By Ron Giofu
Essex County’s first craft distillery is ready to open its doors.
Wolfhead Distillery, located at 7781 Howard Ave., opens its doors to the public Friday. Local media were given an advanced look at the new facility Wednesday.
Wolfhead president/co-owner Tom Manherz said he and the team are excited and nervous about the new distillery. The team not only includes Manherz and his wife Sue, but distillers Karl Lonsbery and Ryan Bezaire and business development manager Karen Wettlaufer as well.
“It’s been two years in the making,” said Manherz. “It’s worth the wait.”
Once the distillery’s equipment was ordered, it took 14 months for it to arrive from Italy. There was a point where they were worried they weren’t going to be the first craft distillery in the area and that someone was going to “sneak in ahead of us” but they managed to get Wolfhead launched first.
Manherz was inspired by the local history of rum running and prohibition in the area, even noting that one of the first distillers also had ties to a sawmill. Manherz also owns Timberwolf Forest Products.
Wolfhead is trying to create its own unique flavours with six premium products available for onsite purchase. Those include premium whisky, coffee whiskey liqueur and apple caramel whiskey as well as premium vodka, banana caramel vodka and grapefruit flavoured vodka.
The plan is to get their products into bars and restaurants and also into LCBO locations down the road. Wolfhead also aims to branch off into coolers and gins down the road as well.
The operation at Wolfhead is a “grain to glass” outfit with Manherz stating there are 53 acres at his Howard Ave. site, including some farmland. A “distinct element” is the neighbouring quarry, the supplier of limestone treated water used in the production of Wolfhead’s spirits.
Manherz and his partners have invested roughly $1.5 million into the new craft distillery with an onsite restaurant also part of the operation.
Wolfhead has already booked several special events, including several weddings, showing the level of interest is high. Efforts are also trying to be made to partner with St. Clair College to get a distilling program at the school and use Wolfhead as onsite training for the students.
“People are excited to come,” said Manherz, adding that support has been great from the town and from Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island (TWEPI).
Steve Wright, a flavour expert retained by Wolfhead, discussed the flavours that Wolfhead is producing while master distiller Dan DeMarco gave a tour of the facility. The length of time between grain and glass varies greatly depending on the product, DeMarco noted, as it can take over four days for a vodka or gin to 10-12 years for a brand of whiskey.
DeMarco, who has 35 years of experience in the business with many of that being at Hiram Walker, was happy with how things are unfolding at Wolfhead Distillery.
“This has been an exciting start-up,” said DeMarco. “We’ve been really pleased with the product from the start.”
Both DeMarco and Wright are consultants that are working with Wolfhead.
Wolfhead Distillery can be contacted at 519-726-1111 or at www.drinkwolfhead.com. The official grand opening is planned for the end of June.