British Columbia

John Mitchell, innovator of Canadian craft brewing, dead at 89

John Mitchell, whose passion for beer dubbed him the grandfather of microbrewing in Canada, died on Father's Day at the age of 89.

John Mitchell founded Horseshoe Bay Brewing, opened Spinnakers and Howe Sound Brewing Co.

'He didn't go into business to make money. He went into business to brew great beer,' said Mitchell's friend, John Ohler. (Supplied/John Ohler)

John Mitchell, whose passion for beer led to him being considered the grandfather of microbrewing in Canada, died on Father's Day at the age of 89.

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."

Opened doors for the craft beer industry

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. 

Ohler said he will remember Mitchell for his fantastic cooking and for the good conversations they had over a pint — they had their last one together just a few weeks ago. 

"He was like a father to me and I was like a son to him and he'll be dearly missed," he said.

"But enjoying a nice pint of beer with John Mitchell was really just one of the highlights of my life."

Listen to the full interview with John Ohler here:

John Mitchell died on Sunday at age 89. His friend John Ohler speaks with Stephen Quinn about his legacy. 7:51

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