Pacific Western Brewing – B.C.’s doggedly independent, home-grown brewery – has lost its inspirational leader.
Owner Kazuko Komatsu has died. Kazuko, owner of PWB for 27 years, died July 30 after a long battle with cancer.
“We are devastated by her loss,” said Tom Leboe, Kazuko’s Prince George brewery manager throughout most of her years as owner and CEO. “Kazuko has been an inspiration to all of us over the past 27 years. “Her style of leadership taught us to strive to be better every day and to excel at every task. Through good times and bad, her loyalty and commitment to the PWB family and to the community has been extraordinary. She always believed that the PWB team is a great family and it is her wish that the team stay together and continue her legacy and that the company continue to look after all her employees.”
That legacy is rooted in an enduring dedication to quality and innovation and in Kazuko’s philanthropy, a belief that she had a duty to invest back in the communities that supported her and the brewery.
Over the decades Kazuko withstood constant marketing assaults by globally-controlled mega brewers and still managed to keep getting better and build a loyal following. Kazuko recently expressed deep pride in what she had accomplished: “In 2016, I was proud to celebrate my 25th anniversary as the owner of Pacific Western Brewing and in 2017 I was equally proud to join with all of Prince George as we marked the 60th year of brewing at our home base next to the Nechako River. My goals have always been to produce quality products and to invest where we live. After a quarter century leading the PWB team, those goals carry me forward.”
Kazuko was born in Japan and comes from a family endowed with a rich Samurai heritage. After moving from Japan to Canada in the late 1970s, Kazuko began buying and exporting Canadian goods to Japan. This included PWB’s Dragon Dry beer. In 1990, however, the owners of Pacific Western Brewing had run into serious financial difficulties; even the unionized employees had not been paid for two months. Kazuko decided to buy the company and a year later became the brewery’s seventh and longest-serving owner and the first Asian-Canadian brewery owner in Canada.
After Kazuko took ownership of the company she invested in improving the brewing process with a constant eye on making quality beer. She went about rebuilding the company using two basic concepts: quality and innovation. Kazuko pursued and obtained the ISO 9001 quality manufacturing standard. In 1994, Pacific Western Brewing became the first North American brewery to achieve ISO certification. Today, every step of the brewing and packaging is certified to the standards of the ISO 9001 protocol. In 2005, the brewery became the first Canadian brewery to be awarded a gold medal at the Industry International Awards in Munich, Germany.
At the cornerstone of her business model was her philanthropic determination “to invest where we live.” PWB has supported many community initiatives such as shoreline clean-up projects, the University of Northern BC, salmon stock rehabilitation, support to local athletes and teams through the Hometown Heroes Program as well as PWB’s successful bid to become an official sponsor of the 2015 Canada Winter Games. This past spring the brewery funded the planting of 100,000 seedlings to help the Interior recover from the devastating wildfires of 2017.
On Kazuko’s watch there were many milestones including, being the first Canadian brewer to export to mainland China in 1991 and then to Russia in 1996. Here are just a few more PWB accomplishments: 2005 – Gold medal, Winner Industry International Awards in Munich; 1997 – First certified organic beer in Canada; 1995 – First malted herb beer; 1993 – First ice beer in Canada; 1988 – First dry beer in Canada; 1983 – First brewery operated beer store in BC; 1982 – First dark mild beer in Canada; 1969 – First malt liquor in Canada; 1965 – First canned beer.