School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Strange Brew - the Queen's team cleaning up at DAFT Brewing

Ryan Dhillon, PhD'15

by Phil Gaudreau, May 2020

DAFT Brewers

DAFT Brewing, Kingston’s newest brewery, is known for their creative blends.

Where else would you go for a sour beer with sea salt, lime, and spicy peppers, for instance?

But their latest brew might be their most unusual yet. You can’t even drink it, but people across the greater Kingston area are reaching out in droves to get their hands on it. Quite literally.

After seeing distilleries across Canada brewing up hand sanitizer to help meet local shortages, DAFT jumped at the challenge. And crucial to their response is head brewer Ryan Dhillon, PhD’15.

Ryan was completing a post-doctoral opportunity in Quebec City in 2018 when he got word a team in Kingston was looking for a brewer. He had been brewing his own beers for 10 years and enjoyed making creative and unique blends. That meshed perfectly with the ambitions of his would-be partners, including Shan Jhamandas, MBA’05, and Greg McLeod, Sc’09, and he was brought onboard.

Skip ahead to the February 2020, and DAFT opened its doors on Princess Street near MacDonnell Street, about a 15-minute walk from campus. Early reviews were good. Then, rumblings of Covid-19 begin.

“We saw the shutdown coming, and so the partners had a meeting to discuss what to do the Friday before the government shut restaurants down,” he said. “We switched from 70 percent sales in our taproom and 30 percent bottle sales to 100 percent bottle sales. We were going to increase our bottling capacity over time but didn’t expect to shift that fast.”

Much of Ryan’s day was spent trying to get the bottles out the door, allowing Kingstonians to sample DAFT’s 17 brews. Then, in mid-March, DAFT’s fans and friends began reaching out asking if they could use their brewing expertise to make hand sanitizer.

Most breweries do not have the equipment needed to get the alcohol content high enough for sanitizer. DAFT, fortunately enough, had a 200 litre still they ordered but had not set up. Within a week it was up and running, with dozens of local partners coming forward to supply the ingredients, bottles, and everything else they needed.

“My technical expertise came in handy in assembling the unit and fermenting the sugar alongside Nathan Barr, a Queen’s chemical engineering masters candidate,” said Ryan. “The primary skill I learned during my PhD was to take a large complex problem and break it down into its component parts in order to structure and produce a proper solution. I use this skill constantly in the brewery, from working with my partners to create a strategic shift in our business plan to the production of hand sanitizer.”

DAFT has been offering up the sanitizer to local health care workers for free. Ryan’s wife Lindsay Waffle, MSc’14, oversees distribution. The sanitizer has made its way to health teams, high risk community groups, clinics, community housing organizations, and even the Lennox & Addington County General Hospital in Napanee.

DAFT hand sanitiser bottleWhen he is not in the office, Ryan is teaching at Queen’s or on livestreams with family back in California, playing trivia with friends over Zoom, or enjoying cheese and beer pairings as part of a weekly DAFT video event. The pairings are put together with help from Don Lougheed, a DAFT employee and Queen’s Geology PhD student.

It is not where the first-time entrepreneurs thought they would be after two months in business, but Ryan said he is proud to be doing something for the community at this difficult time.

“It has been an investment, both of money and time, but people have been super supportive,” he said.

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