Drive far enough South in Ontario and you will end up in the city of Windsor. It is known as the City of Roses. It is surrounded by lush farmlands and boasts some lovely wineries. It is a historic city that has come to be known for the auto industry though it is so much more than that.
It is also For Barely or For Wort's hometown.
In January, Windsor Eats with Motorburger/Motor Craft Ales announced they were hosting Windsor's first Craft Beer Festival.
We love beer festivals and the chance to attend the first one in the city we were born and grew up in was very exciting.
The festival itself was set up in an outdoor space right across from the city's own craft brewery Walkerville Brewery. Attendees were able to sample outside and then head into the brewery to warm up, see their set up and sample even more of their beer.
Inside Walkerville warming up and having a pint.
Nice big set up for Walkerville Brewery
Barley and Wort with Adriano Ciotoli of Windsor Eats
Ottawa's own Broadhead Brewery as well as Van Kleek's Beau's Brewery made the drive down for the festival. They joined Lake of Bays Brewery, Bayside Brewery, Walkerville Brewery, McAuslan Brewery, Highlander Brewery, Mill St Brewery and Wellington Brewery.
Rocking the kilts, gentlemen of Highlander Brewery!
Walkerville Brewery's table outside.
Ottawa's Broadhead Brewery. Way to support new festivals guys!
We were told the Longshot White and Darkhorse Stout were the big hits at their booth.
Highlight beers included:
Lake of Bays-Top Shelf
St Ambroise-Apricot Wheat
Windsor Eats' Adriano and Pina were gracious enough to sit down with us to discuss the festival.
What made you want to put on the Windsor Craft Beer Festival?
Adriano: Well we have been doing Windsor Eats, the food and drink guide for about ten years now so everything we do revolves around food and drink. We have had the plan for the craft beer festival for about two or three years now but there was no craft beers based in Windsor. It was not the best time to launch. So while the rest of the province was booming, Windsor was a bit stagnant. Within the last year Walkerville Brewery has popped up and Motor Burger launched Motor Craft Ales. Also there are two or three more in the planning stages so we figured this is the perfect time. People are getting excited about it, people are realizing the quality of Ontario craft beers. We decided this was the year.
Pina: Windsor is a beer drinking town. Windsor really loves their beer. Our whole thing was to get people to realize how much Windsor has to offer. We are very fortunate here, we have lots of agriculture and we are blessed in what we have here. When Walkerville Brewery opened it was very exciting. It is a great compliment to the wine industry as well. When we started in January and then when tickets sales started we knew hit on something.
What were you expecting in terms of attendance?
Adriano: We were expecting, in our heads, a realistic of number of 500 Friday, 1000 to 1200 Saturday. As we started seeing advance tickets sales we had to start bumping that up. We hit over 1000 on Friday. Advance sales for Saturday were over 1400. There is a chance we will hit capacity late Saturday night and have to turn people away at the door.
How did you choose the breweries you approached for the festival? Obviously Walkerville and Motor Craft were easy being the Windsor breweries but what about the rest?
Adriano: We were open to any Ontario craft brewery. We did not want exclude anyone. It was obviously for craft breweries only but that was the only limit. We were very fortunate that we were able to get St. Ambroise on board. That was an added bonus to say we had a Quebec brewery.
Pina: Convincing brewers to take a chance on Windsor was a bit more difficult. It was also a first time event and we had no numbers to base it on. Distance was a big factor as well.
Did you run into a problem with it also being the same weekend as Cask Days, with breweries being over stretched as craftbreweries tend to be small?
Adriano: We definitely did hear that. Also distance. Even though we had Beau's and Broadhead come down from Ottawa, we had a lot of breweries respond saying they did not have the staff to send down.
Some festivals allow breweries to send down kegs and have volunteers serve. Did you put that out as an option or did you want a representative from the brewery to attend?
Adriano: We wanted the representative. Especially because Windsor is sort of new to the craft beer scene. We wanted the reps here so that if people wanted to talk to them they were getting all the details about the beer from a professional that is involved in the beer and properly discussing it.
Why theme of 1885?
Pina: Adriano and I were born and raised in Old Walkerville. We are history buffs. We love the history of Walkerville, we love the culture behind it. We love the story of Hiriam Walker. That is where the inspiration for the look and feel of the Windsor Craft Beer Festival came from. We wanted to celebrate the fact that back in 1885 Hiriam Walker launched a state of the art brewery in Walkerville. Most people don't know that about him. They associate him with the whiskey but they don't know that he was brewing beer that was world renowned. We took our cue from that. The bowler hat, the moustache, that fact that we are in Old Walkerville. We are amongst the buildings that he built, distilled and stored his whiskey in. Everything centred around that. Windsor was a significant player in prohibition. We love the history here and we wanted to share that with everyone. We wanted everyone to know what happened here. This was a small neighbourhood that played a significant role in distilling and brewing and one man who spearheaded that.
Your ticket prices were very reasonable. Both to get in and for samples. Was it hard to plan that for a first time festival?
Pina: We weren't promoting it as drink your face off event. It was about stepping out of your comfort zone. We did not want to bust your bank account to try samples what the breweries have to offer. We tried to make it as affordable as possible so everyone could attend.
Do you guys have plans to do it again?
Pina: They are in the works. We are already thinking about next year. It is a first for all of us. We are very big on feedback. We will sit down and talk about what worked and what didn't work. We want to make sure that next time is just a little bit better. We had a lot of fun doing it. A lot of fun to plan and put the pieces together.
For a first time festival they did everything right. Enough space to move, tables to sit, samples were plentiful but not overwhelming. Tickets were reasonable in pricing, entertainment was good but not overbearing and there was plenty of bathroom facilities. I am sure there were hiccups but it was never apparent to those attending.
Would we attend again? Yes.
Is it worth the 7-9 hour drive (depending on how one drives and Toronto traffic) Yes. With ticket prices not breaking the bank and hotels being reasonable in pricing it is a cost friendly trip.
Would we recommend the festival to others? Yes. Windsor is just beginning to see their craft beer market flourish. This means good things for the city, for the future of the festival and for beer lover's in general. They are the birthplace of some of Ontario's oldest brewing and distilling yet only now seeing the cycle come back around to them. As the industry changes in the city it can only mean good things for the craft beer festival and with passionate organizer's in the Windsor Eats crew it means that they are a place to keep an eye on.
A very big thank you to Adriano and Pina for agreeing to sit down with us. The festival was a fun time which we hope to repeat next year.