Whistler Brewing scoops gold medal in World Beer Cup

Whistler Brewing Co. scooped a gold medal in the World Beer Cup this year, holding its own with top entrants across the world.

It was the brewery’s Winter Dunkel that captured the judges’ attention on the world stage in the Chocolate Beer category. The now-world-class sweet beer has a decidedly chocolatey orange finish that is surprisingly not in your face. It is made with chocolate and wheat malts before being finished with a big helping of 100-per-cent natural organic chocolate.

Marketing brand manager, Andrew Schoonen of Northam Beverages, said the Dunkel is a longtime favourite of craft-beer enthusiasts and will be back on the market in November just in time for another chilly ski season.

Schoonen chatted to Pique about the win and what it means for the locally owned B.C. company.

“We have won medals in various beer competitions. We are certainly proud of all the hard work that our brewing team does in Whistler,” he said. “This one is particularly satisfying. The World Beer Cup is held in the States every two years. It’s a big competition. It’s hard to win a medal there—2,060 breweries entered this year. For our brewery to win a gold medal says a lot about the great work our team is doing and how great that beer is.”

Whistler Brewing has been kicking around since 1989, constantly evolving along the way. “The brewery has changed hands a number of times over the years,” said Schoonen. “Northam started as a small group of local business people who wanted to enter into the brewing game and were able to acquire Whistler Brewing from its previous owner just ahead of the Olympics.”

It’s a warm craft brewery that feels like a brewery, a welcoming bar that fits in with all things Whistler. “We have the association with Whistler Blackcomb,” said Schoonen. “We are the longstanding brewery that’s evolved in the Whistler area. We definitely embrace that. It’s part of our identity. We celebrate all things outdoor and the wonderful location we get to work and play in.”

Whistler Brewing cans can now be seen in stores across the province and further afield.

“British Columbia is our homebase so we are the strongest here,” said Schoonen. “Over the years, we have made inroads in other places around Canada. This has taken time. We have also been able to expand out East into Ontario and the Maritimes with our Forager Gluten Free Lager.”

The lager is a gluten-free beer that doesn’t taste like a gluten-free beer. Here the company hasn’t just settled to find a decent gluten-free alternative, but strived to be the best. The team at the brewery also takes all the measures needed to make sure the beer is safe for celiacs to enjoy. It is now one of the go-to gluten-free recommendations for bartenders across B.C.

“Gluten-free beers are a little bit more niche,” said Schooner. “We have really seen an interest in our market across Canada. We have done a really good job of brewing a gluten-free lager using sorghum and rice so there’s no gluten in there. We don’t have to do any type of extraction.”

Schooner said ruling out cross-contamination is incredibly important to the team. “We pay super close attention when we are packaging and that our lines are clean,” he said. “[The Forager] is resonating really well with consumers across the country. It allows people with gluten sensitivities or celiacs to enjoy a really good gluten-free beer.”

The craft beer “revolution,” as Schooner calls it, has exploded since the 2010s. Craft beer counted for a staggering 30 per cent of the province’s beer market back in 2022, according to the Canadian Craft Brewers Association.

“We have seen the onset of craft beer since the 2010s. Down in the States in Washington, California and Oregon, we saw a rise in the popularity of craft beer,” said Schooner. “Down in British Columbia, we have seen the rise in our own craft brewery industry. We have well over 200 breweries in the province. The majority of them are craft breweries. It’s great to see how the industry has evolved and just the amount of great beer that is coming out of B.C. these days.”

The future looks bright for Whistler Brewing with lots of new recipes being whipped up.

“We are always looking to do some new and exciting beers,” said Schooner. “We have lots of capacity to grow … not just in B.C., but outside Canada as well. Awards like the World Beer Cup helps us.”

Roisin Cullen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Pique Newsmagazine