Canadian Club commercial shot at The Willistead Restaurant in Walkerville

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Windsor Star/Sharon Hill

Willistead bartender Craig Finnigan got his nails done and as a lefty had to immerse himself into his character as a right-handed pourer for a Canadian Club commercial being shot in the Walkerville bar Wednesday.

“So far it’s mostly my hands,” Finnigan said of his film debut which required his first-ever manicure.

Suede Productions from Windsor took over The Willistead Restaurant Wednesday morning to shoot a commercial for Canadian Club which will launch its 100 per cent rye whisky in the United States in April/May.

“What better place to come than a bar in Walkerville because that’s where founding father Hiram Walker started the brand,” said Dan Tullio, the global brand ambassador for Canadian whisky through Jim Beams Brands Co.

Willistead co-owner Mark Boscariol said it’s cool to see the bar used as a set for the ad. He closed the restaurant for the day and posted the news on Facebook.

“For them to shoot a Canadian Club commercial in a restaurant that has all these Hiram Walker artifacts, it just seemed great fortune. Serendipity,” Boscariol said.

Artifacts from the Hiram Walker warehouses include lamps and doors that were used for the front of the bar and a hostess desk.

There were takes and retakes of the golden whisky being poured and drinks being mixed. “No movement behind the bar for a second,” the crew shouted.

Lights and cameras focused on the corner of the bar and a lineup of bottles: Canadian Club which is aged five years, the nine-year-old Canadian Club Reserve with a higher percentage of rye to give it a spicy flavour, the 12-year-old Canadian Club Classic and the Canadian Club 100 per cent rye. Tullio, who is from Windsor, said all are made in Walkerville with the exception of the 100 per cent rye which is produced in Calgary but bottled in the Walkerville distillery.

The other Canadian whiskies are made from a blend of grains — all rye of course — in the 100 per cent rye. It was the star Wednesday. “This particular brand is filling in a niche that whisky drinkers and mixologists are looking for. It delivers a great aroma and taste profile — dollops of vanilla, butterscotch, caramel — and the finish, a very rich oak,” Tullio said of the 100 per cent rye Canadian Club.

It will be launched into the U.S. market for the first time this spring and Tullio said the company has big aspirations for substantial growth there. It’s so popular with whisky drinkers here the Willistead has trouble keeping it in stock.

“It really does enhance the signature cocktails that were popular in the prohibition era like the Manhattan, the sidecar. That’s what the trend is today. It’s brown spirits,” Tullio said referring to bourbon and Irish and Canadian whiskies as opposed to white spirits such as vodka and gin.

A four-minute video and snippets from it will be used in kickoff meetings with distributors across the United States, on social media and in a television commercial for the launch, Tullio said.

Cameron Hucker, one of the four owners of the local Suede Productions, said it’s an honour to be chosen to produce the commercial. Suede, which has been in business for a dozen years, has done other commercials for big-name clients including Mercedes-Benz and Lowe’s. The Willistead was an ideal background for the shots and the three-day shoot will move to the Canadian Club brand centre in Walkerville and then to the Sugar House bar in Detroit.

Working with whisky as the star is a little tricky. Everything has to look fresh and you don’t want a lot of retakes, Hucker said. “In an ideal world you don’t want to redo it a lot because you’re dealing with expensive product.”