Before any sketches were made of the logo they’d commissioned, Isaiah Archer and Matt West-Patrick convinced two Edmonton graphic designers to travel 1,400 kilometres to do some ocean spearfishing near Bamfield.
Neither of the Albertans had ever donned a wetsuit, West-Patrick said, laughing at the memory of them swimming around in the Pacific Ocean. Added Archer: “It was a pretty gnarly day.”
The necessity of that diving trip wasn’t just for a story to recall years later. Archer and West-Patrick were introducing their logo designers to the genesis of their small, salient five-person enterprise.
“(Spearfishing) was the thing that sort of bonded us together,” West-Patrick said of he and his four friends turned business partners. Months earlier, the group dove off from rocks marked by what would give their business its name; the locally famous Bamfield Whistle Buoy.
|Recent Whistle Buoy Brewery hire Sasha Howey and head brewer Matt West-Patrick (right) inside their company’s onsite brewery. (Kiernan Green/News Staff)
Victoria’s Whistle Buoy Brewing Co. in Market Square is a brewery and taphouse the size of a conventional bar; the brainchild of West-Patrick as head brewer, Archer as head of marketing and Iwan Williams as the registered owner. The trio were joined later by accountant Nina Colovic and general manager Colin Curtis.
The brewing industry from which Whistle Buoy coalesced is like the fishing sport that brought them together; it supports independence, friendly competition and creativity, Archer said. It rode a hype for taproom breweries that peaked across B.C. in 2017, West-Patrick added.
Given their small box, they’ve had an easier time thinking outside of it. Of the nearly 200 batches put under their belt since opening in 2019, 120 made for completely unique beers.
“A place that has 10 times the size tanks as ours would need 10 times the amount of ingredients,” explained West-Patrick. The innovation is also made possible given the head brewer’s expertise. Before returning to his hometown of Victoria, West-Patrick learned the trade in Chicago and Munich.
|Iwan Williams, Whistle Buoy Brewing Co. registered owner. (Kiernan Green/News Staff)
Those brews included a B.C. Beer Award-winning European Sour, as well as limited runs of more novel ideas, like a non-fungible-token (NFT) IPA and the blueberry sour Secret Stuff, ripped from Michael Jordan’s 1996 film “Space Jam.”
“We’ll be hanging out – someone makes a joke about something, the other person laughs, and we say, ‘why should we not do that?’” Archer said. Ideas with legs, no matter how out there, are the brewery’s currency, considering the effort put in and the frequency of conjuring new brews, West-Patrick said.
With most endeavours, Whistle Buoy has sought to stay local. Archer imagines the brewery is Silver Rill berry farm’s best customer for currants, and they enlisted local artist Ryan Steele for the creation of the NFT art tied to their limited-run IPA. They also do beer delivery around Greater Victoria, a no-brainer decision during the pandemic.
The pandemic was, of course, no party for a brewery still trying to earn momentum when it hit. Considering the investment required to start their venture, failure wasn’t an option. The brewery was forced to completely strip its staff and production – instead of filling kegs, the product was canned by hand during nights when the five would sleep at the brewery. “It became fight or flight,” Archer said.
|Can sealer used to pack individual cans throughout the pandemic. (Kiernan Green/News Staff
As the team recovers, the brewery plans to expand in-person offerings, from their dining room to events such as local standup comedy. You can find Whistle Buoy on the below-ground level of Market Square, just east of Victoria’s wharf and not far off from where they started as a concept – between the docks and a good place.
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