B.C. craft brewers produce locally, market globally

BC Ale Trail initiative selected as a national tourism-marketing award finalist

Bomber Brewing owner Don Farion has rapidly expanded his three-year-old brewery and aims to brew one million litres this year | Rob Kruyt

With more than 150 craft breweries in the province, and British Columbians drinking more beer per capita from small breweries than counterparts in the rest of Canada, it is no surprise that tourism marketers aim to capitalize on the lure of B.C. beer.

One initiative to woo tourists, the BC Ale Trail, has been put together so expertly that the Tourism Industry Association of Canada made it one of three finalists in its Canadian Tourism Awards, set for November 29.

The BC Ale Trail is competing against an initiative from Tourism Toronto that markets Hogtown, and a project from Calgary Stampede organizers that aims to lure visitors to Alberta’s premier attraction.

The BC Craft Brewers Guild spearheaded the drive to create the Ale Trail when it made tourism a major component of its submission to the B.C. government back in 2013, when then-parliamentary secretary John Yap was conducting a liquor policy review.

Government officials told guild executives that Destination British Columbia would be an appropriate partner for creation of a marketing website that would highlight the many B.C. communities with thriving craft beer scenes.

The guild’s strategy to bring the Ale Trail to life was to get regional destination-marketing organizations (DMOs) from across the province to provide money to market those regions’ craft beer cultures.

Guild executives then also hit up breweries within those regions for funding, and Destination British Columbia agreed to match the money raised.

The effort netted enough capital to produce a series of short YouTube videos.

“We’re in 60 communities in the province,” guild executive director Ken Beattie told Business in Vancouver. “Every brewery in B.C. is listed on the bcaletrail.ca website, while some breweries are featured. If you click on the link for actual trails, you’ll see two-and-a-half to three-minute video vignettes.”

The project has raised $434,000, with $201,000 put up by Destination British Columbia. Community DMOs have contributed about $175,000 with breweries adding about $58,000.

“Culinary experiences are a big part of the joy of travel and a big motivator in choosing a destination today,” said Destination British Columbia CEO Marsha Walden.

“The rising interest in B.C.’s amazing craft beers is something we’re excited to support. The BC Ale Trail is a new twist on a product that has existed for millennia, and our visitors love it.”

Brewers are excited about the trail as well.

The first seven BC Ale Trails went live in October 2016 thanks to help from seven regional DMO partners. A further eight regional marketers have since come on board.

Part of the second wave was Tourism Vancouver, whose video on Vancouver brewers is set to be available on the BC Ale Trail website in the next few weeks, Beattie said.

“The project helps all ships rise,” said Don Farion, who owns Bomber Brewing. “The more that the craft beer industry in B.C. becomes known worldwide, the better it is for every individual brewery in the province.

“That’s why we have such a strong guild and strong grouping of breweries in communities, between brewers and owners. As much as we are competition, we understand that every new brewery that opens raises our profile around the world.”

Bomber opened in 2014, aiming to brew 100,000 to 120,000 litres of beer that first year. Instead, it brewed 380,000 litres, said Farion, who doubled production the next year and this year expects to brew up to one million litres.

“Each brewery is challenged to make the best beer possible because when you’re in an environment where there is so much competition, the beer has to be good or you don’t survive very long.” •