Bigger Beer Festival for 2014

Central City Brewing’s Red Racer India Pale Ale Chosen as the Best Festival Beer

Whistler’s inaugural beer festival is such a success story that organizers and resort partners are already talking about an even bigger and better festival for 2014.

Event co-producer Harrison Stoker said about 2,300 people gathered at Whistler Olympic Plaza to celebrate craft beer on Sept. 14.

“Apparently, there’s a market,” Stoker said after the event.

The hope is to have even more beers available to taste and to offer more covered space to attendees who needed a place to get out of the sun this year — but who might need rain shelter another year.

Whistler’s mayor, Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, was thrilled with the success of the festival.

“Beer festivals are good. I’m from Kitchener, Ontario, the home of the second largest Oktoberfest outside of Munich, so I love beer festivals.”

She added that the success of the festival is further evidence that Whistler Olympic Plaza is proving to be a valuable community asset.

“As we get into more and more programming of the plaza we see opportunities that exist with that facility,” said Wilhelm-Morden.

“It’s fabulous. There are so many things that we can do there.”

But the success of the festival spread well beyond the Plaza — eateries, bars, stores and accommodation providers were busier, thanks to the event as well.

“That’s what we did it for,” said event organizer Liam Peyton of the Gibbons Hospitality Group.

Said James Buttenshaw, Tourism Whistler’s director of planning and partnerships: “We don’t have all of the data yet, but anecdotally speaking, the festival was a huge success.

“This summer has seen impressive results to date,” he added. “The inaugural Whistler Village Beer Festival was a great addition to Whistler’s events lineup, taking place during a time that has historically been quieter than peak months. We’re looking forward to working with festival organizers on next year’s event.”

Whistler RCMP worked with event producers and though there were few issues, some changes are being looked at for next year said Sgt Rob Knapton.

“It was a first-year event, (and) it was very well run,” he said. “There were some learning opportunities and things to change for next year… but nothing that affected public safety.”

Suggestions for changes that the RCMP will discuss with the organizers include spacing the booths further apart to create more room for participants, and ensuring that participating breweries are aware that they can’t serve after the licence expires. As well, the RCMP needs to work on its plans for dispersing a crowd of 2,000 to 2,500 people after the half-hour time allowed, said Knapton.

The festival’s popularity also caused a food-supply issue at one participating partner, The Dubh Linn Gate, which had to suspend food service for a while.

“…It had nothing to do with profit margins,” said Stoker.

“It was a combination of heavy volume combined with some internal staffing issues that caused the floor and kitchen manager to stop taking food orders for a short period to ensure adequate quality and service for the folks who had ordered food.”

While always believing that the Whistler Beer Festival would be successful, Stocker admitted to being surprised that the event sold out completely.

“This year it was for us more about breaking ground, seeing if there is a market for craft beer, creating the infrastructure, understanding the licensing terms and getting all the marketing campaigns together,” said Stoker.

“Our mandate was just to break even and stimulate the Whistler economy.

“It was very humbling and cool to see that we actually sold the event out.

“We sold 2,000 tickets and we had a little over 200 staff, inclusive of vendors on site.”

About 1,400 tickets were bought through online pre-sales with an additional 600 tickets sold within an hour of opening the gate to the festival at 11 a.m. Some people had to be turned away.

Those beer drinkers who gathered at Whistler Olympic Plaza had more than 100 brews to choose from courtesy of more than 40 breweries from as far away as New Zealand, North Yorkshire in the UK and Brooklyn — though most of the participating breweries were from close by, like Mission Springs Brewing Company based in Mission.

Head brewer in Mission, Kevin Winter, and some of his former co-workers at the Whistler Brewing Company kicked around the idea of launching a beer festival when he lived in Whistler for 15 years until 2011.

“This is a festival that should have happened years ago,” he said.

Event tickets sold for $35 with festival attendees receiving a mini-tasting mug, five drink tickets, a $10 voucher for food at one of the participating restaurants and a ballot to vote for the best beer at the festival.

Central City Brewing’s Red Racer India Pale Ale was chosen as the best festival beer.

As the winner, the IPA from the Surrey brewery will be rewarded with a draft-line contract in several Whistler bars and restaurants for the next year.

Stoker said feedback from the participating brewers was all-positive.

“The people were truly and genuinely interested in the beer, and trying new stuff and interacting with the brew masters and the representatives,” he said.

For Winter of Mission Springs Brewery it was also a chance to network with potential new clients.

“It was all about brand recognition,” he said. “I have many, many more business cards today than when I went up (to Whistler) on Friday.”

A number of pub and restaurant owners in Squamish and Whistler expressed an interest in offering Mission Springs beers to their customers after the festival, said Winter.

Businesses adjacent to the Plaza also noticed positive benefits from the beer festival, as they have from so many of the events there this year.

Wendy Kendall, the Blenz franchise owner, said her coffee shop was livelier than usual Saturday morning before the festival, and then the store was hopping again the following morning.

“We were definitely busier than last year (at this time),” said Kendall.

As the post festival munchies set in, Alan Prescott at the Great Glass Elevator Candy Shop said traffic in the candy store picked up. “I noticed lots of people holding the small beer mugs they got from the festival,” he said.

— by John French

Brittia Thompson