Q&A with an OAC Alum (Brewmaster)

Posted on Thursday, April 5th, 2018

A profile photo of Dan with the words Brewmaster, Daniel MacKinnon B.Sc. Agr '06 over laid.

Say hello to Daniel, co-owner and brewmaster of MacKinnon Brothers Brewing Company. After graduating from the University of Guelph in 2006, Daniel continued his passions for farming and beer to complete his M.Sc. in brewing and distilling at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, UK.  Dan then returned home to Bath, Ontario, to build a brewery from the ground up with his brother Ivan. Today MacKinnon Brothers Brewing grows its own hops, wheat and barley on their 1,200 acre farm and produces uniquely flavoured craft beer that is proudly Canadian.  

Why did you choose to study at the University of Guelph?

It was the best school that I got into. I knew I wanted to study agriculture, not knowing exactly what I could do, but the flexibility of U of G seemed like a really good fit. I graduated with a degree in honours agriculture, which was great because I was able to learn a little bit about a wide-range of topics. 

What inspired you to get into brewing and become a brewmaster? 

In my first year of university, I had a friend whose uncle was really into home brewing and this was before craft beer was a really popular thing. His uncle mentioned that there is a place in Scotland where you can get your master’s degree in brewing and distilling. This conversation happened while sitting in south residence, in the first couple weeks of my first year. It really stuck with me. 

With this program in the back of my mind I branched out and took some food science courses throughout my undergrad to get a bit of background knowledge in brewing and fermentation. 

After graduating from U of G, I worked as a corn researcher and began to think about pursuing a master’s degree and decided to look up that program and apply. I got in and was able to complete the program in one year. 

How did MacKinnon Brothers Brewing Company come to be?

After graduating from my master’s I got a job in England in product development in the brewing industry. I worked there for a couple years and gained a lot of valuable experience. One year at Christmas, I was talking to my brother Ivan and we discussed the potential of starting our own brewery. 

I returned home to work on the farm and in my spare time began renovating an old barn. The brewery kind of just went from there. My brother and I pooled some money together to get it up and running. It took us about two and a half years to build and we’ve been going at the brewing and selling for about three years now.

How do you think your experience at U of G prepared you to achieve your goals?

It helped me learn a lot of the foundations of the agriculture industry. The flexibility of my program also played a huge role. I was able to take a variety of courses, for example apiculture and honey bee biology, where I learned quite a bit about beekeeping and honey. I now use honey in some of the beers we make. 

The University also helped me with overall networking and friendships. Being at U of G provided me with a bunch of contacts of specialists in a variety of industries. I find if I don’t know something, someone within my network will. And people are always willing to share information. 

Do you think there is there potential for more brewing focused courses at U of G?

I think there is. For brewing there is a lot of science and research involved, I think for Guelph there is a lot of potential in micro brewing and associated industries. I think there is plenty of room for research in those areas. 

As craft breweries grow and wish to improve, how do they do that? They make beer. Then they want to make better beer, so you get more instruments and require more analytics, which require highly educated people. I think U of G could provide those people. 

What advice would you give to a student who wants to become a brewmaster?

Get some education. An undergrad degree for sure, a master’s degree can’t hurt. Learn as much as you can. 

Try to gain some experience working in a brewery. I wish I had worked in a brewery before doing my master’s. Even volunteering, just to be around the equipment, so when you do further education you’re a little more familiar with it. 

You also have to be creative. Innovation is big in the brewing industry and being able to take ingredients, especially local ingredients, to create interesting beers that taste good, requires skill and imagination. 

What does a typical day of a brewmaster look like?

Just like a farmer, it’s different every day. So each morning I have a list of to dos on my desk and prioritize what needs to get done that day. The winter time allows us to modify and improve the brewery. When I’m not brewing or farming, we are always tweaking the brewery to make it better or planning for expansion. 

What type of advice would you give to an aspiring business owner?

Learn as much as you can about the industry you wish to get into through formal education or work experience, if even for a little while, to help wrap your head around it. 

Save your money.

Do things yourself. People have really appreciated that we have done so much ourselves, like fixing up the barns and growing our own ingredients.

You’re going to make mistakes, which you will kick yourself for, but as you move forward you will learn to do things better and improve on your mistakes.

What’s next for the MacKinnon brothers?

We want to take the brewery to the next level. Currently we are at capacity for brewing and want to increase. Our brewery now is pretty basic, so we want to build a 10,000 square foot facility and buy some more automated equipment, like our own canning line and a bigger cold room. We are also renovating an old barn that is beside the brewery to use for events, tours and a tasting room. Every summer we hold a music festival and want to expand on that. 

Learn more about MacKinnon Brothers Brewing Co. here. 

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