The Story of John Mitchell is the Story of Craft Beer
John Mitchell was born in Singapore in 1929 and moved to England when he was four.
He served two years in the Royal Army where he cooked for Generals and was a “crack shot” with a rifle.
John trained as a chef and a professional waiter.
It was in England where John discovered the taste of Real Ale. It was a taste he would never forget.
John emigrated to Canada when he was 24.
He worked as a professional waiter at several famous hotels.
In 1978, John Mitchell took the first steps toward launching Canada’s craft beer industry when he purchased the Troller Pub in Horseshoe Bay.
According to John, most licensed establishments at that time were nothing more than drinking holes.
And nobody had ever thought about serving good food in a pub.
John Mitchell broke that mold.
He offered a friendly atmosphere with good service and great food.
The only thing missing was great beer.
For a while, there was no beer at all.
To break the unions, the big three breweries locked out workers and stopped production.
As a result, the Troller Pub had no beer for six weeks.
John Mitchell was outraged.
In November 1980, John Mitchell learned that Expo 86 was coming to Vancouver.
He walked across the pub floor and thought to himself, “these people are going to be coming from all over the world and all we’ve got to serve them is this rubbish that we call beer?”
It was at that moment John decided he needed to do something about the state of the brewing industry in Canada.
After all, John said, “you can’t have a country without good beer”.
John Mitchell’s eureka moment came while reading an article in the London Illustrated Times about a pub owner in England who was brewing his own beer. He decided he would add a brewery to the Troller Pub and brew his own beer, his own way.
And that’s exactly what he set out to do.
Over the course of the next two years, John Mitchell fought against the status quo, reformed laws, assembled a brew house, and started making the kind of beer that he’d been thirsting for.
In July of 1982, Canada’s first craft brewery opened, and a new era of beer culture had begun.
Against everyone’s expectations, the brewery was an instant success.
It changed the course of history and started an economic and cultural revolution that continues to this day.
At that time, beer was mass produced with rice and corn and the selection was limited and boring.
John Mitchell brewed his beer using 100% malted barley, whole-cone hops, top fermenting yeast, and open fermenters.
He made real ale. It was declared the best beer in Canada.
John’s ingredients and time-honored techniques reflected his commitment to quality without compromise.
John Mitchell broke Canada’s brewing monopoly but his greatest work was yet to come.
John Mitchell, along with Paul Hadfield and Ray Genova, envisioned a place where people could enjoy good fellowship, marvelous food, and cask-conditioned real ale, in the same building the beer was brewed.
They called it a “Brew Pub” – a concept they were sure would catch on.
There was only one problem. Federal law did not allow beer to be brewed and sold under the same roof.
That minor detail did not stop John Mitchell.
John lobbied for change at the highest level of government and his efforts eventually paid off.
The concept for brew pubs became law just in time for opening day.
People came from around North America to raise a pint at Spinnakers.
Guests included visitors from the big breweries who went to get a taste of their new competition.
John’s formula for success was built on three essential ingredients: good food, good beer, and good company.
As Canada’s original craft brewer, John Mitchell was more than a beer maker, he was an agent of change.
John fostered in a new era of government regulation that allowed craft beer, and other industries, to flourish and grow into what they are today.
John eventually sold his stake in Spinnakers to work on other brewing projects including the Yukon Craft Beer initiative, Shaftsbury Brewing, Mulvaney’s Brew Pub project and Howe Sound Brewing in Squamish, BC.
John Mitchell maintained an active role in craft beer during his golden years.
John Mitchell worked closely with friend and colleague John Ohler. The two Johns worked together on several craft beer projects including Old Abbey Ales and Trading Post Brewing.
John and John befriended the staff and students at Kwantlen Polytechnic University brewing school in Langley. John Mitchell became a regular at the school and enjoyed meeting the next generation of brewers.
John Ohler launched the John Mitchell Legacy Endowed Scholarship at KPU shortly after John Mitchell’s death in 2019. The scholarship helps students pay for their education and to reach their dream of becoming professional brewers.
With everything John Mitchell did in his life, and career, he can rest easy knowing that he accomplished his goal of “restoring draft beer back to its days of glory” and providing Canadians with a wider variety of quality beer.
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