak (All Batches): 8.80 ± 0.39 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Three Grain Harmony: 8.26 ± 0.59 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Glen Breton Ice 10yo: 8.24 ± 0.63 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton Rare 10yo: 8.06 ± 0.42 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Gooderham & Worts Four Grain: 8.64 ± 0.34 on 8 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Last Barrels: 8.89 ± 0.29 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Lot 40: 8.91 ± 0.40 on 18 reviews ($$)
Pike Creek 10 yo: 8.22 ± 0.53 on 11 reviews ($$)
Below are my tasting notes.
66 Gilead Crimson Oak
Colour: Slightly rose-tinted, dark orange/red-brown
Nose: Very fruit sweet with rich grape, raisins, plums, prunes, pears and apricot notes. I initially guessed port-finished, as this is fruitier than a typical sherry-finish. Dry, dusty rye baking spices, with lots of cinnamon and nutmeg. Gingerbread baking in the oven. Not really malty, but some cereal (grape nuts comes to mind). No off notes, but hard to tell under all that fruity sweetness.
Palate: Heavy spicy kick, with lots of rye spice and pepper. Same fruitiness as the nose, with maybe a bit of citrus (judging from the mouth pucker). Raw and extreme on first sip, seems youthful. Definitely very hot. Recommend small sips, letting it mix with saliva. A bit of bitterness on the finish.
Finish: Fairly long lasting, due to the spicy kick and heat. A bit oaky. Some artificial sweetness creeps in over time, unfortunately. Cinnamon lasts until the end (cinnamon red hots in particular).
A bit two-dimensional, with searing hot spice/pepper and heavy grape-like sweetness. Those two dimensions really dominate. While simple, I kind of like it – it is certainly bold (and thus likely too hot for most people). A bit like an amped-up version of Alberta Premium Dark Horse, but with even more sweet fruit and spicy rye kick.
Not sure if I could recommend it to most, but I personally would rank it a bit higher than the consensus Meta-Critic score for my personal palate.
66 Gilead Wild Oak
Colour: Typical light gold
Nose: Sweet, with light fruits, like pear and apple – also citrus (grapefruit). Some rye spices. Very woody. A bit of solvent smell, mixed with old sweat socks. Not as bad as it sounds, but not very distinctive either.
Palate: Not really detecting a lot of fruit. Rye spices are most prominent, mainly cinnamon and cloves. Tons of vanilla, and bit of caramel as well. Definitely oaky. Slight bitterness hiding under the sweetness (which quickly veers into the artificial sweetener realm, unfortunately). Good spicy kick to it. Somewhat watery mouthfeel for 47% ABV.
Finish: Medium short. Not really that much of interest going on. Seemed to me originally like a light, young, entry-level Canadian whisky, but with some added spice and heavy oak presence. Unfortunately, the oaky bitterness lingers the longest.
There is a lot heat on this one too – both alcohol burn and rye spice (although it is not as searingly spicy hot as the Crimson Rye). Unfortunately, I don’t find much else going on here. Ironically, it seems both under-aged (i.e., young, with raw distillate notes) and over-oaked (from the bitterness and woody flavours). Maybe a cask preparation issue?
Not quite sure what would need to be done to improve this, but I really can’t recommend it in its current form. I find the Meta-critic score to be reasonable.
Definitely an interesting experience to try these two whiskies blind as to the contents. I’m intrigued enough by the Crimson Rye to consider picking up a bottle at the LCBO. But be forewarned if you considering buying it un-tasted – you better really like wine-based fruit flavours and cinnamon red hots!
Generally positive reviews for these two whiskies come from Davin of Whisky Advocate. Jason of Whisky Won is also generally supportive of the Crimson Rye, less so for the Wild Oak. The guys at Quebec Whisky were not enthused about either (although again gave Crimson Oak a better score). The redditor muaddib99 has the most positive reviews I’ve seen online for both the Crimson Rye and Wild Oak.