D.J. & Max Bowen, Jasper Liquor StoreA Mecca for Wine Tourists
Jasper Liquor Store & Wine Cellar not only provides fabulous choices, it offers a hidden treat for true connoisseurs.
Jasper National Park, the largest park of its kind in the Canadian Rockies at 11,000 km2, sits west of Edmonton and north of Banff National Park. It’s a place of stunning natural beauty that boasts towering glaciers, hot springs, and breathtaking waterfalls. Established in 1907, there is one other feature that has been just as permanent—the Bowen family—owners and operators of Jasper Liquor Store & Wine Cellar; home of one of the most comprehensive selections of wine, liquor, and beer in the area.
Part of the Fabric of Jasper
Hector Bowen was there at the beginning. As part of the original construction crew of the first Jasper Park Lodge in 1923, his toil literally shaped what Jasper was to become. The next generation was to find success as operators of the world-famous “Malowney’s British Woolens” following the Second World War and by the time DJ—Hector’s grandson and owner of Jasper Liquor Store & Wine Cellar—was 23, he had sharpened his instincts for retail, running the counter-culture clothing store Moon Street in the early 70s.
The woolen store had established an exemplary reputation in the town, so it was a natural choice to make it the site for the next family business. Max Bowen, DJ’s son, tells how they adapted to selling alcohol.
“My uncle Dan Bowen saw an opportunity in 1993 when the Government privatized the Liquor industry and we slowly changed Scottish sweaters into Scotch and wine.
With my uncle Dan’s quick passing in 1998 my dad wanted to do something special and not do the same thing as everyone else. He wanted to sell products that were unique and had history. He wanted an authentic business,” Max describes.
As a tourist town of only 5,000 residents, Jasper tends to get many more visitors passing through. DJ wanted to provide both residents and visitors alike with as wide a selection of products as possible and worked hard to connect with local suppliers to achieve this fine balance.
Today, the store has an amazing array of choices on offer. At any given time, it will typically have 2,000 wine labels, 700 beer labels, and 200 Scotch labels.
“You walk in and there are a lot of different products showcased from every angle,” Max explains. “Our shelves are always full, so it never has that ‘empty’ feel. If you’re looking for something and we don’t have it, chances are that we have the next thing you’re looking for.” He continues, “It’s impossible to have everything, but it feels like we’re close.”
In fact, the magnitude of their collection inspired so much curiosity in their customers that DJ and Max decided to do something extra special for them.
The Oak Room
When you visit Jasper Liquor Store & Wine Cellar, ask the friendly staff if you can head downstairs to the basement where the wine cellar is. There you’ll come across the Oak Room. It’s a space devoted to showcasing the higher-end products, and aficionados are bound to find it a treat. There are single malt Scotches, famous Old World wines, and coveted bottles of Champagne. Pride of place in the collection goes to a 1938 bottle of cognac, a Macallen 18-Year-Old and a 1975 Dom Perignon.
It turns out that DJ is quite the collector and has come across some fantastic specimens over time. Not all of them are for sale however, and the family takes great pleasure in displaying them for their customers’ enjoyment. “A lot of the time,” says Max, “if there’s only one of something, we’ll hold on to it because we’re not going to get another one. It’s part of the personal collection. Part of experiencing the character of the store is to see them on display.”
A Finger on the Pulse
Max started to become more involved in the store in 2009, and soon became very knowledgeable about products in the market, along with the business aspects. “I like to figure out where the trends are, what people want, and what makes them come through the door,” he explains.
“When I first started, there was not a whole lot of craft beer. It was still an up-and-coming phenomenon, but the selection in BC and Alberta now is a lot more extensive. My main focus is Canadian craft beer, but I like to have a little bit of everything. I try and have an eye out for anything new coming in.” For example, although IPAs have always been popular, he sees a rising trend in sour beers, like barrel-aged sours from Oregon or dry hop sours from Vancouver.
Giving Back to the Community
Along with the valued support from their team of six, DJ and Max Bowen have worked hard to ensure that the store’s excellent reputation not only brings in tourists from far and wide, but also serves the community in the form of the Whiskey, Wine and Hops event. As a fundraiser for the local Jasper Museum, it’s a huge contributor to the stewardship of Jasper’s rich history, and plans are afoot to stage it again in 2019.
Honouring history—whether it’s preserving rare vintage Champagnes and aged Scotches or breathing life into Jasper’s heritage—is worthy, but the store still needs to look forward. After all, there will come a day when DJ will take a well-deserved break from the day-to-day aspects of running it. Max is more than prepared, saying, “My vision is to keep the long-standing reputation maintained by having knowledgeable customer service staff and continuing to offer that wide selection to Jasper and it visitors. It’s part of our business plan.”
What of the Oak Room? If Max saw an opportunity to add a collector’s item to the menagerie of rare wines and spirits, would he take it? His answer? “Absolutely!”