To get to Windsor, start in Detroit, Michigan. Take the bus or drive through Detroit Windsor Tunnel—a ten-minute journey.
North America’s biggest distillery—it churns out over 45 million liters of pure alcohol each year—lies just a stone’s throw from Motor City. In fact, it was an American who founded the distillery in 1858 (nine years before Canadian Confederation) and oversaw its subsequent growth to become a hugely successful producer of well-known whiskies, including Canadian Club. These days, Hiram Walker & Sons Distillery produces numerous brands, such as J.P. Wiser’s, Lot No. 40, Pike Creek, Gibson’s, and more, including many non-whisky spirits. (Although Canadian Club is now owned by a different company, Hiram Walker continues to distill and blend this whisky too.) The only major Canadian distillery to host public tours, Hiram Walker offers the J.P. Wiser’s Experience tour, which includes a tasting of four whiskies in a sleek glass-walled tasting room overlooking the Detroit River.
For a more comprehensive adventure, the Drinks of Walkerville walking tour, led by food-tourism company Windsor Eats on Fridays and Saturdays, wends its way through Hiram Walker’s historic company town over the course of four and a half hours, focusing on the history, architecture, and folklore of the area. Visitors get hands-on access to the distillery, plus a tasting of four whiskies (Gooderham and Worts, J.P. Wiser’s Deluxe, Lot No. 40, and Pike Creek), a fifth whisky directly from the barrel, and a custom engraved bottle of Wiser’s to take home. Next, the tour goes behind the scenes at Walkerville Brewery, which pays homage to the brewery originally opened by Hiram Walker in 1890. In August, Windsor Eats hosts the Whiskeytown Festival in Walkerville, with drams, cocktails, food, and more.
Already a whisky powerhouse by the time U.S. Prohibition came into force in the 1920s, Windsor’s proximity to Detroit made it an ideal base for bootleggers during America’s dry spell. An estimated three-quarters of the whisky and other spirits consumed in the U.S. between 1920 and 1933 was ferried across the river through what became known as the Detroit-Windsor Funnel. The Rum Runners Tour guides history and whisky buffs alike through the people, places, and events of the Roaring Twenties. Moving between historical sites by bus, participants are immersed in an experience that includes costumed re-enactors, stops at smuggler’s coves, a church, and a historic courtroom, as well as lunch, music, dancing, and, of course, whisky at a recreated speakeasy.
The local distilling scene includes little guys too. Craft producer Wolfhead Distillery, located just outside Windsor in Amherstburg, makes whisky from wheat and rye, as well as vodka; while the liquid ages, Wolfhead is blending and bottling sourced whisky. The on-site restaurant uses local ingredients like Lake Erie perch and incorporates the spirits into menu items.
Distilleries and Breweries
Hiram Walker & Sons Distillery J.P. Wiser’s Experience 2702 Riverside Dr. E., Bldg. 20, Windsor
Walkerville Brewery 525 Argyle Rd., Windsor
Wolfhead Distillery 7781 Howard Ave., Amherstburg