Windsor’s history is tied inexorably to the alcohol industry, but not necessarily the beer side of it. Since 1858, Hiram Walker’s distillery has produced spirits in vast quantities. It’s worth visiting the Walkerville neighbourhood just to breathe the air. For blocks around the facility the aroma of honeyed porridge and shaved wood rides the wind. And recall that Windsor was infamous for rum running in the 1920s and 30s, with scofflaws like Harry Low building small empires out of the distilling trade.
Perhaps because of its storied history in the spirits trade, Windsor has been slow to adapt to Ontario’s recent craft beer boom. Beer has always been something of an afterthought. Historically, the most successful brewery in Windsor has been Walkerville, which has gone through three separate incarnations since 1890. The name illustrates the extent to which beer was a late adoption and a subordinate one; the brewery was named after a town that sprung up around the distillery.
All of the breweries in Windsor that are currently operating have been founded in the last three years. Rather than mimic the thriving beer scene elsewhere in Ontario – or across the Detroit River in Michigan, where there is also a thriving beer scene – Windsor is reinventing itself on its own terms. The city’s brewers seem to be channelling the ethos of manufacturing that has long been a staple of Windsor’s identity. When looking to whet your whistle with Windsor’s best suds, these four breweries will intrigue and delight.
Housed in a warehouse that once operated as a storage facility for whisky, Walkerville is the largest and most traditional of Windsor’s breweries. Since 2012, the focus has been on integration into the community, and the brewery’s tap room has become a popular venue for events. For the most part Walkerville is offering traditional styles of beer, introducing the public to more flavourful options than had previously been available locally. The brewery is currently just large enough to be distributing to nearby Chatham-Kent and Sarnia, but has plenty of room to expand into its enormous industrial space. A barrel program is beginning to result in more elaborate offerings including an oaked variant of their Milk Stout.
Recommended: Honest Lager, an Oktoberfest-style beer brewed year round, is one of the most flavourful flagship beers brewed in the province. The aroma is freshly baked bread crust followed by a full body and a crisp, spicy bitterness on the finish.
525 Argyle St., 519-254-6067
Courtesy Walkerville Brewery
Founded by a pair of homebrewers, Craft Heads revels in the joy of sheer variety. With as many as 36 of their own beers on tap at any given time, experimentation in small-batch brewing is the key to their business. The basement bar also operates as a coffee house, featuring an espresso bar and single origin pour-over coffees. The glassed-in brewhouse off the bar’s main seating area is abuzz with activity as well, and patrons are able to watch the brewer at work. With nearly three dozen beers on offer, the brewer is working almost constantly. Craft Heads hosts events in its brewpub ranging from yoga to comedy nights, and periodically takes part in the Flight Club pub crawl, which showcases downtown Windsor’s craft beer venues.
Recommended: Squirrel Nut Brown is a complex offering that incorporates house-made cold brew coffee and is aged on hazelnuts for that extremely literal touch (“nut brown” ales normally don’t involve actual nuts). The body has notes of sweet chocolate syrup and yes, roasted nuts. Imagine Nutella on toast.
89 University Ave. W., 226-246-3925
Courtesy Craft Heads
The taps at Craft Heads Brewing Company
Motor Craft Ales
Operating since 2012, Windsor’s first nano brewery has taken the DIY manufacturing theme to heart. A “nano brewery” is a tiny brewery, even more micro than “micro”; while the beer is brewed in exceedingly small batches. The branding adopts an automotive theme as a reflection of the region’s industrial history, and the aesthetics follow: The tap handles at Motor Burger are repurposed tools, the flight trays are made of hand-machined steel, and the walls are decorated with diagrams and schematics of cars rendered in chalk. The small brewing system allows for the production of a wide range of beers and is currently in the process of being upgraded to allow volume for off-sales in bottles. While the beer made on-site is good, the thing that makes Motor a destination is the food menu. In 2014, the Motor Burger made several best-burger lists for the province of Ontario.
Recommended: Dragula is a lightly roasty schwarzbier, the pitch black of asphalt. Notes of dark fruit and chocolate and gently charred barley lead into a clean finish. Great with the “deux chevaux” burger.
888 Erie St. E., 519-252-8004
Founded by brothers Joshua and Jordan Goure, each veterans of the hospitality industry, Brew is focused on providing beer specifically to the Windsor area. The brewery sits in a glassed-in chamber just off the seating area of their tastefully appointed taproom. The number of beers on offer is relatively restrained; creative innovation comes out at the bar in the form of beer cocktails. The menu for the brewpub uses Brew’s beer as an ingredient in everything from mustards to marinades, and features pizzas made with spent barley dough.
Recommended: Black ‘N’ Brew Chocolate Stout is smooth and sweet with just enough bitterness to balance the finish with the chocolate syrup aroma.
635 University Ave. E., 226-246-0720