From Spearfishing to Pint-Slinging, Understanding the ‘Whistle Buoy Brewing’ Brand

Photo of Isaiah by Johan Vincent

Branding the Island looks at some of the more interesting logos and icons that appear in Vancouver Island’s food and beverage scene and cultural landscape. Some of the explanations will be long and others short, but the goal of deeper understanding will be constant. If you want the backstory of a particularly compelling local brand revealed, let us know via @theislandist and we’ll try to figure it out.

Since the Spring of 2019, Whistle Buoy Brewing has been serving up freshly tapped beers to locals and tourists from their location in Victoria’s Market Square. We recently spoke with Retail Manager and Co-Founder Isaiah Archer to get the goods behind the West Coast-inspired brand.

First of all, tell us about the name, “Whistle Buoy”. Where does it come from? What’s its significance?

“Whistle Buoy” came from experiences myself and two of our other partners, Matt (brewer), and Iwan (finance and operations) had. We have been going on fishing and freediving trips there for the past few years. A bit of context here, we all have been spearfishing together for a few years. This is a sport where you freedive and hunt underwater for fish. One day we were out on the water in Barclay Sound and found a great spot to dive. It was a reef marked by a whistle buoy, which is a nautical float that makes an audible whistling sound in thick fog to warn boats of the reef below. As we were preparing to dive, the weather quickly changed and we were socked in by fog, losing sight of land in every direction. The Whistle Buoy was a clear beacon and kept us from drifting away. We had a great dive and have been going back to the same spot ever since. These trips brought us closer as a group and they are where we began planning to open a brewery! When it came to picking a name, we thought this had meaningful significance to what brings us all joy and inspiration.

How about your logo? Who designed it? What’s the story?

The logo was designed by Berlin Communications. They are an ad agency from Edmonton (owned by my brother Justin). The art director from Berlin came out and workshopped the logo with us until we came to something that felt just right. We wanted it to be clean and modern to make sense in the context of downtown Victoria, where quality branding and design is all around us. At the same time we wanted it to nod to the natural beauty of coastal BC. What we landed on is the monogram “W”. It is simple and clean, with the curves hinting at waves in the ocean and the horizontal line symbolizing a water line. The start of the “W” has a fish tale, and the end of it has a spear head. These symbols represent our love for spearfishing.

“We basically just say any idea that comes to us and usually the one that makes us laugh the most is the name we end up sticking with.”

What sets Whistle Buoy apart from other local breweries?

A few things set us apart from other local craft breweries. a.) One is our tap room model, which is designed to constantly rotate small batch beers to be consumed fresh, from tank to glass. This is a departure from the production-style breweries that we have been used to in Victoria. There are a few others with tap rooms now as well and there will be more in the near future! Something unique about tap rooms is that customers can bring their own food. This allows us to focus on what we do best, making beer, and also support other local food service businesses. We will be working with some food trucks in the near future including an upcoming collab with Burger Crush! b.) Another unique thing about us is our central location. We are currently the only brewery that isn’t a brewpub in the downtown core. This allows for a level of accessibility for patrons that isn’t possible in an industrial location. c.) We are independently-owned and operated by partners in their twenties and early thirties. This allows us to connect with a younger demographic in an authentic way because we have many shared values and similar taste in design, beer styles, music, et cetera.
d.) We have a 57 seat patio that is dog friendly.

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Open this weekend from 11 am – 12 am.

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What can first time visitors expect of the tasting room?

We aim to create a comfortable inclusive environment that is welcoming and visually interesting. We treat everyone with gratitude and respect. We are proud of the environment we have created and consider every small detail to be important. First time visitors can expect to be welcomed by a friendly staff member and try a range of unique and delicious beers that are made using high quality ingredients sourced locally whenever possible. For those non beer drinkers, we do cider (Sea Cider), soda (Phillips), kombucha (Cultured), and a rotating cocktail.

So far your beers seem to embody a range of worldly styles and influences, as well as some unconventional inspirations. What is the overarching theme or commonality that makes your beer distinctly “Whistle Buoy”?

We basically make beers that we want to drink. This summer we focussed on making beers that were lower alcohol and full of flavour, which are conducive to enjoying a few different beers over an extended period of time. As beer lovers, its nice to feel you can have several beers and not leave feeling too foggy. Another thing that defines our beer is using ingredients that are grown locally when possible. We have made many fruit beers recently because of what has been available to us from local farms. So far we’ve used blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, black currants, blueberries, plums, grain and hops all grown on southern Vancouver Island. Our small batch system allows us to use large quantities of fruit, which can be really hard to achieve as a larger brewery because of cost and practicality.

Please tell me more about the process of conceiving your beers. Who are the brains behind the operation and what is the process involved on deciding whether an idea is right?

Our brewer Matt and I come up with ideas together based on beers we’ve enjoyed recently that inspired us, as well as what ingredients are available to us from local vendors. It always starts with us wanting to drink a particular beer that we haven’t made before and developing a recipe from there. The same goes with our naming process and marketing ideas. We basically just say any idea that comes to us and usually the one that makes us laugh the most is the name we end up sticking with.

What distinctly Vancouver Island ingredient are you most excited to incorporate into your beer in the future?

There’s so much to choose from in this growing region that the list is quite long. Some exciting things coming up that we haven’t done before are a cranberry beer and a wine beer, both using island-grown fruit.

Lots of breweries and other brands/businesses have embraced the West Coast lifestyle at the core of their branding and overall mentality. What does being West Coast mean to you, specifically?

We are very privileged and fortunate to live in this part of the world. The connection to nature is very strong here and we get so much inspiration and enjoyment from spending time outdoors on this coast. Victoria is the ideal location because its vibrant urban setting also has great access to the outdoors.

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  • Matt by Johan Vincent
    Matt by Johan Vincent
  • Colin by Johan Vincent
    Colin by Johan Vincent
  • Nina by Christian Tisdale
    Nina by Christian Tisdale
  • Iwan by Johan Vincent
    Iwan by Johan Vincent

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