Niagara College’s Kelly Byer, research laboratory technologist at the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre, had the recent privilege of lending her expertise as a judge in the 2021 Canadian Brewing Awards – the country’s national competition for judging the quality of Canadian beer.
The sanctioned blind tasting is to determine the best beers in 55 style categories. A Canadian Brewing Award medal is a widely recognized symbol of Canadian brewing excellence.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the judging was held outdoors at the Indie Ale House production facility in Toronto from July 5 to 18. Award winners will be announced at the 19th Annual Canadian Brewing Awards and Conference Sept. 16 to 18 in Québec.
Byer was joined in the judging honour by fellow NC beer experts Adrian Popowycz, brewmaster, professor and research lead with Research & Innovation, and Victor North, NC Teaching Brewery professor.
This was Byer’s first major beer judging opportunity since receiving her certification from the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) last year.
“I was impressed by the logistics requirements of a large event like this (obtaining the samples, storing them, sorting them into styles – all the work that has to be done before the event, not to mention the actual judging), and to do this with the COVID restrictions took an incredible amount of work – kudos to Jason Stranak and his team!” she said.
“As for the beers themselves, these were beers from craft brewers across Canada, which I generally don’t get to try. I knew the incredible breadth and depth of the industry in Ontario, and it’s nice to see that replicated across the country.”
Byer, who has taught Brewing Chemistry in the CFWI, is also heavily involved in helping the craft brewing industry in the province. She utilizes the leading-edge equipment at the CFWI Innovation Centre labs – one of the very few labs where the craft beer industry can get their brew analyzed.
Drink Muira is an innovative pioneer in the emerging market of ready-to-drink (RTD) iced coffee. The Toronto-based company was the first RTD flash-chilled coffee in the North American market with its popular canned beverage by successfully replicating the Japanese-style, cold-brew coffee process at scale.
And today, its newest beverage product is the first of its kind across the globe, says founder and CEO Adam Lewis.
This after receiving assistance from the food scientists at Research & Innovation’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre to develop a custom-blended oat milk latte formula in a bag-in-box format.
Traditional Japanese-style iced coffee involves brewing coffee hot, with precision, before immediately and rapidly chilling it to optimize flavour extraction, and was the original product and formula the company went to market with in its canned beverages, explains Lewis.
“We saw growing demand for non-dairy latte alternatives and knew we wanted to satisfy our customers’ demands, so we sought out the expertise from Niagara College to help us formulate such a product to our specifications and desires.”
Lewis says his company had an idea about specific product characteristics and flavours they wanted to innovate in a new product and sought food science expertise from the researchers at Niagara College to achieve their goal.
They required assistance to effectively mix and integrate the appropriate ingredients into their product for optimal taste, texture and stability. “This is a challenge as we do not have the required expertise to understand that optimal mixing methods, ratios and risks associated with combining ingredients,” explains Lewis.
“The research, analysis and overall scientific approach that Niagara College provided was not only helpful but turned out to be very necessary as we learned the complexities of achieving the end result we wanted.” – Adam Lewis
Muira needed specialized knowledge to determine the compatibility of a new ingredient into their existing filters and equipment, and how to replicate their product at larger scales.
The company also required a product that stayed true to their quality standards of natural, plant-based ingredients, as well as being free from preservatives, dairy, gluten, nuts and soy and also vegan.
While their previously packaged 259mL slim can cold-brew RTDs were well-liked, and distributed to retail grocers like Sobeys, Metro, Longo’s and Whole Foods, when the pandemic hit in 2020, Muira had to shut down production and operations and pivot its direction. They made the economic decision to replace canned beverages with the new bag-in-a-box packaging.
“The research, analysis and overall scientific approach that Niagara College provided was not only helpful but turned out to be very necessary as we learned the complexities of achieving the end result we wanted,” says Lewis.
That end result was three RTD beverage formulations developed from concept to shelf by the CFWI Innovation Centre research team. Muira has since commercialized its Oat Mylk Latte product – a ready-to-pour from the fridge flash-chilled coffee in a 3L recyclable box.
Muira also sells its popular traditional Classic Black Flash-Chilled coffee, also now offered in this new boxed format.
“The team at NC was thorough and enthusiastic throughout the entire formulation process, ensuring all variables were accounted for to give us a formula that we were happy with from a flavour and functional standpoint,” adds Lewis. “They were organized and timely, making each meeting and iteration an inspiring step along the way to market.”
This research project received funding from the Ontario Centre of Innovation (OCI), through the College Voucher for Technology Adoption (CVTA) program.
This is one example of the applied research capabilities offered by the Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre. To learn more about the full suite of services to support industry innovation and commercialization of new products and processes, visit the website.
La Dee Da Gourmet Sauces saw an opportunity in the marketplace to provide consumers with all-natural sauces made from locally-sourced ingredients.
Since its launch in 2015, the company – with offices in Hamilton and Milton, Ont. – is now known for its gourmet sauce line that specializes in plant-based, vegan, dairy-and gluten-free and nightshade-free products. Their popularity even drew the attention of investor and Dragons’ Den regular Arlene Dickinson, who joined the entrepreneurial founders – three women from southern Ontario – as a fourth partner (through her company District Ventures).
“What makes us so unique is that our sauces are not just for pasta. They can be used as soup/stew starters, as a chili base, pizza topping and over veggies and noodles,” says co-owner Mary Marino, who along with partners Jo Anne Torrance and Marlow Italiano, operate the sauce company.
Last year, La Dee Da Gourmet Sauces placed in the top three for the 2019 SIAL Canada’s Food Scale-Up Pitch Competition. Their coveted prize: A 20-hour consultation with the food science experts at Niagara College’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre. Their challenge: The company needed help improving their new sauce formulation.
The timing was perfect for the company as they were in the process of working on a new product, a Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce, but they needed assistance with a natural-based recipe.
“The co-packer that we use had brought us from kitchen to stovetop to bench samples, but we were having a difficult time reaching certain attributes we wanted… gluten-free, vegan and keto,” explains Marino.
La Dee Da were able to access food science experts, staff and students at the CFWI Innovation Centre, who help develop new products or expand existing products for industry partners, as well as assist with ingredient sourcing and packaging recommendations.
“The team at NC was awesome in helping us achieve a better flavour profile,” says Marino, “and helped us reach those key things that were important for us so that we could go back to our co-packer with a more refined recipe and begin the process of large batching to a retail ready product.”
The staff at every visit made me feel comfortable and I enjoyed chatting with the students who truly were the backbone for this sauce coming to fruition.”
With the production help of Delmar Foods Canada, La Dee Da introduced its Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce in February 2020 and it’s now on the shelves of more than 300 stores across Canada.
“We owe so much of the success of this product to the team at the CFWI Innovation Centre for taking an idea/concept to the next level,” adds Marino. “The food industry is always changing and Niagara College is literally a one-stop-shop to helping entrepreneurs’ dreams of hitting the shelves in stores a reality.”
This technical service project is just one example of innovation from the College’s CFWI Innovation Centre, which offers a full suite of services to support industry innovation and commercialization of new products and processes. To read more about what the Centre offers, visit their website.
Based in Norwood, Ont., Entomo Farms was started by three brothers with a mission to help global food security issues, while also sustaining the earth. It’s now North America’s largest farm raising crickets for human consumption.
The company name is a nod to the term entomophagy – the practice of eating insects – and a trend that is on the rise in the West.
Crickets, in many forms, are packed with a nutritious punch, with a protein source nutritionally similar to meat, but more sustainable to raise than other traditional sources. Yet, unlike meat, they also contain a natural prebiotic fibre, which supports gut health, notes Entomo Farms’ chief operating officer Kelly Hagen.
While Entomo Farms has a thriving cricket product line, including powders, whole crickets, and seasoned snacks, the company had a challenge with the production of their popular line of flavoured whole roasted crickets.
“We were mixing the crickets with spices before we roasted them, but often the spices would burn in the time it took to dehydrate the crickets,” explains Hagen, adding they tried several oil-based products but nothing worked properly. “We tried applying dried spices after roasting but we needed a way to make the spices stick to the crickets and not just fall off.”
The process was also disruptive to the company’s normal large-scale roasting operation when they needed to make small-flavoured batches.
Entomo Farms partnered with the food scientists at the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre to help with methodology and to develop a more effective process to adhere seasoning blends to the roasted crickets that would not impede the absorption of flavours.
The company also needed something that was healthy, easy to operationalize, kept the crickets crunchy, and didn’t increase costs. They were also interested in adding some new flavours that would blend well with the nutty taste of roasted crickets.
“The research team agreed to take on this new ingredient and suggested a wide range of potential options for experimentation,” says Hagen. “In the end, none of the more obvious solutions worked. At that point, they came up with an unexpected and unusual approach using a whole food source that we never would have thought of.”
It fit with the company’s requirement for something natural and healthy, it was easy to train its staff to do, and it even slightly lowered the ingredient cost per pound in production. The researchers also provided about 10 different spice mixtures.
Entomo Farms can now do small production runs with previously roasted crickets, so it does not disrupt its daily large-scale roasting operations.
This enables them to do more production on demand so they don’t store as much inventory. Production chefs are now able to easily experiment with new flavours using this method and have since launched Cinnamon Sugar crickets, followed by a limited-time Pumpkin-Spice cricket during the fall.
“Crickets are still very new as a food, so there aren’t many professionals who have worked with them. We look for research partners who aren’t afraid to take on something unknown and who love to think creatively when the usual approaches don’t work,” adds Hagen. “The team definitely proved themselves with this project, finding a superior solution that no one had thought of at the beginning. They took the time to understand our needs and our constraints and worked closely with us to find a great answer.”
This project was made possible through the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP), which provides up to 20 hours of access to the equipment, facilities, and expertise of a Technology Access Centre (TAC) to solve a specific business or technical challenge.
This is one example of the types of technical services offered by the CFWI Innovation Centre. To discover other resources and capabilities, visit the website.
For Bench Brewing Company, accurate analysis of their craft beer is “paramount” to maintaining consistency in quality and the regulatory standards on which they and their customers rely.
Yet, expertise and equipment to do such analysis are specialized, so having a trusted and reliable applied research partner to conduct such critical testing has been more than valuable for their brewery, says Sarah Casorso, head brewer & director, brewing operations for Bench Brewing, an experiential craft brewery located in Beamsville, Ont.
Casorso, and many other craft brewers, depend on the Research & Innovation division’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre. All beverage analytical services are conducted by trained research staff, such as Kelly Byer, the research laboratory technologist responsible for the Centre’s analytical testing services.
State-of-the-industry precision equipment, such as the lab’s Anton Paar Beer, Wine and Distilled Spirits Analyzers, are employed for beer, hops and other beverages, says Byer.
“We are committed to helping brewers, hop growers and other beverage companies consistently produce beverages that meet regulatory and quality standards,” she notes.
Niagara College is one of the only analytical labs in Ontario to provide such testing for the hops and craft beer industry.
Bench Brewing frequently submits samples for alcohol by volume (ABV) testing on all their beer, in addition to bitterness analysis (IBU) on occasion. Each year when they harvest their estate hops, they submit samples for analysis, which includes alpha and beta acids and moisture, says Casorso.
“Working with the Niagara College beverage analytics services has been critical to the quality and consistency of our beer,” adds Casorso. “They have been extremely flexible when we have needed rushed samples and the results are always completed in a timely manner. They always seem to go above and beyond and take a real interest in giving us the best service as possible.”
“Working with the Niagara College beverage analytics services has been critical to the quality and consistency of our beer.” ~ Sarah Casorso, Bench Brewing
The requisite for precise testing is just as critical for many of the hop growers who trust the experts at Niagara College, as their craft brewer customers depend on reliably accurate analysis.
Hayhoe Hops has looked to the CFWI Innovation Centre to test its hops for the past five years. The family farm, just south of Aylmer, Ont., typically sends a few samples from across their harvest of each of their three varieties, says owner Scott Hayhoe, who, along with his brother Todd, opened the farm in 2014.
“It’s hard to overstate how important accuracy is to us. Brewers are skeptical of switching to a new local supplier so we can’t have any problems with our end product. Kelly and her team provide a vital service for our farm,” says Hayhoe.
“Even if there’s variability between tested hop lots, with the research team’s accurate testing, brewers can account for the differences and adjust their recipes to end up with batch-to-batch consistency,” he explains.
“Since we know their testing is reliable, we have also been able to use the results to better learn and time our picking schedule.”
Samantha Stinellis (foreground), former research assistant and graduate of NC’s Culinary Innovation and Food Technology program; and Kelly Byer, research lab technologist responsible for the Centre’s analytical testing services, conduct testing using the Anton Paar beer Analyser.
The Centre has recently established new Quality Assurance Packages, which provide ongoing analysis at a lower price to further assist industry partners.
“These allow for the analysis of the same, commercially-available product, over the course of a year at a substantial price discount,” explains Byer, adding that the package also contains an ongoing report, so past results get included in every subsequent analysis – making historic comparisons effortless.
“Many beverage producers are starting quality assurance programs, and routine analysis is an important part of that. This is our way of helping industry partners produce high-quality beverages,” adds Byer.
As well, members of the Ontario Hops Growers Association (OHGA) and Ontario Craft Brewers (OCB) receive 15 percent off analysis services. Modelled after the program with OHGA, a newer partnership with OCB allows members to “opt in” where their results will be stripped of personal data and aggregated for an annual report for the OCB, to help the industry track how craft beer is meeting important regulatory, food safety and quality parameters.
“The discount to members of OHGA was the initial reason we chose Niagara College, but the timely service and reliable accuracy is the reason we continue to use their services,” says Hayhoe.
“We see year-to-year our resin levels peak and crest as we typically hit the optimal pick day somewhere within our harvest window of each variety,” he explains, adding that getting the report every year helps hone its sensory analysis in the field as well as showing the nuances of each variety at harvest time.
“This information impacts our decision making for future harvests. Getting real data year after year has been a great way to have confidence in our decision making and ultimately has helped us end up with a better product,” adds Hayhoe.
“Getting real data year after year has been a great way to have confidence in our decision making and ultimately has helped us end up with a better product.” ~ Scott Hayhoe, Hayhoe Hops
The research team, which includes students hired and trained as research assistants, has completed more than 600 hop tests since the fall of 2016, helping almost 100 different growers. Since 2017, they’ve analyzed more than 200 beverage samples, from approximately 30 different breweries, cideries and kombucha producers.
While beer and hops analysis may be the most popular service, the CFWI Innovation Centre will be expanding analytical services for the entire beverage industry in early 2021, including cider, wine, mead, kombucha and distilled spirits, thanks to the R&I’s new Beverage Centre of Excellence. Part of an entire research floor of the new 49,500-square-foot Marotta Family Innovation Complex at the Daniel J. Patterson Campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake, the new facilities will focus on beverage research, pilot-level processing, and analytical testing, thanks to equipment funding from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and the Ontario Research Fund.
The process of accessing the analytical beverage services is straightforward, with all relevant information listed on the R&I website. It allows industry partners to easily see the services offered and pricing and then submit their information through an on-line form.
These technical service projects conducted at the CFWI Innovation Centre are made possible by the Technology Access Centre (TAC) grant. The TAC grant, funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), enables small- and medium-sized businesses to advance their products, processes, and services through access to specialized technology, equipment, and expertise.
Brewery Research Assistant, Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre
Located at the Niagara-on-the-Lake campus of Niagara College, the Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre team offers a full suite of services to support industry innovation and commercialization of new products and processes in the food and beverage sector. From new recipe development to shelf-life testing and nutritional labeling, the CFWI Innovation Centre pairs industry partners with faculty, recent graduates and students with the right expertise and equipment to meet industry needs.
The successful candidate will be currently enrolled in the Brewmaster and Brewery Operations program and will have the opportunity to assist with beverage analysis and product development with the CFWI Innovation Centre. On-campus work and remote work is required.