Today is the day that John Mitchell died, since his actual date of birth is unknown (1929-June 16, 2019). He was born in Singapore, but raised in England, before emigrating to Canada when he was 24, in 1953. With Frank Appleton, he founded the Horseshoe Bay Brewery, one of Canada’s first microbreweries, in 1982. It didn’t last long, but just two years later he co-founded Canada’s first brewpub, Spinnakers,
And here is an obituary of Mitchell, from the CBC:
Born in Singapore in 1929, Mitchell was raised in England before moving to Canada when he was 24.
His journey into craft beer began in 1982 when he founded Horseshoe Bay Brewing, regarded as Canada’s first microbrewery, in West Vancouver. He then opened Spinnakers, the country’s oldest brewpub, in Victoria in 1984.
In 1996, he was part of the team that established Howe Sound Brewing in Squamish, B.C.
That’s where John Ohler started working with him. The two became best friends.
“He didn’t go into business to make money. He went into business to brew great beer. He really wanted to bring back … real ale, and that had been lost at the time,” Ohler said.
“He opened the brewery so that he could restore draught beer back to its days of glory.”
Mitchell was a strong-minded yet private person, Ohler said, and he was opinionated about beer — it had to be a certain temperature, specific carbonation, and brewed with whole hops instead of hop pellets.
He was generally drawn to English-style ales, he added.
Mitchell laid the foundation that allowed the craft beer industry to grow into what it is today, Ohler said. He pushed to change laws to allow for entrepreneurial “fairness” in the industry, he added.
In 2016, Mitchell and Ohler started a foundation to provide scholarships to students in the Brewing and Brewery Operations Diploma Program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
Mitchell was diagnosed with pneumonia about two weeks ago and was admitted to hospital, Ohler said.
He died with his wife, Jenny, and daughter, Louise, by his side.
And here’s another account, from North Shore News:
The “Grandfather of Canadian Craft Beer” was born in Singapore in 1929 and raised in England, before immigrating to Canada in 1953. Inspired by his love for the rich, flavourful ales of the U.K.—and their complete absence in Canada—Mitchell pioneered the country’s first craft brewery in Horseshoe Bay in 1982. That meant years of lobbying all levels of government to allow craft breweries the right to legally exist, thus setting the stage for the coming craft beer revolution.
Mitchell was one of the founding partners—and the original brewer—of Spinnakers Brewpub in Victoria, Canada’s oldest continuously operating craft brewery (which celebrated its 35th birthday last week). Today, you can still find hand-pulled pints of Mitchell’s ESB on the beer list, named in his honour. Mitchell was also instrumental in the founding of Howe Sound Brewing, and its Troller Bay Ale pays tribute to his original brewpub.
As a craft beer pioneer, Mitchell “started an economic and cultural revolution that went on to challenge the dominance of the major beer brands and changed the way people think about and consume beer,” according to the John Mitchell Foundation, a non-profit charity named in honour of Mitchell and dedicated to advancing the pursuit of brewing excellence. Founded in 2016, the foundation was created to provide endowments and scholarships for students at Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s brewing diploma program in Langley.
Today on social media, Mitchell was remembered by the craft beer community for his impact not only on the craft beer industry, but on Canadian culture.
And here’s a history of Spinnaker’s brewpub, from Victoria Harbour History:
Spinnakers is located on the north shore of the Middle Harbour on Kimta Road overlooking and on lovely Songhees Walkway. Spinnakers was established to fill a gap in the Canadian beer industry. Back in the early 1980s, the market was dominated by the “Big 3″: Labatt, Molson and Carling O’Keefe. But, one of Spinnakers’ founding partners, John Mitchell, was about to create waves in the brewing world.
Laws that prohibited any individual or company from being involved in the manufacturing or retailing of beverage alcohol in British Columbia became a matter for review when, in June, 1982, Mitchell opened a small brewery on the property of Sewell’s Marina in West Vancouver to brew and supply real ales to his Troller Pub, located down the street.
Although this first foray into commercial brewing did not last, Mitchell was inspired and eager to persue his inspiration. A September 1982 trip to the UK in search of better brewing equipment also yielded a suitcase full of beers, a couple bottles each of 14 different UK brands. These were shared one October evening with a number of beer aficionados in a pub, the Pickled Onion, located in a Dunbar residence on the west side of Vancouver. The host, a wine and spirits agent provided accompaniments and others brought along a few beers of their own to share. Working our way through the beers, discussing the merits of each and speculating on recipes, the group had a grand evening as we also tried another five or six North American bottled beers and finally settled into the draft canisters of home brew brought by a couple of the participants.
This was the evening that Spinnakers was conceived out of a realization that we could have access to such an amazing array of flavours. With the best beers of the evening having been provided by the home brewers, it was evident that the technology was in the room and the task at hand was to find a location and set about the process of building Canada’s first in-house brewpub of the modern era.
The process started with a review of Provincial liquor laws and a visit to Victoria’s City Hall where we quickly learned that a brewery / pub combination was not an allowed land use anywhere within the city limits. Subsequent conversations with Victoria’s Mayor and a few Councilors revealed a perspective that whilst the idea of a neighbourhood public house with an in-house brewery might be interesting, given that there were no examples to look at we were facing a very real fear of the unknown, that is, it may be a nice idea, but not in my backyard, thank you. One councilor summed it up nicely by telling us to find a neighbourhood that did not exist so that there would be no pushback and that those who lived next to the proposed brewpub would be doing so out of their own volition.
With this in mind, the current location at the foot of Catherine Street, on the edge of Lime Bay, overlooking Victoria’s harbour was singled out as a preferred potential location. Adjacent lands were derelict industrial, the remnants of a long closed shingle mill, an oil tank farm and underutilized rail yards. Long considered the wrong side of the bridge, Vic West had long been ignored by officials at the City. Suggestions of the current location resulted in the City Planning Department calling for a new community plan for Vic West before consideration could be given to any proposal. Having a background in private practise involving community planning work proved useful as we were able to return 6 weeks later with a vision as to how the surrounding areas might unfold over the next 20 years and how a neighbouthood brewpub might fit into the community.
Presentations to the Vic West Community Association resulted in the association conducting a neighbouhood poll indicating a very high level of support. This led to the development of a set of drawings and applications to create a zoning bylaw specific to the needs of a craft brewery and brewpub.
At the same time, a process was commenced with the Provincial government’s department of Liquor Control and Licensing which led to the creation of a set of Guidelines for Licensing Brewpubs in British Columbia. It turned out that previously authorized Horseshoe Bay operation was allowed to proceed because it was not expected to succeed. The advent of another pending application caused the General Manager to require the development of more formal guidelines for licensing as well as a need to amend the Liquor Control and Licensing Act to provide an on-going exclusion to Tied House Provisions which were embedded in the Act to ensure a legal separation between manufacturers and liquor licensees.
At the level of the Federal Government it was also necessary to seek an amendment to the federal Excise Act which stated that the only means of communication between the manufacturer of commodities subject to Excise duties was by highway. The Troller Pub / Horshoe Bay Brewing scenario complied with the Federal Excise Act as the beer was kegged at the brewery and then trucked down the street to the pub. Spinnakers, as a result of an Federal Excise Act amendment, contained within a February 1984 Federal Budget, was the first in-house liquor manufacturing facility to take advantage of the new provisions, ultimately paving the way for brewpubs, wineries and more recently, craft distilleries with attached licensed premises to exist.
From idea to opening day, over a period of 18 months, the Spinnakers team managed to put together what became Canada’s first in-house brewpub of the modern era. We think it was worth the effort. We trust that you will appreciate the results of our efforts.
The CBC also has a great article on Mitchell’s legacy, entitled Why John Mitchell’s legacy is sure to extend beyond founding Canada’s first craft brewery and there’s a nice piece by The Growler on Remembering John Mitchell. And lastly, What’s Brewing published In Memoriam: John Mitchell, Canada’s Original Craft Brewer.