October is synonymous with falling leaves, Halloween and – in some corners of the world – beer.
But in Windsor, a particular kind of beer has been the talk of the town for months now – craft beer and talk of new craft breweries opening has been swirling.
There’s also growing excitement for the second annual Windsor Craft Beer Festival and the first LaSalle Craft Beer Festival. (Just how excited are local beer lovers? The Saturday VIP tickets for the Windsor festival sold out back when it was still warm outside.)
Everyone in the food industry agrees the taste for craft beer hasn’t weakened in Windsor-Essex and there’s still room for expansion.
“The craft beer industry in Windsor-Essex is really booming,” said Adriano Ciotoli ofWindsorEats, the main organizer of the Windsor Craft Beer Festival.
Along with whisky and wine production, the region can confidently add beer to its extensive drink menu.
“I don’t think it’s an actual trend. I think they’re here to stay,” said Gino Gesuale ofMotor Craft Ales, one of the first micro-breweries to open up a few years ago. “This is the way it was prior to Prohibition.”
So what’s brewing in beer around here?
1. Get to know the cicerone and try a few limited-edition beers
Along with more regional craft beers on tap (15, up from 10), the Windsor Craft Beer Festival is bringing in a beer cicerone to host group tastings.
A cicerone is to beer what a sommelier is to wine. Toronto-based Mirella Amato is among the few Canadians to hold the official title of Master Cicerone. She’ll be hosting guided tastings at the festival, which runs Oct. 17-18, for a limited number of guests, helping to decipher and appreciate brews from the likes of Hop City Brewing, Descendants Beer and Beverage and Railway City Brewing.
Festivalgoers with VIP passes will also get to try some limited-edition micro-brews that you won’t find on tap elsewhere.
Also worth noting: Walkerville Brewerywill premiere a few new beers at the festival, but you’ll have to wander into its tasting room on Argyle Road to give them a try. (Don’t worry, they’re right up the block from the festival itself.)
The brewers there won’t disclose any more details other than to say the beers are aged in firkins – a smaller version of a keg that allows, among other things, for the beer to carbonate naturally.
Craft beer always seems to attract great food, too, so keep an eye out for delectables likeRobbie’s Gourmet Sausage and Motor Burger.
For tickets, location and the full food and drink roster at the Windsor Craft Beer Festival, visit windsorbeerfestival.com or call 519-982-5212.
2. Craft brew festival in the county
Good news for the southwest part of the peninsula (and for those of you who want to indulge in beer for two consecutive weekends): LaSalle will host its first craft beer festival at the Vollmer Complex Oct. 10-11.
“It’s an opportunity for the Town of LaSalle to stand on its own,” said event organizer Ian France. The festival will host 15 Ontario breweries, and there’s also local food to be had from the likes of Smashed Apple catering and Tutti Mangia.
For the full brewery lineup, tickets and details, visit lasallebeerfest.com or call 519-818-6930.
3. The soon-to-be beer: Brew and Craft Heads
On a quiet corner of University Avenue just east of the casino, you’ll spot a dark-grey brick building with the letters B, R, E and W etched on the front windows.
This new micro-brewery, which aims to produce beer primarily for sale to local bars, but which also has a charming tasting room set up for light meals and special events, is waiting for its last bit of paperwork to go through before it can start pouring samples of its beer at both the LaSalle and Windsor craft beer festivals.
(What’s the holdup, you ask? Craft brewers have to go through three levels of government to get into the business. Keep reading to find out how many licences are required.)
Once you’re legally allowed to go try their stuff you might want to take home a six-pack of their slick blue glass bottles – an eye-catching (and single-serving-sized) alternative to the characteristic 1.8-litre growlers made popular by Walkerville Brewery.
Speaking of small quantities, right downtown at the corner of University and Pelissier, another micro-brewery is getting ready to open up shop.
Brian Datoc, co-owner of Craft Heads brewery, said the main idea behind the business is to offer as much variety as possible while constantly collecting feedback and ideas from customers to find out what they like. (Think of it as crowd-sourced craft beer.)
“We’re going to complement the other breweries around here,” Datoc said, listing some of the brews they’ll focus on, including fruit beers, coconut porters and even sour beers.
They’re even going to feature a “charity tap” and donate proceeds from sales of that beer to charity. “For us it’s not about making money. It’s enjoying the people that you’re with,” he said.
Craft Heads is still waiting for the last bit of licensing paperwork to come through. You won’t get to taste their stuff at the upcoming craft beer festivals, but they’ll be out at the Windsor festival gathering up ideas from local craft beer drinkers.
4. A pint of Johnny Shotz
The talk you heard in Tecumseh is true. Shane Meloche, co-owner of the family-runJohnny Shotz confirmed the bar is in the planning stages of an off-site brewing facility. Meloche said the concept is similar to that of Walkerville Brewery, and will include a tap room and retail area.
Given the amount of draught beer they sell at the bar, Meloche said, and given all the local interest in locally produced beer, it made sense to take the business in this direction.
5. More beer alongside the wine
Those of you who shop at the LCBO on Amy Croft Drive may have noticed some changes. To get in on the steadily increasing taste for craft beer, the store features a walk-in beer cold room stocked with Ontario craft beers as well as larger-scale domestic and imported brands.
The cold room also has a nice environmentally friendly feature: it’s chilled by outside air for part of the year.
6. What’s the holdup?
There’s been talk of a few more breweries in the works, but aside from usual delays like renovations, ordering and installing brewing equipment and actually making the beer, the paperwork required to get a micro-brewery up and running can take months. That’s because there are three different levels of government involved in licensing these operations.
Eva Innes, spokeswoman for the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, broke it down into five main steps:
1. Apply for a federal excise licence from the Canada Revenue Agency.
2. Apply to the AGCO to sell your product through channels like the LCBO. This costs $1,575 annually.
3. Apply to have your beer tested. This takes 8-12 weeks, usually.
4. Obtain municipal approvals for zoning changes, health and safety, etc.
5. If you plan to sell your beer at the brewery, apply to the AGCO for an on-site retail licence.
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