Award-winning Whistle Buoy Brewing Company founded on sustainability and local connections

Culture Food | Drink

Market Square taproom now delivering amid COVID-19 concerns

Photo by Josh Ngenda

Located in the classic surroundings of Victoria’s Market Square, Whistle Buoy Brewing Company can look back on the whirlwind that has been their first nine months of operation with a sense of accomplishment. Opened in June 2019, this taproom-style microbrewery already has a BC Beer Award to their name for Best European Sour, which was the result of a collaboration with another relative newcomer to the Victoria craft beer scene, Île Sauvage Brewing Company.

Approached only a few months after opening by Île Sauvage’s Stephane Turcotte, Whistle Buoy jumped at the chance to work together, as explained by head of marketing Isaiah Archer. 

“We’d been trying some of his sour stuff and were really stoked on what he was bringing to the culture here in Victoria,” Archer told the Martlet. “We started thinking about concepts of what sort of beer we’d want to make together and we wanted to make something … probably just a little less sour than some of the stuff that they’d been making because our audience was used to a little bit more lighter, easier-drinking beers.”

The beer they settled on was a German-style Berliner Weisse, a type of wheat beer that is often fruit-forward, low in alcohol percentage, and has a tart and fruity element. For the partners at Whistle Buoy, and particularly their brewer Matt West-Patrick, the project became a fun experiment that aligned with their founding value of sustainability and their focus on sourcing locally. 

Archer explained that the beer really became a work of community building. The plums were sourced from the LifeCycles Project, which promotes local produce and helps get it to the Greater Victoria community. UVic grad Zac Roff and his company Valkyrian Canning did the canning for the beer. Graphic design for the packaging was commissioned to local artist Kayla Craven. 

Winning an award for their beer — which ended up being called Shiro Shiro, inspired by the Japanese varietal of plum used — was never something the partners at Whistle Buoy could have imagined.

“We were just doing something that we thought was fun and spoke truly to us and it ended up being this fun little manifestation of acting locally and supporting our local economy and independent business owners,” said Archer. 

It was in fact this idea of acting locally and being sustainable that ended up leading Archer, West-Patrick, as well as operations manager Iwan Williams to open their own brewery. 

The three bonded over hours spent drinking beer, fishing, and free-diving. Archer explained that the idea for the brewery started when West-Patrick began broaching his desire to open his own small brewery that would be focused on experimentation, creativity, and customer experience. 

“[He] was sort of kicking around the idea of, well, when it made sense, opening his own brewery and he had this model in mind of keeping it super tiny, very experimental where you could turn a ton of different recipes over, try a lot of different things, without necessarily having to stick to a few core brands and then make as many sales as you can with those brands,” said Archer.

At the same time, Archer had been trying to use his political science degree from UVic and his master’s degree in sustainability from his time in Sweden to help breweries in Victoria increase their sustainability and decrease their carbon footprints without much luck. For Archer, West-Patrick’s idea was the perfect opportunity to combine their aims. They partnered with fellow UVic grad Williams who had the business experience the pair needed. They eventually rounded out the team with General Manager Colin Curtis, and his partner Nina who serves as their head of HR.

Months of reaching out to banks, obtaining permits, and renovating the space finally came to fruition on June 26, 2019 when Whistle Buoy officially opened their doors and served their first beer.

The brewery has one mainstay: Coastality West Coast Pale Ale. Outside of that, they have three or four beers which rotate based on the creations of West-Patrick. Their business model is based on having people coming into their taproom and drinking their beer on-site, and as such they don’t market their beers through liquor stores and only make enough of each beer to sustain their taproom customers. 

With the outbreak of COVID-19 and thus the safety risk of having people congregate in their taproom, Whistle Buoy has closed their space to customers for the time being and launched an online delivery service to most of Greater Victoria. Beer will be delivered to customers’ doors and proof of ID will be taken either online or in-person. Archer said that the response so far from the community has been overwhelming. 

“Within a few hours we could hardly keep up with demand,” said Archer. “We’ve just been learning immensely every hour, learning new ways of delivering our service better, more responsibly, and safer. It’s a really difficult time for a lot of people and for us to be able to do our little part in brightening people’s day, they definitely appreciate it.”

Whistle Buoy’s current lineup of beers and more information about their delivery service can be found on their website.