Experiments in Acid, Innovation, Growth & Friendship

Experiments in Acid, Innovation, Growth & Friendship


It’s only natural to feel reflective as the year comes to a close, but as a young company with team members who have been here from the beginning, we often reminisce about the good old days when we first launched. These stories typically end with “can you believe that was already 3 years ago?” or more often, “I can’t believe we used to do that.” Many of our shared experiences and learnings still feel so new, and yet, it’s already been 4 years (almost 5!) of Acid League.

As the team got together before the holidays, we laughed and reminisced about all our fond memories of the early days while flipping through some old photos and videos that Allan (CPO/Co-Founder) and Cole (CSO/Co-Founder) dug up from the archives. Follow along below as I walk us through a gallery of photos capturing the good, the bad, and everything in between.



My journey with Acid League goes back to 2016 when I met my dear friends Allan and Cole as an undergraduate at the University of Guelph. The three of us studied food science together and nerded out so hard over fermentation techniques that we quickly became close friends (I mean, look at us! We were adorable!). Pictured above is just one happy moment from that time, featuring Allan, Cole, & myself hosting one of our regular dinner parties, complete with a full-service bar and a multi-course menu. Unbeknownst to us at the time, many of our flavor experiments would serve as early precursors to the very first Acid League pilot products. 

By the time I graduated from university and completed culinary school 4 years later, it was 2020 and COVID had happened. About a month into moving back home with my parents to wait out the pandemic, Allan gave me a call and revealed to me that he and Cole had been up to some shenanigans: Acid League had received its very first order from Whole Foods. With our kick-ass dinner parties and flare for fun in mind, he offered me a job on the spot. 3 months later, I packed my bags and moved across the country to start a new life.




When I landed in Ontario, there was already a small team in place (pictured above). Cole, Allan, Rae (Creative Director/Co-Founder), & Scott (CEO/Co-Founder) had devoted many brainstorming sessions in Scott’s garden to nail down what Acid League was meant to bring to this world. This was the era before launching in grocery stores across North America when the demands of retail production hadn’t quite hit us yet. 



“It was such a playful time,” says Allan, while reflecting on the various types of malt he and Cole had tried for our Smoked Malt Vinegar (pictured above, left). He especially marvels at the integral role the discovery of ingredients played in deciphering the look and feel of the brand in those earlier days. Case in point: Cole captured above as he whimsically picks Nasturtium from a nearby sustainable farm that served as one of our many early playgrounds (pictured above, right).  Fun fact: To this day, hundreds of experiments and product launches later, Allan still claims that the Nasturtium vinegar was the best product ever made. 



It wasn’t all just fun and frolicking through farms though. There were a lot of rookie mistakes too. Cole brings up the time when he and Allan were working out of the pilot plant at the University of Guelph (an auditorium-like space designated for students to conduct food science experiments) and completely clogged the sink with fruit purees. The pipes were so backed up from weeks of experiments that the innocent endeavor shut down the facility for an entire 48 hours. (For the record, Cole and Allan were such beloved pillars of the space that not even this disaster incident or several facility-wide blown fuses later deterred the University from their unwavering support, which continues to this day).



It's this colorful spirit of discovery and experimentation that also roped Daisy Ball (Operations Manager) into the realm of Acid League right around the time I joined the team. While Allan and Cole were busy with “R&D,” Daisy was finishing up her studies as a star student at the University of Guelph. She often passed through Allan & Cole’s experiment station on her way to teaching a beer brewing course. She recalls wondering “What in the world are these guys up to??” as she walked past a vast array of jars bubbling away in the back of the hall, bringing bright color to an otherwise fluorescently bland landscape.



But her curiosity didn’t end there. Upon graduating in 2020, Daisy decided to reach out to Allan to see if they were looking for an intern. Not only did they take her on, but they gave her an assignment on the spot. The directive, you may wonder? Buy a sh*t ton of melons and make some experimental honeydew vinegar. Daisy still laughs when she recalls the absurdity of the grocery store experience, so much so that she’s kept the picture of her grocery cart that day. She still can’t get over how the cashier thought she was throwing a party…which even for us is beyond the scope of a normal party. But keen on her assignment, she carted all 40 melons home and hand-juiced them. The result? A Honeydew Melon Living Vinegar so delicious that we released it as an experimental shortly thereafter. Needless to say, Daisy scored the job.



Since Daisy and I joined the team at the same time, we were paired together from the start. In some ways, we were granted a lot of independence and that was awesome; in other ways, we were totally in over our heads (pictured above is Daisy after recovering a misplaced box of very precious and expensive saffron at the production facility). Our first team project was to produce our very first batch of Living Pantry products by ourselves, in 3 days. That’s 15 products total, and for those who aren’t privy to the world of product development, absolutely overambitious, and bonkers…start-up life, am I right?!

We were in the thick of day 2 and thinking “man, it would be a miracle if we got through all of this” when one of our former university instructors stopped by to check in on us. Trying not to appear too overwhelmed but accomplishing exactly the opposite, our mentor left us with: “It might seem like a lot now, but you’ll look back on this in a few years and think, ‘those days were such pure fun and I miss it so much.’”

He was right.



People always say that starting a company is like having a baby. In both cases, it takes a village (or for us, a “League” ;)). Without our team (both past and present) and continued support from customers, retailers, suppliers, investors, and business partners, there is no way we could’ve gotten to where we are today. 

Starting a small business takes a TON of work, but even more than that, it takes grit, determination, a solid support system, and the mindset of an improv performer (i.e. Always saying “yes, and” to everything). I could try to describe this all in anecdotes, but pictures say a thousand words. So below is a collection of some of our team's favorite photos up until now, annotated to capture & share cherished moments in time in Acid League’s history.


Exhibit A: (Left) At the start of the business, Cole and Allan didn’t realize that there were different receiving dock heights, truckload tolerances, etc. They managed to load a 1000-liter tote onto a pick-up truck that was not meant to hold that much weight, then realized they couldn’t receive it at the manufacturing site because the loading dock was too high. Normal people would give up at this point, but Allan & Cole then decided to use a tractor forklift from a neighboring farm to transfer the full tote of apple cider onto a U-Haul truck, to then drive it slowly back to the site to unload it again. This was even more laboriously insane as it sounds. (Right) 1st shipment ever sent to Whole Foods Market. Cole thought he had to be there in person, when in fact, he did not. (It’s kind of the equivalent of being walked to the airport gate by your parent who can’t bear to see you go at security).


Exhibit B: Our very necessary 3-hour trip in the middle of a work day to a cranberry bog in the Muskokas, for the photo op and cranberry juice.



Exhibit C: We had 7 months to develop, commercialize, and produce 12 brand new products for a national launch with Whole Foods US, which involved new suppliers, new packaging, new label designs, new ingredients, and MANY tasting sessions (btw for those who don’t work in this industry, 7 months is not a lot of time). The tastings were great, but there were also just So. Many. Products! And thankfully Popeyes chicken acted as the perfect vehicle for tasting all our sauces, so that really pulled us through. Not to mention, we paired it all with beer from a local brewery that has helped us immensely from day one (thank you, Wellington Brewery!!).


Exhibit D: We once stayed up until 2 am producing the first shipment of Broth Concentrates, because of scheduling requirements and tight timelines. On top of that, we had an ordering mishap that led us to pick the leaves off of fresh Thai basil for 8 hours straight. Fun fact: it was the middle of summer in a hot production facility and we all had to wear long pants for safety reasons...an experience in and of itself.


Exhibit E: So many adventures, near and far! We'll never forget our first team trip to Anaheim, CA for a food expo event (left), and a collab pizza event at Beast Pizza in our home base of Toronto (right) (ft. Marketing Director Golnoosh eating the pizza > photographing the pizza…priorities). 


Exhibit F: The thrill of seeing our products on retail shelves never gets old! ( Left) Pop-up at Nordstrom in Vancouver in 2021. (Middle) The first time Allan and Cole saw Acid League on-shelf in Canada at Loblaws in 2021. (Right) Erewhon in 2023.


Wherever Acid League ends up and wherever our team goes, we will all be forever grateful for where this journey took us. Our team has grown and shrunk and faced many hurdles (COVID, economic downfalls, supply chain challenges, etc), but we persevered! And as the company continues to evolve, I know that the playful energy we’ve had since the beginning will continue to lead our way.


Stay Sour,


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