Home brewing is a popular hobby in Canada, but few have taken the craft to the level local brewer Todd Craig has.
“The homebrewers I’ve seen start with a pot, and it will take a while for them to progress,” said Craig. “Because of what I have done, professionally, I knew what I wanted.”
Craig’s setup has all the features of a commercial brewery only on a smaller scale and that made it hard to find the equipment he needed to put it together.
“I didn’t buy any of it,” said Craig. “I built this whole system myself, even this electrical control panel. I went on the internet and searched for plans then I sourced all the material. I got the kegs and cut the tops off and put it together. Then I had an electrician check it out to make sure everything was good and safe.”
Craig acquired his brewing expertise circuitously over more than 25 years.
He studied marine technology and marketing management at Humber College in the late 80s and in the mid-90s he got a job as production manager at Qualitech Foods, an apple juice factory in his hometown of Kincardine.
“We only ran the apple juice for maybe six months a year and we had to find something else to do,” he said. “We were sitting around at an R & D meeting and I suggested we could brew beer here. I wasn’t sure but I put it out there.”
They contacted a local brew master to help with the plan.
“His name was Jack Massey,” said Craig. “He was the head brewer for Formosa at the time, but he came from 25 years at Carling O’Keefe. I worked with him for about a year converting the brewery over and learning the craft of brewing.”
Craig got out of the brewing business after the company changed hands and in 2002 he moved to Guelph where he lives with his wife Andrea Smallwood and their children Spencer, 16 and Maeve, 13.
“The brewing sat idle for a while, but it was a good learning experience with Jack,” said Craig. “It was right from the grassroots and stuff.”
Craig got back in the brewery business in 2009 as a production manager for Sleeman and the company sent him to the US for more training.
“I went down to Wisconsin and did my certificate through the Master Brewers of America,” said Craig. “I also went back and lectured at the course on brewery safety. That is always where I wanted my career to go.”
He returned to school in 2010 to study Health and Safety at Ryerson University and went on to work as the global safety manager for Canadian Solar in Guelph. Since 2017 Craig has been an occupational health and safety inspector for the Ministry of Labour. The work has kept him busy but the call to brew was always there.
“The conversation was always going on around here,” said Craig. “Why aren’t you brewing? You love it.”
He decided to follow his malted muse and named his new venture MAST Brewing as a nod to the family’s love of sailing as well as an acronym for Maeve, Andrea, Spencer and Todd. Their tagline is, “Brewer of great beer for great friends”
“I did my first brew Jan 26, 2014,” he said. “I started doing it in a pot on my stove in the kitchen. That’s how everybody starts. It was just a matter of time, money and resources to get to this level which is ultimately where I am not going to make many more changes.”
There is one major change he has yet to make.
“The ultimate goal right now is to eventually move it into the shed I built in the backyard,” he said. “It would be nice to have a permanent indoor home. The way it is now I just pack it up and it goes into that corner there.”
Craig says he has a lot of support from family and friends as well as the brewing community in the city.
“Guelph is a great city for doing this,” he said. “Two or three years ago I used to have to go to Toronto to get materials now I get my hops and grain from KJ Juices beside Royal City Brewing and my yeast from Escarpment Yeast out of Guelph. They produce live yeast and what a great little setup they have.”
Craig brews about twice a month and enjoys experimenting with the formulas and replicating the recipes for a wide variety of beers, but he has no interest in getting back in the business end of things.
“I brew what I want, as much as I want, when I want and I get to enjoy it,” he said. “I don’t have a desire to take this any further than it is as a hobby. For our friends and neighbours, it’s a popular spot sometimes and we have a lot of fun with it.”