Escarpment Kombucha Co. is hand-crafting small batches of kombucha for the Hamilton community
As the only kombucha brewers local to the Hamilton area, Escarpment Kombucha Co. owners Robyn Starkey and Andrew Ernest are setting a precedent. They started their company in January 2020 and currently operate out of The Kitchen Collective on King Street East to brew and bottle their small-batch kombucha.
Kombucha is a fermented tea beverage. Starkey describes kombucha by noting that it is to tea what wine is to grape juice. Starkey and Ernest’s mixture undergoes two rounds of fermentation before it is strained, carbonated and transferred to a keg for distribution.
Starkey is originally from Mississauga, attended Dalhousie University for creative writing and English, then graduated to become a legal assistant. At the same time, Ernest became the manager of a coffee shop in Halifax. Together, the couple discovered a shared interest in home fermentation as a healthier alternative to sodas and juices.
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Upon settling in Hamilton, Starkey and Ernest decided to turn their passion project of two years into a business. Once a small studio apartment operation consisting of a bookshelf of kombucha for friends and family, the two put pen to paper in order to turn their dreams into a reality. The company’s name pays homage to the geography and wildlife of the Hamilton area by referring to the Hamilton escarpment.
“I think that Escarpment Kombucha Co. is trying to take kombucha at the local level and bring it to the city of Hamilton. We’re trying to make a product that is as sustainable and delicious as possible without sacrificing on the health benefits. If you think you don’t like kombucha or you’ve never tried it before, this is the kombucha you should try,” said Starkey.
“If you think you don’t like kombucha or you’ve never tried it before, this is the kombucha you should try,” said Starkey
Ingredients for the kombucha are sourced locally wherever possible. They use tea from Toronto-based company Lemon Lily Tea. Fruits are sourced from Boreal Berry Farm in Warren, with seasonal ingredients from local farmers including Sunfire Herbals in Hamilton and Baba Link Farm in Flamborough.
“[Sourcing locally] is really great because if we make relationships with local people, then we get to be harvesting, processing and turning the ingredients into kombucha and selling them. It’s a really satisfying part of the process . . . My favourite part of the summer was when I had an entire table of drying sumac and mint that I picked and there [were] hops in the cupboard, waiting to go,” said Starkey.
If you’re looking for a new flavour to pick up, a fan favourite is the raspberry lavender, made with raspberries from Boreal Berry Farms and lavender from Weir’s Lane Lavender in Dundas.
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Starkey’s personal favourite experimental flavour is pear hops, a seasonal variation which she described as cidery, with a hint of beer taste. Currently, they are in the process of experimenting with seabuckthorn, a sour berry that Starkey described as the liquid version of sour patch kids candy.
The company’s products are available at 17 retail locations near the Hamilton area and they currently offer free contact-free home delivery, which can be set up on a recurring basis for customers’ weekly, biweekly or monthly fix of kombucha.
Their kombucha is offered in growlers, a more sustainable option packaged in reusable glass bottles and sold at a discounted price to encourage zero-waste alternatives as the company works towards entirely zero-waste packaging. They currently utilize compostable seals and all of their bottles are returnable or reusable.
“We’ve only been in business for one year, but I would hope that [students] can see that the process of starting your own business and coming up with a big dream pays off. It’s really just making lists and getting it done and finding people to help you navigate. This is not what I went to school for — I was not a business student — but I really value that I was able to figure out what we were doing,” said Starkey.
“We’ve only been in business for one year, but I would hope that [students] can see that the process of starting your own business and coming up with a big dream pays off.”
Escarpment Kombucha Co. is a testament to the importance of following your passions, which for Starkey and Ernest is brewing one small batch at a time. They have created a tasty and healthy beverage that they hope people in Hamilton and beyond will enjoy.