Brew City: Has the Craft Beer Revolution in Windsor-Essex Begun?

Motor Burger only serves their own brews, Motor Craft Ales

If you brew it, they will come.

That seems to be the motto in Windsor, Ontario, as a beer revolution is taking shape. Since Windsor held its first craft beer festival last October, interest in craft beer has exploded.  A movement has taken shape in our region.

Steve Fabischek and Bryan Datoc are part of that movement.

The pair are working towards launching Craft Heads Brewing Company on October 17-18, 2014, at the Windsor Craft Beer Festival.  They are one of potentially seven new breweries looking to open their doors in Windsor-Essex this year.

Steve explains that Craft Heads was founded on the premise of providing customers with a two-fold experience: the first is to create bold, brash and in-your-face flavours with up to 20 different specialty small batch brews on tap at any time. The second is to take people back to school and provide brew education.

“Craft beer is really an expression of each brewer’s personal creativity,” Steve says. “It’s  a true art form that seems to have been lost by the large scale commercial brewers in the past 20-30 years. ”

“We plan on hosting ‘tour sessions’ where we focus on brewing one style of beer up to five different ways, only changing one ingredient or one process to show people what causes different flavours, textures and aromas when brewing beer,” Steve says. “One additional aspiration of Craft Heads Brewing Company is to be a completely interactive, modern brewery where we have constant updates on social media and our website listing exactly what is on tap, what is in the process of brewing, what we are planning on brewing next, and having our customers provide ideas or concepts for us to brew next.”

While they are still finalizing an exact location, the pair are focusing on historic neighbourhood of Old Walkerville. 

Work on the exterior of the soon to be opened Brew

Meanwhile, just steps from Caesars Windsor, another brewery is taking shape. Brew founders, brothers Jordan and Josh Goure, believe that creativity in brewing is an art form.

“Just as chefs sometimes see their creative cuisines as art, so is craft beer, and each craft beer has its own unique identity,” says Jordan, the spokesperson and manager for Brew.

The brothers have strong roots to the hospitality industry in Windsor, having been part of five plus ventures, including the recently closed, The Pour House.

“We knew we wanted to stay active in the business community but we also knew we wanted a change from the run of the mill hospitality venture,” Jordan says. “Sticking to our hospitality roots, but, now approaching it from the manufacturing angle seemed like the logical next step.”

Brew will have a full service and fully liquor licensed venue with a kitchen and offer their creations in 1L bottles for take home.  

The creation of a new industry in Windsor-Essex is a great thing and one that WindsorEats has been a supporter of for some time.

“A few years ago, we saw an emerging trend happening within the craft beer industry in the province,” explains Adriano Ciotoli, co-owner of WindsorEats. “We then began developing products around that emerging trend. We knew that it was only a matter of time before Windsor-Essex would expand its presence in the industry and we wanted to make sure we were right along side with it.”

A bachelorette party enjoys a stop during a Bikes & Beers Cycling Tour

One of those products is the Bikes & Beers Cycling Tours. Built as a sister tour to the highly successful and award winning Wine Trail Ride, it brings patrons on a tour of breweries and craft beer friendly establishments throughout Windsor.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in their popularity,” says Adriano of the Bikes & Beers tours. “With the growth of the craft beer industry in Windsor-Essex, we’re expecting to far exceed last years numbers.”

Adriano mentions that the tour is popular with locals and visitors alike, even drawing in bachelorette parties from across the province and United States.

With a new craft beer industry popping up alongside a burgeoning wine region, many believe it’s a perfect compliment that can cater to a wide range on individuals.

“Similar to our wine industry, it is another facet which acts as an impetus to tell the story of heritage and the terroir of Windsor Essex,” says Gordon Orr, Chief Executive Office, Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island. “Having a distinctive, experiential and immersive component through a variety of breweries in the area, only further enhances our portfolio and credibility in the realm of libations.”

Walkerville Brewery

While it means more competition, existing brewery owners, like Chris Ryan of Walkerville Brewery, also see the benefits of more breweries opening in Windsor-Essex.

“Like the established wine industry in our region, craft beer will play a complimentary role to culinary tourism while also standing on its own and drawing from a growing group of beer travellers in search of the perfect pint,” says Chris. He also believes that the market here is merely catching up to the industry as a whole.

“The craft segment in Ontario has gained significant ground in the past few years but still lags behind British Columbia,” Chris explains. “It definitely has a long way to go before reaching the heights of our neighbours in Michigan.”

To stay competitive and maintain their customer base, Chris believes that existing breweries don’t necessarily have to stick out, but, more importantly, stay true to who they are. That doesn’t mean standing still, however.  Walkerville Brewery is anticipating the arrival of a canning line and will have their Honest Lager available in 473ml cans this summer. They’ll also be releasing 4-6 new seasonals.

Jay Souilliere and Gino Gesuale of Motor Craft Ales, located inside the popular Motor Burger restaurant, have a different opinion. Jay says differentiating yourself from the competition is the important, yet difficult part of the industry.

“You find a lot of replication of styles,” Jay says. “We have always positioned ourselves slightly different from anyone else, so that it is unmistakably Motor Craft Ales. ”

As a previous employee of Labatt, Jay says it is understood in Ontario that Windsor Essex is a strong marketplace for beer.

“For the craft beer market, continuing to push the quality, care and commitment, this area can definitely be a leader in the industry, as we have proven to be in the manufacturing world,” he says.

In fact, sales have been so good for Motor Craft Ales that they’re expanding. After originally starting with only 1 beer, they now have a custom beer tower with 12 Motor Craft Ales on a regular basis. Customers are so appreciative of their brews that Motor Burger now sells more beer per person than when they sold the traditional big name brands that everyone else sell. Motor Craft Ales currently has a tender out for a larger system that would allow them to provide beer to many more consumers, both in the province and to a growing group of international advocates. They also have plans to include a home consumer package as well as draft.

Don’t expect Motor Craft Ales to get too large, however.

“Our brewery is based on an exclusive brand based on quality and not quantity,” says Gino. “Our craft beer is special because there is a lot of love and pride that goes into the making of it.  You get to share that love with fellow craft beer drinkers.”

Tap handle at Motor Burger

The growth of the craft beer industry isn’t limited just to the city.

Popular Kingsville restaurant, Jack’s Gastropub, has a brewing facility in the works, as well. Owner, Trevor Loop, believes that craft beer is the future. Along with wanting to support this industry as locally as he can, he also has taken pride in operating his restaurant in a fashion that allows them creative opportunity.

“We feel that applying these same ideals in beer offerings would be a great addition to our business,” Trevor explains.

According to Trevor, the brewing division of Jack’s Gastropub, to be known as Banded Goose Brewing Co., will offer creative, unique, flavourful beers which have a good story to tell as a result of their adherence to good brewing practices as well as utilization of local inputs.

Banded Goose Brewing Co. hopes to have beers available on premise at Jack’s by the end of March 2014.  All products will only be available in house, on tap.

3 ways to enjoy the local craft beer movement

Bikes & Beers Cycling Tour
In 2012, the Bikes & Beers Cycling Tours had only 1 local brewery to visit: Motor Craft Ales. Now with an expanded selection, they’re anticipating ever changing routes and tastings for the 2014 season which begins in May.

Windsor Craft Beer Festival
Over 3000 people attended the inaugural festival last year, which showcased 10 craft breweries from across the province and Quebec. To put it bluntly, it was a huge success!  This year, the WCBF will be growing to host up to 15 craft breweries. Some of the breweries already committed for 2014 include St. Ambroise, Broadhead Brewing Company and Highlander Brew Co.

The Windsor Craft Beer Festival takes place October 17-18, 2014.

Drinks of Walkerville Walking Tour
While not completely dedicated to beer (you’ll likely have whiskey and bourbon along the way, as well), the Drinks of Walkerville tour combines history and drinks for a guaranteed fun way to be educational.


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