He was educated at Alloa Academy.
He worked for the Alloa Coal Company and merchants Patersons. He worked in Glasgow for a commission agent and then as a bookkeeper for a spinning firm in Yorkshire
Exports were made to Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and India, with McEwan"s having 90% of sales in north-eastern England by the turn of the century. The brewery became part of Scottish & Newcastle.
He was returned unopposed in 1895 and continued to serve until 1900.
He became a Privy Counsellor in 1907, but declined a title.
24th United Kingdom Parliament. 25th United Kingdom Parliament. 26th United Kingdom Parliament]
He founded the Fountain Brewery in 1856, served as a member of parliament (Member of Parliament) from 1886 to 1900, and funded the construction of the McEwan Hall at the University of Edinburgh.
McEwan became a member of parliament for Edinburgh Central after the 1886 general election, representing the Liberal Party.