With a lineage that extends over five generations, John takes particular pride in his heritage. In fact, when it comes to beer tradition, his grandfather George A. Sleeman wrote the book on it - literally.
John's family's brewing tradition in Canada extends back to 1834 when John H. Sleeman arrived in Ontario from Cornwall, England. By 1851, he started the first Sleeman brewery to be located in Guelph, Ontario, brewing small 100-barrel batches.
The passion that drove John's great-great-grandfather to begin his renowned Canadian brewing tradition is the same passion that runs through John's veins today - and we look forward to passing on the tradition to many more generations to come.
An art as much as a science, beer making depends equally on the talent of the brewmaster and the quality of the ingredients.
Premium brewing employs a time-honoured process in which natural ingredients are blended in myriad combinations and brewed in small batches to produce beers that range from contemporary light brews to 'Old World' dark stouts.
1. A mash of water and malted (roasted) barley is mixed and heated in a cooker. The heat activates enzymes naturally present in the malted barley, causing it to convert its starch into sugar, which the brewing yeast can later ferment.
2. From the cooker, the mash is pumped into the lautertun, a brewing vessel where the husks from the barley are filtered out. When the sugary water, now called the 'wort', has completely dripped through the husks, absorbing their flavour, the husks are then removed and the boil begins. (Incidentally, the husks are sold to local farmers as cattle feed.)
3. The boil is where the unique hop flavour is added. Varying the type and quantity of hops is what gives each beer its particular flavour and aroma. This cutaway drawing of the old brewery in the late 1800s is an artist's rendition of how the brewing process may have been designed.
4. After 1 to 2 hours of boiling, the wort is transferred to a 'hot wort tank' where the spent hops settle out of the liquid.
5. After settling, the wort is quickly cooled, then pumped into fermentation tanks where yeast is added. The yeast uses the sugar in the wort to create alcohol and carbon dioxide. Lagers take 9 to 12 days to ferment while ales require 5 to 7 days of fermentation.
6. At the end of the fermentation process, the yeast is filtered out and the young beer is sent to aging tanks in the cold cellar. The beer remains in these tanks at just above the freezing temperature until it is fully mature. How long that takes depends on the type of beer. When mature, the beer is filtered to a high clarity then bottled or kegged (for draught consumption).
Born in Toronto and raised in Ottawa, John Sleeman spent his early adulthood somewhat oblivious to his family's brewing history; his father was an executive for Bell Canada and their family brewing history was rarely discussed.
At 16 John left school and his home in Ottawa to work. Despite his upbringing, John's life path was destined to include good brew.
After getting married in England, he and his wife returned to Canada to open their own English pub stocked with authentic English beers. Soon after, the two of them went into business with his wife's father to bring beer from around the world to Canada under the name Imported Beer Co.
After a few years in the business, John was paid a visit by his Aunt Florian, who came armed with an historic Sleeman bottle and the words, 'It's time you found out about your heritage.' An empire was then on its way to being reborn.
Sleeman Brewery has come a long way and grown a great deal under the enthusiastic guidance of John Sleeman - which just goes to show how far the will to take a risk, hard work, and a family brewing history can take you.