Homegrown festivals going big beyond Whistler's borders 

Beer festival hits the Okanagan, Crankworx launches in New Zealand

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAVID BUZZARD / WWW.MEDIA-CENTRE.CA - Fun in the sun Enjoying the beer festival at Whistler Olympic Plaza.
  • photo by David Buzzard / www.media-centre.ca
  • Fun in the sun Enjoying the beer festival at Whistler Olympic Plaza.

Another local festival success story is ready to grow outside of Whistler.

With two years under its belt, the Whistler Village Beer Festival is expanding this summer with the Great Okanagan Beer Festival, set for May in Kelowna. A North Shore beer festival is also in the works for August but is still at the conceptual stage.

"There's only so much we can do here in Whistler," said Liam Peyton, manager for Gibbons Festival and Events, referring to Whistler's increasingly busy year-round calendar of events.

The expansion news comes as another flagship Whistler event, Crankworx, sets to launch at its third location in Rotorua, New Zealand next month. This makes the iconic mountain-biking festival a calendar staple in Whistler, France, and now the southern hemisphere.

The Rotorua inaugural event has attracted the biggest names in the business, lured there to compete in the first event in a 2015 trifecta — the Crankworx World Tour. Rivalries will begin, champions unseated, records likely broken in New Zealand and the competition will continue in France with the final showdown in Whistler at the biggest mountain biking festival in the world in August.

"(The expansion) allows us to tell way better stories and have way better content, with all road focused on Whistler," said Crankworx general manager Darren Kinnaird, who is preparing to head to Rotorua for the inaugural event with a team of 10 from Whistler.

Organizers there have paid Crankworx a licencing fee and in return Whistler will help with the event.

Having that renowned name brand on the banner makes all the difference said Kinnaird. That's what has attracted the top names in the world.

"It gives credibility right off the bat," he added.

While the name recognition isn't the same for the beer festival, Whistler brings a model to Kelowna and a proven track record.

With approvals now in hand, Peyton and the team are set to host the biggest Special Occasion Licence for an Okanagan town, with the beer festival set to sell 2,500 tickets at the Waterfront Park.

It's not a carbon copy of the highly successful Whistler festival, which saw 2,000 tickets sold the first year, 3,600 last year.

But, like Whistler, the Kelowna festival will have an educational component about craft beer and brewing and it will also see some of the profits funnelled back into the community. The winning beers will also be offered bar contracts as part of the prize.

For Joey Gibbons, who started the Gibbons offshoot organizations to hold events like the beer festival, it's great to see the business model expand elsewhere.

"We did our first festival and it worked really well," said Gibbons. "I think it worked really well because our community is able to facilitate these events."

With beer festivals popping up everywhere these days, the Whistler Village Beer Festival is zeroing in on more than just the beer in its third year.

"(We want to) really focus on the experience," said Peyton.

"A little less beer, a little less people but just make the entire experience world class."

Just last week they learned that the municipality would invest $20,000 into the festival through its Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funding.

That money will go toward "making the experience like no other beer festival in this neck of the woods," said Peyton.

And while the main event at Whistler Olympic Plaza isn't set to get much bigger, there are plans to expand the festival overall — stretching it out from Wednesday to Sunday with the idea that festivalgoers will stay longer, take part in the educational aspects of the festival, and explore other parts of the resort.

Ultimately the goal is to have a Cornucopia style event, explained Peyton, referring to Whistler's 10-day wine and food festival in November.

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