Wolfhead premium craft distillery to begin production in Amherstburg

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Windsor Star/Julie Kotsis

Hoping to take advantage of a growing trend and fill a local niche, Tom and Sue Manherz plan to market a range of ultra-premium spirits crafted with local ingredients in their own micro-distillery.

Along with partner Larry Girard, the owners of Wolfhead Distillery are mapping out a new facility located in an industrial area of Amherstburg.

The trio plan to launch the business later this fall with a grand opening in the spring of 2016. Initially they will produce flavoured whisky and vodka that they hope will be ready for sale by Christmas.

“It seems to be a growing trend in the industry right now, flavoured whisky,” Tom said. “A lot more women are drinking whisky than in the past (and flavoured whisky is) also a little softer and a little sweeter. So we’re kind of going after that market.”

The distillery will be located adjacent to Timberwolf Forest Products, a business Tom, 59, began 26 years ago. Sue, 52, has been his wife and business partner for 22 years.

Along with Girard, 52, they are investing $1.7 million to renovate and add to the existing building, change the façade and install an outdoor patio. There will be a tasting room/storefront designed “to harken back to the area’s Prohibition past” that will accommodate 90 to 100 people.

“Our intention is to have a tasting room and a little retail store here and eventually get a listing at the LCBO,” Tom said. “Sometimes it takes six months, eight months, a year and that’s only if they like your product.”

The partners, who are pioneering their business in a landscape dotted with wineries and craft breweries, will use local ingredients — corn, barley, rye, hot peppers — and even local limestone, which will be used to filter their water.

“There’s a movement there that (people) want local stuff and I think the wineries kind of blazed a trail,” Tom said. “Craft breweries are right behind them and then there’s a big move in the states for craft distilleries. Not so much here. It’s coming.”

Tom pointed out almost 450 craft distillers opened in the United States in the last two years, boosting that country’s numbers to 750 in total. In Canada, including the “big distillers,” there are between 50 to 60, he said.

And the majority of the 20 to 40 craft distillers are located in British Columbia. Tom said there are only seven in Ontario, with the closest location in Beamsville — about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Windsor.

“I’m really excited about being the first craft distiller as opposed to the 19th winery or the 12th brewery,” Tom said.

He said they will start looking for more staff — for bottling and manufacturing operations, as well as retail staff — in a couple of weeks.

“Like any new business opening up in the town, it’s great,” said Mayor Aldo DiCarlo. “But this particular business is very interesting because it’s unique to Amherstburg.”

A couple working and living together is fairly unique too.

“It works good because I’m on the second floor, she’s on the first floor,” Tom said with a laugh.

“He’s the brains of it all and I’m the organizer,” said Sue. “He has great ideas but I help keep it all in line and put it together. We work well together as a team.”

“It’s been a winning formula so far,” Tom said.