My husband and I took a Whistler Brewing Company tour over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Whistler Brewing offers brewery tours, including three beer samples and your choice of a fourth at the end of the 45 minute tour.
Whistler Brewing Company opened in 1989. The three beers that were then produced included Export Lager, Black Tusk Ale, and Whistler Pale Ale. Whistler Brewing produced these three popular beers for 10 years. In 1999, Big Rock purchased the company, moving operations from Whistler to Kamloops, into a much larger facility. Big Rock owns several small breweries; with one central location it’s able to oversee all its operations under one roof.
Bruce and Susan Dean, Whistler residents, entered the picture, eventually purchasing Whistler Brewing and the three original beer recipes, bringing everything back to Whistler. In November 2009, the facility was moved to Function Junction, its current headquarters. A former bus cleaning depot, the entire building was sanitized and renovated for the brewery.
Joe Goetz, Granville Island Brewery’s head brewmaster at the time, was brought to Whistler when Molson purchased GIB. Whistler Brewing Company became the craft brewery that it is today partly through his efforts.
Goetz, originally from Germany, has 30 years of beer making under his belt (pardon the pun) and used to work for Bowen Island Brewing as well.
The Beer Brewing Process
The water used in Whistler Brewing’s beers comes from Whistler’s glaciers, and is the primary ingredient used in beer production, next to barley, hops, and yeast. All of a beer’s sweetness is derived from the grain and wheat. The beer’s colour comes from the barley and wheat as well. Enzymes break down the grain, then yeast is added in order to start fermentation.
Two row is a base malt, and is the lightest in the range. Other malts are added to increase and change the quality of each beer in the early production phase. Hops balance out the sugar content, from bitter to aromatic. Hops are high in alpha acids that blend and balance their own natural oils for flavour. Alpha acids are very potent in the hops.
30% of the world’s hops come from two states in the US: Washington State’s Yakima Valley and Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
Hops used to be grown throughout BC but unfortunately their farming and production ended years ago.
Copper tanks are stainless-steel lined. Our tour guide explained that the copper tanks are done for show and hark back to the ancient days of beer brewing. Currently, any tank you’ll find at a brewery is stainless steel-lined. Stainless steel is a neutral compound, so it can’t impart any flavour onto the beer, unlike copper.
The tanks steep the grain, sending it back to the kettle. It takes five and a half to six hours in order to create the malt extract and sugar content in beer.
Spent grain goes to Two Rivers Specialty Meats in Pemberton, to feed the cows, as it contains a high amount of protein. Purebread Whistler also uses some of the spent grain in producing their Dysfunction Ale bread.
For honey lagers such as Whistler Brewing’s Bear Paw Honey Lager, honey is added to the kettle.
Inside the fermentation tanks, yeast is added to eat away at the sugar. Ale yeast floats to the top, while lager floats to the bottom, aka a bottom-fermenting yeast. As sugar is eaten away, yeast starts to slow down. C02 is naturally trapped to created carbonation. Ale requires three to five days to ferment; lager takes six to 10. There are four fermentation tanks onsite.
Yeast is then ‘shocked’ back to sleep by tank temperature falling to 1°C.
At this point, it takes three to four weeks for the beer to age. Hops are also brought back and forth into the mix to create various beer types at this stage. Beer is then filtered to get rid of the yeast, except for Belgian Wheat Ales and Hefeweizens.
Whistler Brewing Company produces 110 pints per keg, and 4,000 kegs of naturally carbonated, small batch beers per year. Molson and other larger breweries produce 100,000 and more by comparison.
Sampling the Goods
The three beers offered during our tour were:
Powder Mountain Lager – Whistler Brewing’s best-selling beer, adapted for North American palates. It’s a lightly hopped, easy-drinking beer with a 5% alcohol content.
Whiskey Jack Ale – Whiskey Jack is a flavourful dark amber beer with a copper colour.
Wheat Ale Weissbier – Citrus, banana, and clove notes make up this enjoyable wheat beer. This beer has won two gold medals and is only available through the end of this month.
After the tour, we sampled IPA (IPA being one of my favourite beers, I couldn’t leave without trying Whistler Brewing’s), Black Tusk Ale, and Altitude Honey Lager. Black Tusk has hints of chocolate and roasted coffee, giving it a smooth, bitter taste. The Honey Lager was a bit sweet for my palate, but it has a beautiful colour.
There’s also a limited menu for beer sampling available.
Whistler Brewing is located at 1045 Millar Creek Road in Whistler’s Function Junction and is open Monday to Friday from 2-7 pm, Saturday from noon-7 pm. Check the website for current menus, seasonal ales, and tour information.
Disclosure note for complimentary beer tour: cmply.2