Serial entrepreneur and investor Scott Friedmann promised his family he wouldn’t launch another startup. But then he started to experiment with acid.
Growing a range of fermentation trials in his basement with his culinary-inclined teenage son led Friedmann to wonder if there was space for an “all things acid”-focused brand in the market. (Think: vinegar made with piña colada beer and the family’s backyard honey.) It was serendipitous when a friend introduced him to food scientists—and now cofounders—Cole Pearsall and Allan Mai, and the three bonded over the possibilities.
Officially launched in 2020, one year after that initial meetup, Toronto-based Acid League offers a range of vinegar-based products, with a new release introduced weekly. Acid League debuted alongside fellow clever startups on the vinegar spectrum, including apple cider vinegar-powered prebiotic beverages from Poppi and specialty culinary vinegars from Ramp Up and TART. But Acid League stands out on its own by offering a bit of everything: living vinegar, experimental micro-batch vinegar, condiments, pickled products, shrubs, and what it calls Proxies, herbaceous nonalcoholic beverages inspired by zero-proof pairings at Noma restaurant in Copenhagen (a fellow pioneer in the fermentation space).
The core collection, Living Vinegar—which launched with Whole Foods in August alongside Acid League’s direct-to-consumer platform—includes familiar-with-a-twist flavors like Cabernet Port and Strawberry Rosé. A strange, spicy vinegar named Garden Heat is a more prime example of an Acid League product: unassumingly complex, made with cold-pressed celery, carrot, hot pepper, and tomato juices, combined “mixology style,” Friedmann says.
I’m basic, so I made salad dressing with Garden Heat. It’s deliciously tingly, a tiny bit sweet, and adds a kick to an otherwise boring bowl of butter lettuce, cucumbers, and radishes. I drizzled a bit on fish tacos in place of hot sauce for addictively tangy heat. I suspect it would be great with fish and chips, though Friedmann mentions a soon-to-drop Smoked Malt that would probably be even better.
Cabernet Port is such a beautiful jammy burgundy, I feel guilty adding a glug to my red sauce—but am so happy I did. It’s bright and layered in ways balsamic or a squeeze of lemon never accomplished. The bottle suggests adding a splash to sangria, like a shrub, which I intend to do over the weekend. Part of the fun of Acid League’s products is that they add a new, curious variable into the kitchen. You end up wondering, What else can I add vinegar to? Who else can I tell about it? I wonder what flavors come next.
Friedmann considers the vinegar category to be ripe for disruption—with so much more variation possible beyond the Italian balsamic and apple cider vinegar products that dominate the grocery aisle. He likens Acid League’s approach to Ben & Jerry’s, taking a beloved household product and extending it to experimental flavors and receptacles. Currently, Acid League’s lab has “north of 150” acid-based experiments going at a time, and it’s able to muster on through COVID-19, as food is an essential service.
Small-batch Experimental Editions are sold by the dropper bottle in flavors like Riesling Black Peppercorn and Roasted Coconut, which is apparently amazing dribbled on vanilla ice cream. Friedmann plans to open source the recipes to the small-batch items the brand creates—which vary month to month, as do weekly batches of pickled veggies or jams—allowing consumers to re-create the limited-edition items at home.
Friedmann and his team of food scientists are now experimenting with derivatives of umeboshi, Japanese pickled plums, using a variety of stone fruits and coffee-infused shrubs. The core collection and product categories will continue to evolve as Acid League discovers its consumer, but I asked if any variables have always remained the same.
Meyer Lemon Honey Vinegar is a core product that hearkens back to the Friedmann family’s original experiments during the summer Acid League was born. “You can put it in a lemon meringue pie,” he says. My mind is blown.
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