In the heart of Prince Edward County’s wine country, originally settled by United Empire Loyalists, Sixty-Six Gilead Distillery is pioneering new territory with spirits distilled in a handmade copper still, filtered and bottled on site. More than just a factory, the property boasts an elegant Second Empire red brick mansion where visitors sample spirits in their newly renovated tasting room.
The classic spirits, however, are given a local twist: Loyalist Gin is flavoured with juniper berries grown on the property. Canadian Pine Vodka is the essence of cottage country cocktails. Vodka made with Canadian rye is smooth with a hint of butterscotch. Sample a taster (a mini cocktail made with just a one-quarter ounce of spirit) on the shaded breezeway surrounded by blossoms. Favourites include the maple leaf cocktail, a delightfully sweet mix of Canadian Pine Vodka, local maple syrup and freshly squeezed lemon, or their Loyalist Gin drink served with house-made tonic.
A former oast house, designed for drying hops, remains on the property from the County’s barley days (1860 to 1890) when some 50,000 bushels of barley were shipped daily to beer brewers in the U.S. Punitive tariffs put an abrupt end to these Canadian imports but the oast house is expected to open this summer as a farmers’ and artisans’ market when current renovations are done. Even more exciting, Sixty-Six Gilead will soon open their first barrel-aged spirit—a rum that has been aged in a barrel made at the on-site cooperage where you can see them being built.
As for the creator of the barrels, when Pete Bradford was laid off from his job at a company that made robotics for automobile factories, he cashed in his savings and “spent it all on wood.” After a year of searching, he found a cooperage in Kansas City where he could learn the craft of barrel making, before bringing his expertise back to Prince Edward County.
“I build a barrel from a log,” says Bradford whose innovations are uniquely local. Barrels made from Ontario cherry hickory, ash, beech and maple as well as traditional oak barrels are each labelled with their origins—the woods of local farmers. Severe Canadian winters season the wood quickly, rendering it ready for use in three years instead of five. Using equipment he designed himself, he assembles barrels with skill and brute manpower, eschewing high-tech hydraulics in favour of traditional techniques. “I build a barrel a day,” he says. If visitors would like to take—or roll—one home, barrels are customized with burned oak to suit a customer’s particular needs.