The Birth of Willibald Distillery
A business idea created by three young men developed into the first distillery seen in North Dumfries Township in centuries. Utilizing the family farm and with help from local farmers, Willibald Distillery boasts family heritage and sourcing of locally grown grains to produce Ontario-produced aged gins and whiskeys.
Shortly after university, brothers Nolan and Jordan van der Heyden and their friend Cam Formica, decided to pursue a new business venture. Though the three had discussed plans to pursue a draft brewery, their love of spirits led them to design and construct the first distillery North Dumfries Township had seen in centuries.
The three decided to look into utilizing the van der Heyden’s family farm on Reidsville Road when they were unable to locate suitable zoned property in Kitchener/Waterloo. With the intention of utilizing and renovating the existing 5,300 square foot century barn and farming the surrounding 60 acres, these young entrepreneurs were intent on constructing a distillery that would uphold a “seed-to-glass” ideology. “The idea is to grow as much as we can,” said Jordan van der Heyden in a recent article by The Record this past May. Grains for the distillery would be grown locally on the farm and with help from local farmers. Once harvested, grains would be stored on the farm and then fermented and distilled in the facility and the products available for sale by the farm. Keeping their family heritage and local agricultural sourcability was important to incorporate and maintain in this new venture.
Renovating the existing century barn located on the van der Heyden farm in Ayr, Ontario, would require extensive review of the existing structure including the foundation and timber-framed barn. Stonecrest Engineering started reviewing the existing facility in 2014, keeping in mind the intention for the distillery was to utilize as much of the existing facilities as possible. The intended design was to provide onsite storage and processing of farm-grown and locally grown grains, made available for sale through a retail outlet located in the facility.
With extensive review to utilize as much of the existing heritage structure as possible in the completed design, construction was started in April 2015, with removal of the existing concrete foundation to the north of the barn and retain the stone foundation and barn structure that formed the century bank barn. The intention was to replace the wood structure of the existing 40x60 bank barn and rebuild two approximately 40’ by 60’ structures connected by an 11’ by 40’ entrance way/office/washroom, using as much of the existing timber from the heritage structure as possible. One of the 40’ by 60’ structures houses the retail/tasting area with a storage mezzanine and the other half houses the imported German distillery equipment. Between April and November 2015, construction continued from footing pours to the framing of the overall structure.
Since the start of the planning process in early 2014, with the assistance of Stonecrest Engineering for their design and engineering, including the review of the existing facilities to assistance in the design of the new facility, Willibald Distillery has now taken on a popularity of its own.
In The Record’s recent article, Nolan van der Heyden, one of the three founders and who does the bulk of the distilling, summarized their excitement for the future of Willibald. “Everything we’ve been working so hard for, it’s all here now. It’s super exciting.” states Nolan. “Putting that first label on the bottle was surreal. Because it’s like now all your hard work is going out into other people’s hands.”
“Everything we’ve been working so hard for, it’s all here now. It’s super exciting. Putting that first label on the bottle was surreal. Because it’s like now all your hard work is going out into other people’s hands.” -
Nolan van der Heyden, The Record, May 2017