Kelowna site for the Great Okanagan Beer Festival.

Whistler’s beer soaked success spills over to Kelowna for the launch of the Great Okanagan Beer Festival this May.

Back in September an email popped up in my account from Chad Douglas, Sports and Events Manager at Tourism Kelowna. Chad had read the article in BC Business magazine about our Whistler Village Beer Festival and the unique local business engagement model at its core. The article talked about how we worked with our community to develop a festival that would benefit businesses, tourism, and guest experience. In our interview we had indicated potentially growing into new markets and Chad raised a hand on behalf of Kelowna. I hadn’t spent much time in the Okanagan and was very excited about making the trip out to meet Chad and his team to see what they envisioned for Kelowna.

Seven months later and the Gibbons Festivals & Events team has done several site visits and stakeholder meeting trips to Kelowna. Our brand and buzz is building, and tickets are flying out for our inaugural festival, with the Main Event on Saturday May 9th just weeks away. The Main Event will host 2500 beer drinkers on the shores of Lake Okanagan at the beautiful Waterfront Park in Downtown Kelowna, Saturday May 9th between 1 and 5pm. We have over 40 exhibiting craft breweries, a couple of cider producers confirmed and a handful of tasty food trucks.

From an event planning standpoint it has been relatively smooth sailing taking our model and working with another community to put together an event we can all be proud of. The reason for its success is that it’s been a collaborative effort. At Gibbons we’re dedicated to working with people, businesses and communities – that’s how you create the best experiences for everyone involved. This wouldn’t have been possible without the vision of Tourism Kelowna and the structured and supportive process that the City of Kelowna and local Liquor Control and Licensing Branch have offered. One of the biggest assets to the festival planning has been the help of Scott Emslie and his Kelowna based team at Wet Ape Productions (Centre of Gravity and Keloha Festival). I met Scott through a mutual friend in Whistler for a coffee and his local connections and rapport has helped us to achieve our first major event outside of Whistler.

The Kelowna location of the Great Okanagan Beer Festival.

If you are not familiar with Kelowna’s Waterfront Park, it is a beautiful grassed area dotted with water features, ponds and lagoons and sat right on the lakes edge. We needed to get a little creative to make the site work for our event. There are a lot of contoured and hilled areas which led to the decision to have our brewery booths backing onto the water features – brave I know, let’s just hope our pouring staff are level footed and know how to swim. This will allow our guests to laze on the lawns and enjoy the view, and of course the 100+ beers.

Outside of our Main Event, the festival has engaged locals bars and restaurants who are working with the breweries participating on the Saturday to offer product samplings, promotions, paired beer dinners and more. These events span from Tuesday May 5-6 in Penticton, and May 7-10 in Kelowna. Our vision was always to involve as much of the Okanagan as possible, hence the name of the event, as opposed to calling it the “Kelowna Beer Festival”. The involvement of Penticton came by chance. Kim Lawton, Marketing Director for Cannery Brewing wanted to meet and discuss getting involved with the festival. I was passing through town and as I never say no to good beer and chatting with wonderful people, I swung by the Cannery and met with Kim, Ian and Ross. A few beers later and we’d secured them for the Kelowna Main Event as well as a new event in downtown Penticton and a couple of Cannery themed events in Kelowna. Kim also connected us with the folks from Bad Tattoo Brewing and the Kettle Valley Station Pub, and they are also hosting a joint event in Penticton.

Join us in Penticton at the Kettle Valley Station Pub May 5 for a Bad Tattoo Brewing paired dinner and then for the opening cask event at the Cannery on Wednesday May 6.

For a full schedule of our partnered events, check out the Great Okanagan Beer Festival page. All events (other than the Main Event) are first come first serve or by reservation directly through the venue.

For more news on the Great Okanagan Beer Festival, follow our Tale of Two Cities with Part Two: The Beers and the Buzz and Part Three: The Craftermath.


Gibbons Whistler

Gibbons has been celebrating with people since 1979. We operate venues, run festivals, brew beer, talk travel and throw parties.