Brew big or stay home
Whistler brewers cruises the Pacific
By Chris Woodall
You'll find Whistler Brewing's popular beers and ales on local shop shelves in China, Japan... and soon it'll be Taiwan.
Plant manager Brad Wheeler credits the Whistler name for bubbling big time interest in the Function Junction brewery suds, but when the world comes calling, it has been in Black Tusk Mountain-sized quantities.
It would take a long time to sing "87,000 cans of beer on the Wall of China" but that's how many cans of Whistler premium lager were recently shipped in a 40-foot container via Hong Kong to mainland China.
The "other China" — Taiwan — has been hounding Whistler Brewing for a shipment, too, but Wheeler says "we're holding them off" until production of the golden liquid can comfortably meet demand.
The brewery doubled its capacity last year and has fast-tracked plans to expand yet again, thanks to the offshore demand.
The Japanese market has exploded like a beer bottle left in the freezer. If you find yourself in the Land of the Rising Sun, check out beer stores in Tokyo and Tomakomai, but get there early.
"The first 20-foot container — 48,000 bottles and cans — we sent to Japan sold within a day-and-a-half," says Wheeler. "It's amazing!"
When it comes to tickling the taste buds, Wheeler says the Japanese like variety and have been shipped Whistler Lager, Mother's, and Black Tusk. "They're surprisingly keen dark beer drinkers," Wheeler says.
As for the packaging, Japanese will buy cans or bottles as long as it has the Whistler label on it.
Strangest of all in a world where fighting to get into a market is most of the sales battle, Whistler Brewing didn't have to wiggle one finger to make a sales call. "The Japanese were calling us in June for our beer, but we were already at capacity," Wheeler says. "It just goes to show how far the names 'Whistler' and 'Canada' go."
The same can be said for the American market. "The U.S. has a lot of potential we really haven't gone after," Wheeler explains.
Whistler Brewing has a Seattle distributor whose job is to decide which eager state gets a shipment of Whistler's product. Colorado, Arizona and Minnesota have all been winners. Washington has been a regular drinker, as has California.
"We sent the bulk of our production to California over the summer," Wheeler says. "You have to remember that California has a bigger population than Canada."
Europe, however, has been a hard sell. "There are so many breweries there, the market's too tight," Wheeler says.
Here in the True North Strong and Free, Whistler Brewing is excited about its entry into the Ontario market. "It has considerable potential that we're pretty excited about," Wheeler says.
Alberta and Manitoba also sell Whistler's brews.