There’s only one thing better than beer and pizza with your friends – local, craft-brewed beer and a wood-fired, oven-cooked pizza smothered in locally sourced meats and toppings.
Welcome to Willibald Farm Distillery & Brewery just outside Ayr.
Started by Cam Formica and brothers Jordan and Nolan van der Heyden in the spring of 2017, Willibald has grown from success to success.
After finishing university, the three friends and founders were talking about going into business together and brainstorming ideas. Their first thought was to get into craft brewing, but their love of whisky steered them towards distilling instead. They were unable to find a suitably zoned location in Kitchener or Waterloo, so they decided to set up shop on the van der Heyden family farm on Reidsville Road.
After months of meetings with North Dumfries Township and the Region to get approval (the farm was zoned agricultural, distilling is an industrial use, and nobody had done it before), studying distilling in the U.S. and getting licenced in Ontario, Willibald was ready to begin.
Following the delivery of their 1,000-litre copper, German-made hybrid still pot and spending long hours tweaking recipes, their first project was the creation of a barrel-aged, craft gin ($44.95 for 750 mL).
Recently judged as EXCEPTIONAL (92/100) by the esteemed Beverage Tastings Institute, this gin is made of 100% Ontario grains, infused with botanicals like juniper, coriander, angelica root, cardamom, grapefruit peel and caraway. Aged in American oak quarter casks, it is available at all LCBO outlets and on the farm.
This was soon followed by a pink gin, which is aged in red wine barrels Willibald gets from the Niagara Region, with the barrels infusing the gin with its distinctive pink colour.
Given the success of their spirit sales from the farm, the partners decided to start up a restaurant as well. The restaurant is located in a new barn (which incorporates refurbished pieces from its predecessor ) and offers tours of the distillery, which is right next door.
Featuring a large, wood-fired oven, the restaurant serves Farm to Table fare including 6 different styles of pizza, braised short ribs and more. All of the ingredients are local (including the wood for the oven), with many being grown on the farm – talk about local! “The idea is to grow as much as we can,” said Jordan van der Heyden. “Our aim is to get our organic certification too,” added Nolan. “And the menu will change with the seasons.”.
In October of last year, the partners decided to make a reality out of their original idea – a craft brewery, which is overseen by another high school friend, Joe Freund, who had previously worked at a number of breweries. Now up and running, Willibald Farm Brewery currently offers five brands. Ongoing, Willibald intends to produce “delicious, flavourful brews that will be diverse in offerings from big hazy IPAs, to stouts, lagers, mixed-ferm and everything in between.”
All of the Willibald brews are available in the on-site restaurant, or purchased in cans. It is also available in a few lucky bars in Waterloo Region, Guelph, Burlington, Oakville and Toronto.
Willibald is 4 years into aging their first craft whiskey. Don’t be surprised if people are lined up around the block to get a first taste.
The retail shop is open Wednesday to Saturday from noon to 7pm. Patio dining is open Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 8pm with reservations available on the Willibald website. There is seating for 38 inside and a 42 seat patio which opened earlier this year.
If you are looking for a unique dining and drinking experience in the area, you can’t do any better than Willibald Farm Distillery & Brewery, located at 1271 Reidsville Road, Ayr (226) 556-9941.
You can check out Willibald on the web at drinkwillibald.com