Brewer and philanthropist. Born in Alloa, the son of a ship-owner, McEwan began his career as a commercial clerk and book-keeper, before joining his uncle's brewery in Edinburgh in 1851, to learn the business of beer-making. He set up his own company, the Fountain Brewery, in Edinburgh in 1856, (which eventually closed in 2004). He made his fortune by successfully developing a local market while achieving a significant export trade to the British Empire by the 1860s.
In 1886, he entered parliament representing Central Edinburgh and gave significant donations to the City, including money to build the McEwan Hall as a graduation hall for the University of Edinburgh, which was designed by Sir Rowand Anderson (1834 - 1921).
Through mergers and acquisitions, McEwan's company grew to become Scottish Brewers Ltd. (1931), and then Scottish & Newcastle Plc (1960), still based in Edinburgh, and finally by a consortium involving Danish multinational Carlsberg and Dutch giant Heineken. McEwan is perhaps best remembered today for McEwan's Export beer, now brewed in England.