Homebrew Update: All the Pouchabilities
Hey homebrew fanatics! By now, we hope you’ve had the chance to get your hands on our new homebrew pouches, which have replaced the old bottles we were previously using. While the products inside the pouches are still the same great yeast (and bugs) you love, there were many reasons to make the change to the new pouches. This blog post will cover why we made the switch, the amount of time and effort that went into the design of the pouches, and lastly how to use the new pouches to make delicious beers (and whatever else Jonah wants to mention). For those of you who don’t know, Jonah is the Homebrew Lead in charge of all things homebrew (packaging, sales, marketing, etc.) and Alex is the Project Coordinator at Escarpment Labs, who was heavily involved in the design and implementation of the pouches.
Why Switch from Bottles to Pouches?
Although many homebrewers were big fans of the bottles because of their transparency, appearance, and their re-usability, this was not the case for many homebrew suppliers. The bottles had a tendency to leak in transport to homebrew shops despite all of our best efforts. We tried packing them with extra ice, custom Styrofoam inserts, extra padding, multiple layers of packaging, smaller boxes, bigger boxes… anything you can think of, we tried it. Nothing seemed to work and many of our loyal homebrew shop customers asked for a change so that they could offer our products more reliably to their customers.
With the increased push from homebrew shops to change our packaging, we started searching for new options. In order to keep costs low for the customer and for homebrew shops, we decided to begin looking into custom pouches. This option allowed us to still be able to sterilize the pouches before filling (which is a very important factor for us and our quality control standards) and decrease the amount of time required to fill homebrew pitches. Previously, it would take on average 3 staff members a full day to package ~400 homebrew bottles for shipment. This included filling the bottles aseptically and labelling each bottle by hand. Look how much fun we are having below (I was there – it was not that much fun). In comparison, watch the video below. Jonah has no idea how easy he has it now. This improved efficiency has allowed us to bring on Jonah full-time, which has directly been linked to more homebrew sales, strain availability, and presence in more homebrew shops!
Chris, Alex and Chanelle (from left to right) manually packaging one month’s worth of homebrew using the old, leaky bottles.
The pouches also went under rigorous stress testing to make sure that they would not leak in transit. To do this, we grew multiple strains in the pouches (we made sure to include Cali since it’s a bloaty boi) and kept them under different conditions (room temp, fridge temp, and warm temp) to see how far we could push the pouches and none of them burst. In fact, they only burst when Jonah took a baseball bat to it. Since the switch, we have had no complaints about leaky pouches.
Stress Testing Homebrew Pouches
What is surprising to many is how much time and effort went into sourcing and designing the pouches. After a couple months of sourcing, sampling and testing various pouches from different companies, we settled on the current pouches. These pouches, however, had no design, so we had to design our own pouch graphics. Together, a small internal team worked closely with advisors, label compliance companies and regulatory firms as well as the CFIA to devise a comprehensive list of mandatory elements that had to be included on the label.
After many edits and some French translation, we received our first round of printed pouches. These pouches were re-tested again, through stress testing (mentioned briefly above), yeast viability after storage, and even water testing to ensure the graphics wouldn’t dissolve. Test shipments were also sent to family and friends to make sure the pouches filled with yeast could withstand the pressures and stresses of transportation.
Finally, the pouches had to be marketed and announced to the Homebrew community. We promoted the changes and the process through social media, and even had some of our homebrew shops test the sales of the new pouches for us.
The last thing for us to do is to explain how to use the pouches and address any of the concerns homebrewers might have with the changes. For example, some homebrewers have raised concern that the packages are not recyclable. Sustainability-wise, we are happy with our packaging change – the pouches use 6.5x less plastic than the old bottles, which has a significant impact on the environment compared to recycling (also if you have any questions about this, please direct them to Iz Netto, our current R&D biologist, who in a previous life worked as a sustainability consultant and has read one too many plastic packaging life cycle assessments and is extremely passionate about this topic). However, we strive to continually improve, and using recyclable materials is something we are now looking into for our next round of pouches and are eager to offer clients in the future. Later in this post, Jonah will discuss some of the other frequently asked questions regarding the pouches.
How to Use the New Pouches and FAQs
The new pouches have made it easier for us to get more product to more shops on a more regular basis. However, we also want to ensure that homebrewers are getting their yeast where in needs to be, into the fermenter. After trialing the various ways to pitch from pouch, Escarpment Labs has determined that the sideways cut is best.
The next round of pouches will likely use a corner tear notch for easier pouring.
Take the pouch out of the fridge a few hours before pitching to let it warm up to pitching temperature. Shake the pouch to bring the yeast back into solution. Be sure to sanitize the outside of the pouch, and the scissors used for snipping. Cut the corner, then simply press the yeast out like a toothpaste, into your fermenter or starter flask.
New Strains (Brett and sour things too!)
The new pouches contain the same great pitching rates as our bottles, while taking up less space in our facility, and with the added benefit of being able to fill many more in a day. This has allowed us at Escarpment to focus on getting more new and exciting yeasts to homebrew shops. We have recently released a new Weizen strain, Uberweizen, that is available now. As well, we have been rolling out two new Kveik strains, Arset and Ebbegarden. Spooky Saison has been rolled out in homebrew pouches, adding to our diverse list of saison strains and blends.
There was a demand from homebrewers for Brett isolate pitches, and Escarpment answered the call! So far, we have sold Brett D and Brett Q in homebrew pouches, and are planning Brett Brussels, and Brett L. We are now doing seasonal releases of the exclusive Belgian Sour Blend, as well as Mothership Blend, which contains all of Richard Preiss’s favorite Bretts in one cosmic blend.
Moving beyond Ontario
We are very excited to increase our presence in the Canadian homebrew market, and have added shops in Quebec, Alberta, and British Columbia in order to ensure all Canadian homebrewers have access to our yeast. We have rolled out a wholesale website to provide easier access to homebrew shops. This allows any of our current accounts to order yeast at any time. Previously, we would have a monthly newsletter and that was the only chance a shop had to order for that month. Now we stock many strains regularly, and this allows for more product to get to homebrewers more often. We look forward to working closely with homebrew clubs and shops across the country to better provide the yeast you want, when you want it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need to make a starter for my beer?
Escarpment Labs guarantees 180-200 Billion cells per pitch. This is enough cells to ferment 20L of below 1.065 wort.
Can homebrewers have accounts to the wholesale webstore?
At this time, we sell exclusively to homebrew shops, who we want to support as they serve as critical homebrew community hubs. Please buy yeast and other ingredients from your local homebrew shop. If your LHBS does not stock Escarpment Labs yeast, just send them our way!
I have a question about a particular style or strain of yeast, are you available to answer questions?
Yes! Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for any and all your yeast questions!
Can I get one of those nifty strain comparison posters that the homebrew shops have?
We're revising the strain poster for 2019 to include new products, check in with us shortly!