Brewing Business Success at Escarpment Labs

Brewing the perfect beer doesn’t just require the right blend of hops and malt. It also demands the right yeast. 

Yeasts do far more than produce alcohol, explains Escarpment Labs co-founder Richard Preiss. They can add notes of citrus, banana, caramel, pepper and more. They can enhance or temper the flavour of hops and malt and add or reduce sweetness. And Escarpment Labs — the only made-in-Canada source of fresh, liquid yeast cultures — has no end of strains for brewers to choose from.

The Guelph startup offers classic yeasts for Munich lagers, Czech pilsners, Irish stouts and English ales. They have character-packed Norwegian Kveik and Brettanomyces strains. They even boast a uniquely Ontario yeast isolated from a local apple orchard that produces clove, spice and subtle fruit aromas.

Escarpment Labs was established in 2015 by a pair of molecular biology grad students who spotted an untapped market. Although several U.S. companies were producing liquid yeast for craft brewers, nothing similar existed in Canada. Since they opened up for business in a spare corner of Wellington Brewery’s lab, meeting demand has been their biggest challenge.

In 2016, seed funding from Bioenterprise allowed them to move into a 3,800-square-foot facility and quadruple production. “That was a bit of a lifesaver,” says Preiss. “It’s really hard for small businesses and startups to find capital for these kinds of projects.” 

But that’s not the only way the national agri-tech accelerator has helped Escarpment Labs grow. Funding through Bioenterprise’s Accelerating Innovative Research program enabled them to hire a research biologist and conduct studies proving the quality and reliability of their key yeasts — results that won them several new customers. Meanwhile, Bioenterprise’s HQP program funded the hiring of a market research analyst. Both professionals are now permanent members of the 11-person Escarpment Labs team. 

And when the company started eyeing exports, Bioenterprise provided valuable advice and connections. 

Today, Escarpment Labs sells their products from coast to coast, as well as in Europe and — most recently — the United States. Sales have consistently doubled each year, while a quarter of the medals handed out at the 2018 Canadian Brewing Awards went to beers made with their yeasts. 

Looking ahead, Preiss predicts further growth, even better versions of existing products and some exciting new yeasts as well. “There is quite a thirst from brewers for novel and interesting ideas,” he says — a thirst he’s happy to quench.


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