There are a growing number of brewing programs available in Canada, and this article is part of a series where we chat with Canadian brewing program graduates about how their programs helped them get to where they are now.
Caswell Johnstone is the head brewer at Sawback Brewing Co, a new brewery that’s opening up soon in September this year in Red Deer, AB. “I work closely with the Director of Operations to ensure high standards are met in the quality control of all areas of the brewery,” Johnstone explains. “We have a 10 barrel brew house with single and double-batch sized FVs and Brites, as well as a 10 barrel and two 30 barrel foeders.” The foeders are fermentators made of white oak. “We intend to make a wide range of beers including blondes, IPAs, sours, Brett beers, and several in between, but we will be a hop-forward brewery overall. Our desire is to service and be a part of the local community, with little desire to be a heavily distributing brewery; we want the people in the same city we live in to be a part of our journey, and we want them to be the first to enjoy our beer.”
Before becoming the head brewer of a start up brewer, Johnstone was a homebrewer who decided to go to brew school. ” I had been homebrewing for a couple years, and my friends were telling me that my brews were pretty good. One of these friends asked if I had heard of the newly formed Olds program. I hadn’t and so I began to look into it. I love learning, and I thought that this would be an exceptional opportunity to gain some professional knowledge and make a career out of a passion of mine.”
The Olds College Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program started in 2013, originally in partnership with Niagara College, and runs for 16 months. “We take in 30 students in a single intake every September. Our maximum number of students [was] reached within about a month of opening the gates for entry. There is high demand for the program which we expect to continue as the market evolves,” says Peter Johnston-Berresfold, a lecturer and researcher with the Olds College Brewers Diploma at Olds College. “We’ve transitioned from originally just trying to turn out brewers, to preparing graduates for any role in the brewing industry. There is a lot of need and a wide array of positions that require filling.”
And for those who are thinking of making the leap from homebrewing to pro, Johnstone has some advice. “The leap from being a homebrewer to being a pro brewer is, understandably, a big leap. That’s honestly probably the reason that lots of craft beer start-ups simply don’t make good beer to start. The number one reason that those places get better is by seeking education and applying it. Soak in every ounce of wisdom possible on as many things possible. If you visit good breweries, talk to the brewers—if they have time to chat—and ask them what their main concerns for good beer are (most of them will likely say yeast management), and then go read more about what they told you.”
The Canadian Homebrewers Association is a non-profit dedicated to promoting and advancing the hobby of homebrewing in Canada. Established in 2018, it currently has more than 330 members across most of Canada's provinces and territories.