Slopitch players are digging out their coolers in preparation for another season of sport, while the Stanley Cup playoffs have hockey fans glued to their TVs. So, what do these two activities have in common?
As sure as the temperature is rising and leaves are budding on the trees in the valley, people are getting antsy to fire up the barbecue and break open a couple of wobbly pops. And Whistler Brewing is back to help people sate their appetite for the good stuff.
Derek Pasenow, taproom manager for Whistler Brewing, explains that the business was founded 20 years ago in large commercial space in Function Junction, where it operated for the first 10 years. Then, the business was bought out by an Alberta brewery and within a year and a half, the whole operation was moved to Kamloops, where the new owners already operated another brewery. The move stirred up quite a bit of controversy within the community at the time, and it didn't turn out to be the wisest decision.
"It wasn't great for business," Pasenow grinned.
Now, with new owner Bruce Dean at the helm, Whistler Brewing is back in Whistler and its here to stay.
"The fact that we've come back to Whistler, I think, means a lot," Pasenow reflected. "It's definitely helped us. We've noticed that since we've been back in Whistler, people locally have been responding to us."
In December, they set up shop in the former B.C. Transit station in Function, less than a block from where it all started two decades ago. They transformed the space to include a tap room where the wash bay used to be, merchandising and off-sales areas on the lower floor and conference room and offices on the upper level. Of course, there's also the small matter of the brewing equipment, which is housed in bays next door. Today, all Whistler beer sold within the community comes straight from the facility in Function, while the Kamloops facility handles the orders that are exported to stores throughout Canada, the States and Asia. They produce the Export Lager, a European-style lager, a classic Pale Ale, Honey Lager and the popular Black Tusk Ale, which is actually a seasonal winter beer.
Open to the public from Tuesday to Saturday, Whistler Brewing is a great place to enjoy a pint and a snack, buy some beer to take home, or even take a tour of the brewing facilities ($12.95 includes a facility tour, tasting of four different beers, and a $5 merchandise credit).
Pasenow showed me the ropes on Tuesday morning, walking me through the basic process of brewing beer from start to finish. It's an interesting process: first, malt is milled and broken up into "grist" to release proteins, sugars and carbohydrates, then augured up into the grist bit and released into a massive "lauter tun," where it's mixed with 40 hectalitres (4,000 litres) of fresh, local water from a nearby glacier. That mixture is blended and filtered, creating "wort," a liquid that is strained off and pumped into the "mash tun," boiled and mixed with hops. Then, the "wort" is pumped into the fermenters, where it's mixed with either ale or lager yeast and left for either three weeks or six weeks. Finally, the beer is filtered, bottled and enjoyed!
(As a side note, the brewing process also yields two byproducts: spent grain, which can be composted or fed to cattle, and "trub" a gelatinous substance that could be used to make vegemite.)
In addition to the success of their new Whistler home, the company also recently won bronze at the World Beer Cup 2010 in the English-style mild ale category for their Whistler Black Tusk Ale, a recipe that has been with the company since the very beginning.
"The Black Tusk Ale, out of all the beers we brew, it's still the original recipe from 20 years ago. All the others have changed over time, but that one stayed the same," Pasenow said with a smile. "Don't mess with a good thing."
They're just getting ready to replace Black Tusk with the lighter Weissbeer, an unfiltered wheat beer, for the summer months. They've also just launched a contest in search of a new lager option to add to their repertoire. As Pasenow explains it, people have been asking for another more traditional lager option, so brewmaster Joe Goetz has come up with three test batches. Until May 9, Whistler Brewing is inviting locals in to do a blind tasting, then fill out a ballot to vote for their favourite and suggest a name. Whichever one gets the most votes will become the new Whistler lager, and one lucky voter will walk away with an epic prize (hint: something akin to a fridge full of beer).