Built on Craft Brew: Town of Coffee, Beer, Whisky & ‘Big Love’

By Alexandra Lucier, March 26, 2018


Once a blue-collar town known for its auto-manufacturing industry, Windsor is reinventing itself; rebuilding its reputation on the pillars of art, craft brew and innovative dining, all the while preserving its foundation of deep-rooted history. This weekend, I was able to witness first-hand how Windsor’s art community and dining scene are coming to the forefront, making my hometown a place to enjoy.

A weekend in South Windsor might start with a specialty crepe or smoothie bowl at Brewin’ Bros. Beverage Co. (3873 Walker Rd.). The laid-back service and atmosphere are perfect for students or young entrepreneurs looking for a place to perch their laptops for a few hours. My boyfriend and I enjoyed grilled paninis and lovingly-crafted, vegan-friendly, superfood lattes. I highly recommend the Mocha Maca Latte.

Open since 2015, Brewin’ Bros. prides itself on locally-sourced ingredients, including 100% organic and fair-trade coffee beans from Windsor’s Colonial Coffee Roasters and Green Bus in LaSalle. Home of the Active Carbon Teas (my personal favourite is the Charcoal Detox tea), they proudly retail to local businesses like The Twisted Apron and Healthy Mama.

Every Friday at 1 pm and 3 pm, the J.P. Wiser’s Distillery Experience runs a tour of their distillery at 2072 Riverside Dr. E. You can find the friendly and accommodating staff in Building 20, at the far east end of the sprawling complex of Hiram Walker & Sons.

We were given vests and safety goggles before being led upstairs (3 floors) to the fermentation floor – a massive warehouse that boasts the largest distillery in North America. It was easy to see why; looking down through the grated floor beneath our feet, we were able to see the rest of the huge stills whose tips – like icebergs – broke the surface of the level on which we were standing.

The air was warm and dense with the fumes of distilling alcohol – 140,000 litres per day, to be exact. That yeasty, baking-bread smell that characterizes the childhood of anyone who grew up in the Walkerville area was sour today. The sweeter the smell, our tour guide explained, the poorer the resulting batch of whisky. “If it smells good,” she told us, “that means we need to start over.” And they often did, producing only the highest-quality whisky.

We were allowed to taste the batches at each stage of fermentation, our guide lowering a tin cup into the massive vats and then hoisting it back up by a chain for us to dip our fingers into. I was surprised by how sweet and cool the mash was in the first few fermenters. It was reminiscent of the brown-sugar-flavoured milk that is leftover from a bowl of oatmeal.

Our guide explained how river water acts as a non-contact cooling agent, one of the reasons Windsor had become known as “Whiskytown”. Some of the copper distillation units were well over a century old, and there was a weathered millstone on display which we were told had been pulled out of the Detroit River (when the millstones got soft from a lifetime of grinding grain, it was common at one time to simply toss them in the river; there are likely hundreds there now).

After the tour, we were brought back to the brand centre for a tasting of four iconic J.P. Wiser’s whiskies. To me, the tasting was evocative of the four whisky barons – Gooderham & Worts, Hiram Walker, J.P. Wiser and Henry Corby – who, in the year 1900, were not only active in politics but were also the four top taxpayers in Canada. In this way, whisky, which predates even our automobile industry, is truly the foundation on which Windsor was built.

If you’re looking to continue the theme of local heritage brews, you might follow-up the distillery tour with dinner at BREW Microbrewery. Located inside a renovated wholesale food factory on University Ave. E., BREW was established in 2014 by brothers and restaurant industry veterans, Jordan and Josh Goure. Rather than focusing on overly modern flavour profiles, the brewery is taking a unique position in the local craft beer market by producing what they call “easy-drinking” beer. Having tried their smooth, Canadian maple ale, I can personally attest to their success.

The beer-infused menu at BREW features mouth-watering creations like the Brew Haus Pretzel (made with gourmet sausage, Oktoberfest mustard and brew-brined sauerkraut) and the Pappa G pizza, topped with mozzarella and havarti cheeses, homemade tomato sauce, mushrooms, malted bacon and Genoa salami. Being a vegetarian, I went for the “Biergherita”, BREW’s take on a classic margherita pizza, with house tomato sauce, mozzarella, bocconcini and fresh herbs with a garlic crust (it’s thin-crust, so it’s okay that I finished the whole thing, right?).

After such a fun – filled weekend, it’s nice to relax and unwind with a Sunday matinee at University Players. Recognized as one of Canada’s top schools for dramatic arts, the University of Windsor uses University Players as its acting company and training ground for Dramatic Arts majors, performing for over 14,000 public patrons every year.

My family regularly purchases season tickets to University Players’ Sunday performances, using the leisurely afternoon to spend some time together and enjoy the talented young cast mentored by accomplished theatre professionals. The most recent performance we saw was “Big Love”, an epic, modern rendition of Aeschylus’s ancient Greek drama, “The Suppliants”. It was the perfect way to cap off a weekend spent rediscovering the city that I am proud to call my home.

This blog was created in partnership with funding from Ontario Southwest. To explore more that you can do in #OntSouthwest check out ontariosouthwest.com.