Whistler Brewing returning to its roots 

Dean aims to build loyalty, pride in Whistler brand

For nearly 12 years Whistler Brewing Company beer was actually brewed in Whistler.

But in 2001 the company was purchased by Alberta's Big Rock Brewing and relocated to the Bear Brewing Company plant in Kamloops for economic reasons. Water was shipped from Whistler to keep it authentic, but it was available everywhere but Whistler.

Enter Bruce Dean and partners, who purchased the Whistler brand a little over three years ago. Earlier this spring Dean, president of Whistler Brewing, announced his intention to bring the brand home by establishing a new brewery in Whistler.

Work has been underway for a couple of months, overlapping with Whistler Transit's work shutting down operations at their depot in Function Junction. By the time the beer is brewing in October, Whistler Brewing will have 10 employees.

There's a sign out front advertising the building as the future home of Whistler Brewing and equipment is expected to arrive in early August. In the near future Dean expects to be able to invite bar and restaurant owners to the facility to tour the offices, brewery and tasting area and he hopes to get Whistler Brewing products into their fridges and keg rooms.

Dean says relocating to Whistler has already renewed interest in the brand.

"Certainly the restaurants and so forth have been picking us up, but the bars don't make their lineup decisions until September or October," he said. "That's the difficult part, to be blunt. When you're a bar the beer can be 50 per cent of your total revenue. They also don't just pick a beer, they pick a beer that is going to help you market your establishment, build your customer base and build your business."

A year ago Whistler Brewing would have had no luck in the bar industry, but the new brewery is drawing more attention.

"People wanted to be sure we were really coming back," joked Dean. "Once everything is in there and we're running tours, I think we'll have an easier time getting a foot in the door."

Dean's vision is not just to build a brand based on Whistler, but to build loyalty and pride among Whistler beer drinkers. That means getting into the community, sponsoring events, and having people sample their products - which has all been reformulated since the purchase.

"The business community of Whistler knows it's hard to survive purely on tourists, you have to look after the locals and extended locals from Vancouver," said Dean.

Dean also hopes that Whistler Beer - which is available in Safeway stores in Washington and Oregon and in LCBO stores in Ontario - will act as a calling card for Whistler, similar to what Corona has achieved for Mexico. Although people don't usually travel anywhere strictly for the beer, he says it can remind people that they want to come here.

"People could see the beer and say to themselves, 'hmm, I haven't been to Whistler in a while, maybe it's time to make a trip,'" said Dean.

Having the beer available where those people eat is his next challenge, he adds.

"We're working on that."

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