While he may not be Australian according to his passport, during his time in Melbourne, Dan Johnston became an integral part of the good beer scene as the manager of Forester’s Hall. Now back in his homeland of Canada, Dan has continued to spread the word in his role as Business Development Manager for Collective Arts Brewing.
The Ontario brewery has an expanding barrel program and regularly collaborates with local artists and musicians, including for their can artwork. They also sent beers to Australia for the first time to be tapped for Pint of Origin Canada at Beer DeLuxe Hawthorn, including their recent World Beer Cup medalling porter.
And, while Dan didn't know it at the time he was answering these questions, as of today (May 17), he is temporarily back in Melbourne for Good Beer Week too, after a bunch of his friends in the beer industry organised some fundraisers to buy him a ticket. Craft beer is love, indeed...
How are you involved in beer in Canada? How did that come about?
Dan Johnston: I am the Business Development Manager for the award-winning brewery Collective Arts, located just 45 minutes from Toronto, Canada. When I returned home from Melbourne, I actively pursued a position with Collective Arts; when I mean actively, I mean I practically stalked them until they gave me a job.
Luckily, the great people of Australia said some nice things about me as my referees, so here I am! I am now seeking opportunities to brew our beers in Australia and have just sent our first shipment to Melbourne for Good Beer Week’s Pint of Origin Canada!
How did you cut your teeth in beer during your time in Australia?
DJ: I cut my teeth working at The Terminus Hotel in Fitzroy North, and was lucky enough to learn from two of the top publicans in Australia: Edward Harley and Dave Langlands. These two guys took me under their wing, introduced me to the family that is Australian craft beer, and I never looked back.
I was then asked to open and manage Forester’s Beer and Music Hall in Collingwood. It absolutely consumed me, and introduced me to some of the most incredible people in the world. I was able to pour thousands of different beers; hire, train and foster incredible friendships with my staff – and people-watch, hard, at four in the morning. No, you cannot dance on my pool table, but you can sing Bohemian Rhapsody with a Pirate Life Pale Ale in your hand to your heart’s content.
Did you intend to work in a role like yours on your return to Canada?
DJ: When moving back to Canada, I had a clear goal of what I wanted to accomplish. I wanted to work for the top grassroots craft beer company in the country and I wanted to invest my heart and soul into my job, and Collective Arts provides the opportunity to do just that. As Garrett Oliver famously said, “…you fall in love, but the thing you fall in love with is beer, and beer will make you poor.”
But the thing is, when you care about the people, the movement and the pint at the end of the day as much as I do, the money just doesn’t matter.
What lessons and experiences from Australia have you been able to take home with you?
DJ: Working in beer in Australia taught me some extremely valuable lessons.
One: value your local community and value drinking local.
Two: get involved. I put myself out there after living in Australia for a month and asked Jayne Lewis of Two Birds Brewing if she needed a hand at an upcoming festival. Two years later, I left Australia with someone I can now call a life-long friend.
Three: treat everyone, and every beer, with respect. Sure, it may not be the best pale ale in the world, but someone brewed that beer, someone hand-capped that bottle, and someone hand-delivered that to you.
Four: it’s only beer. Beer is meant to be enjoyed, not argued over. Don’t try and flex your knowledge of beer to impress – share your knowledge and experiences to further our movement.
Lastly: don’t challenge Edward Harley and Sam Howard [the team now running the Royston Hotel in Richmond] to a dance off – you will lose.
How does the beer scene differ in Canada?
DJ: The beer scene in Canada is extremely similar to what I experienced in Australia. We use the same ingredients, we hire the same passionate type of people, and we brew in the same traditional ways.
Our country is also extremely large, proving difficult for proper transportation of beer. Our provincial and federal government seems to enjoy making things difficult for those who dare venture into opening a brewery.
Our largest fight is educating a macro beer out of someone’s hand. Yes, people still ask for a ‘normal beer’ here in Canada, so it’s about educating past that.
Is there much knowledge or understanding of Australian beer in your part of Canada?
DJ: When I speak with other Canadians, loudly and frequently, about how incredible the Australian craft beer scene is, I am usually met with strange looks. Yes, even the craft beer savvy still think Foster's is stocked in every Australian fridge. Though, to be fair, I did once get a high five when I was walking down the street wearing my Moon Dog shirt and mumbling something about thongs.
Do you intend on coming back again, and if so, what would you want to do here?
DJ: I do intend to come back to Australia – not for work, but for pleasure. Not necessarily in this order, but my wish list would look something like this: a hug from Michael and Kieran followed by a Philly cheesesteak at The Catfish; sample a drop from each of the barrels I so patiently watched at Boatrocker; give Sam and Ed a big high five for taking over the Royston Hotel; have a late night session at Forester's Hall; and, since it’s a wish list after all, take part in as many Good Beer Week events as possible! [Sometimes wishes do come true!]
What’s your most treasured beer travel moment?
DJ: My most treasured memory of my time in Australia is from last year’s Good Beer Week. My birthday happens to fall during the festival and Forester's Hall was hosting a guest for Pint of Origin Europe from Weihenstephaner brewery in Germany. My girlfriend Emma took me out to Le Bon Ton for a birthday dinner before the event kicked off, and when we walked back into the bar there was, led by our guest from Weihenstephaner, a group of some of my craft beer family singing happy birthday to little old me. I looked around the room, and it felt like I was at home. I had a family in Australia, and not one person was related by blood.
What beer tips do you have for people visiting your part of the world?
DJ: Start in British Columbia and work your way east, the accents get stronger and so do the beers. Stop in Ontario where there are more than 220 breweries, 40-plus hop farms, we sell 65 percent of our beers in cans and host the fastest growing craft breweries in Canada, including Collective Arts Brewing!
While in the Toronto area, come visit me at Collective Arts Brewing; head up to Muskoka Brewing, not only for the beers but also the incredible scenery; and make it over to Left Field Brewing before taking in a Blue Jays baseball game!
If I had any advice to offer the Australian beer drinking community, it would be to continue the focus on education. Continue to educate people as to why we are moving to drinking beer out of a can, why drinking fresh is best, and how beer actually pairs better with food than wine…
That, and to start growing Galaxy. Lots and lots of Galaxy. Canadians recently got their first taste of this Australian delicacy, and you can bet we will be coming back for more.
Thanks, Dan. See you on the dancefloor at Forester's!
If you're an Aussie working in beer overseas or know someone who is, drop us a line at email@example.com.