'A true craftsman': Grandfather of Canadian craft beer dies at 89
John Mitchell, who helped open the first microbrewery in Canada. (Photo submitted)
Alyse Kotyk, CTV News Vancouver
Published Tuesday, June 18, 2019 12:45PM PDT
Last Updated Tuesday, June 18, 2019 2:53PM PDT
John Mitchell, the man credited with revolutionizing Canada's craft beer industry, died at the age of 89 on Sunday.
Mitchell, who was born in Singapore and lived in England until moving to Canada at 24, has been called the grandfather of Canadian craft beer after he and fellow brewer Frank Appleton opened Horseshoe Bay Brewery in 1982.
The brewery, which is believed to be the first microbrewery in Canada, was Mitchell's response to a lack of what he called "real ale."
"He brought with him this passion for real ale, for good beer. When he arrived in B.C. he just couldn't find it," said Mitchell's close friend and colleague John Ohler, who first met Mitchell 38 years ago.
"John was very frustrated and he decided to brew his own beer his own way but the laws at the time didn't allow that to happen. So he pushed very hard and lobbied government at the highest level to allow craft breweries to exist."
(John Mitchell attending a recent craft beer festival. Photo submitted)
After Horseshoe Bay Brewery, Mitchell eventually helped open Spinnakers in Victoria and over the length of his career, helped launch several other microbreweries across the province.
"John was very passionate. He really cared about doing things well, he was a perfectionist. He was a true craftsman in every sense of the word," Ohler said.
Joe Wiebe, who is recognized as a craft beer historian in B.C., credits Mitchell with kick starting what he calls "the craft beer revolution" in Canada.
"There was very little choice in the marketplace. There was certainly nothing local, there was no local connection to beer, there was just these massive breweries," Wiebe said.
"The work that (Mitchell and Appleton) did in the early '80s to start things off is a direct link to where we are today."
When Mitchell's health was declining in the spring, Ohler helped him prepare a farewell message to the B.C. craft beer industry which was shared by What's Brewing magazine.
"Here's jolly good luck to the lot of you," Mitchell said to B.C.'s craft brewers in his message. "I hope you have a howling success."
Around two weeks ago, Mitchell was taken to hospital with pneumonia where he passed away on Father's Day.
Before his death, Mitchell and Ohler were working on the John Mitchell Legacy Pub and Brewery, a project which Mitchell hoped would be a "deluxe version of Spinnakers."
Ohler said he plans to continue working on the project and that even though a location hasn't been picked yet, he hopes the pub will be in the Lower Mainland.
Mitchell also poured his passion for beer into the next generation of craft brewers through the John Mitchell Scholarship, created in 2016 in partnership with Ohler and Trading Post Brewing for students at Kwantlen Polytechnic University's brewing and brewery operations program.
Ohler said Mitchell was "really proud" of the scholarship program.
"He influenced a generation of brewers and craft entrepreneurs and he really preached about knowledge and education in brewing and wanted the new generation to follow in his footsteps of being passionate and really brewing quality beer," Ohler said.
"He really laid the foundation that allowed craft beer to grow into what it is today. His impact is huge. John Mitchell launched an industry."