What if you could turn your love of beer into a career?
Ian Macdonald did exactly that. In 2014, Macdonald and his mother, Pat, launched Old Tomorrow beer, a Canadian craft brewer featuring the mug of Canada’s first Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald on every can. With Ian’s background in business – he taught marketing at George Brown College – and Pat’s past experience as an executive in the hospitality and leisure industry, the duo had plenty of experience before launching their first beer, the Old Tomorrow Canadian Pale Ale.
They now have five distinct flavours. Tired of keeping your passion for brewing beer bottled up? Read on to find out how the Macdonalds made Old Tomorrow beer a hit.
Workopolis: Have you always been a beer aficionado?
IM: Beer’s actually been something that’s in our family for a long time. In fact, when my dad was in university, his thesis was on light beer, because back in the ‘70s, that didn’t really exist. He’s always had a tremendous passion for it. And I’ve always loved beer and loved the creativity that comes with it. You can create an ale in as little as three weeks. That’s how I got into it. I was home brewing and I was able to brew a lot of different batches and see what did well and what didn’t. I was inspired by ingredients and inspired by the ability to fail fast and try out new recipes. I started when I was in university. The very first batch of beer I made, I over-carbonated, and there’s a bottle cap mark still in the ceiling of one of my best friends’ cottages.
What are the opportunities and challenges of running a business with your mother?
It’s been a lot of fun to work with my mom and learn from her and see her in action. I know she’d probably say the same thing about me. Because most of your life you see your parents at the dinner table, but to be able to see how each other works, that’s been really rewarding. There’s a side of your family that you’re not normally used to seeing – that “get it done approach” – but overall it’s been a really positive experience. My mom’s got this saying that Old Tomorrow and the business is her legacy and my future. That’s a refreshing way to look at it.
How has your background in marketing and business helped you?
When I graduated from Queen’s University I went to work at Johnson and Johnson in brand marketing and management. That was a really awesome opportunity because I learned marketing is a small part of that job. Really it’s about creating a vision for the brand you’re working on. There was so much that you had to wrap your head around.
I had a professor who said that marketing makes promises that the rest of the organization has to keep. I don’t know everything, but I felt like I had a step up starting a business because I had an understanding of all the things that go into a business. But nothing can ever prepare you. We still feel like there’s so much going on at all times.
How did you choose Sir John A. Macdonald to represent the brand?
We really believe in Canada. We think that it’s an amazing country and we feel very lucky to be born here and to live here. For us, we felt it would be important to celebrate that. Without Sir John, Canada wouldn’t exist as the country we know today.
You’ve gone from one type of beer to four now, as well as the Honey Ginger Shandy beer cocktail. How have you decided which flavours and styles of beer are right for Old Tomorrow?
We look for areas of the marketplace that maybe haven’t been served by other brewers. So we don’t have an 80-IBU hoppy IPA in our portfolio. For us, that is already a very well-represented craft-beer style. We approach it thinking: What are flavours that aren’t out there that people would be interested in?
Old Tomorrow will soon sell its 2 millionth beer. Any plans to celebrate?
We’re always celebrating every day.