Tofino Brewing’s Ale Tale

Propelled by its trademark growlers and an infamous high-octane IPA, Tofino Brewing is riding a wave of success.

Bryan O’Malley Tofino Brewing | BCBusiness
Dressed for Success: Tofino Brewing’s Bryan O’Malley.

Propelled by its trademark growlers and an infamous high-octane IPA, Tofino Brewing is riding a wave of success

“I have the perfect drinking name,” says Bryan O’Malley, adding that the stigma attached to the Irish isn’t warranted—in his case—despite his vocation. The 29-year-old with friendly eyes is president of Tofino Brewing Co., which he launched in 2011 with friends Chris Neufeld and Dave McConnell. (He maintains, however, that “titles are for our lawyer; they don’t really mean anything to us.”)

As O’Malley tells it, although he has a commerce degree from UNBC and Neufeld is a graduate of the Sauder School of Business, nothing gets a new business off the ground faster than a cold October day spent splicing rope for tugboats in the West Coast rain. “We were talking about a better way to make some money and wondered if we could sell enough beer to cover our costs,” he recalls.

The pair teamed up with McConnell and rounded out 2010 building their business plan. With no brewing experience among them, the learning curve was steep, “but being in a small town helped,” says O’Malley, citing the Community Futures project loan the company received.

The trio scoured the Internet for used tanks and ancillary equipment, finally sourcing them from a brewery in Washington, and put out word for a brewer. Dave Woodward, formerly of Whistler Brewhouse, answered the call.

As they built the business, sustainability was always front of mind. “It goes with the town’s ethos and we want to be a true addition to that,” says O’Malley. The brewery reuses water, sends spent grain to a farm in Port Alberni, where it’s used as livestock feed, and eschews propane in favour of cleaner hydroelectricity, which O’Malley says has “worked out great for us, except on Tofino’s famous storm days when the power goes out. Then we take the day off.”

Tofino residents were primed for a brew pub and from the moment Tofino Brewery opened on Industrial Way—halfway between Chesterman Beach and Tofino—locals and visitors have poured through the doors, happy to shell out $10 for a reusable Tofino Brewing Co.-branded glass growler and $12 to fill it.

“It’s a mostly tourist-driven market and starting small we didn’t have deep pockets. Distribution costs and acquiring equipment for packaging was too much, so we were looking for a way to retail product out of the brewery itself,” says O’Malley of the decision to go with the 1.89-litre growlers (equivalent to about six beers).

They plan to keep selling the growlers even though Tofino Brewing started bottling in January for sales in select beer and wine stores in Victoria and Vancouver. The brewery will also add more tanks this spring to meet growing demand.

“There are no big secrets to tell,” says O’Malley of the quick success the trio have seen, but anyone who has tasted Tofino Brewery’s product would quickly beg to differ.