They Quit Their Jobs to Make Beer: Miski Brewing’s Gluten-Free Beer Innovation

How a dynamic duo of beer enthusiasts brought their “second act” dreams to life with help from BMO
Miski Brewing founders Ricardo (far left) and Mariella Irivarren (far right) in a quinoa field in Peru.

In Canada’s craft beer scene, Miski Brewing stands out for more than just its unique brews. Founded in 2019 in Barrie, Ontario, Ricardo and Mariella Irivarren, a dynamic duo with a shared love for beer and a passion for Peruvian culture have revolutionized the industry.

Their innovative organic, gluten-free and kosher beers made from quinoa are capturing the attention of beer enthusiasts and health-conscious consumers alike. 

The inspiration behind Miski Brewing 

Ricardo and Mariella envisioned a beer that was not only flavourful but also catered to those with dietary restrictions. 

“Being Peruvian, this ancient grain was a staple in my home growing up,” says Ricardo Irivarren. “Recognizing a void in the gluten-free beer market sparked the inspiration and drive to create the first-ever certified 100 per cent gluten-free beer, crafted from the nutritious quinoa grain.”

However, creating a gluten-free beer from quinoa, a grain not traditionally used for brewing, presented a significant challenge. The founders had no prior brewing experience and also knew they needed help to launch and scale their business. Thanks to BMO’s tailored business banking solutions, the duo gained the financial security and confidence they needed to pursue their dream.

“BMO was a steadfast believer in our project from its inception,” Irivarren says. “Kevin Cao, our dedicated account manager, stood by us through both the highs and lows, providing unwavering support as our project progressed. Without BMO’s belief and support, our vision of creating a 100 per cent quinoa-based beer would have remained merely a dream, confined to my thoughts and bucket list.”

The power of collaboration

To spring their plan into action, the founders first partnered with the experts at Niagara College Food and Beverage Innovation Centre. Through a collaborative effort, they tackled the technical challenges of brewing with quinoa, along with overcoming production hurdles and experimenting with prototypes, all during a global pandemic. Their dedication and perseverance paid off in the end, as they successfully developed a unique and flavourful gluten-free beer.

Irivarren’s progress to market was marked with meaningful milestones: achieving the industry-first feat of extracting alcohol from quinoa, scaling up production, and acquiring the necessary certifications for gluten-free, vegan, organic, kosher, and low-carb labels. Finally, securing retail distribution with LCBO marked a significant step, bringing their innovative brews to a wider audience in Ontario. This expansion has continued, and Miski Brewing’s beers are now available in additional provinces and soon to be in select US markets.

Leveraging effective outreach for growth 

Social media has proven to be a powerful tool for Miski Brewing. They leveraged the power of word-of-mouth marketing via outreach to specific communities such as celiac, low-carb, and health-conscious consumers. The founders also ran successful PR and marketing campaigns through billboards, TV segments and magazine articles. Current efforts are more centered on digital ads and industry events.  

“Social media wields immense power, especially for small companies navigating budget constraints,” says Irivarren. “By tapping into overlooked niches, we’ve witnessed firsthand the incredible reach. It’s truly remarkable to see how our ‘guilt-free’ alternative has resonated within these communities, offering a renewed opportunity to savour the social ritual of enjoying a great beer without hesitation.” 

Commitment to sustainability

Sustainability and environmental consciousness are also woven into the fabric of Miski Brewing. Committed to honouring Peruvian traditions and preserving the land, they have adopted sustainable practices and a zero-waste approach. Their vision extends beyond just brewing beer; they aim to contribute to the global appreciation of Peru’s superfoods.

“I’m heartened by the recent acknowledgment of Peru’s vast potential in the international agriculture industry,” says Irivarren. “It’s gratifying to see global customers appreciating the agricultural offerings and ancestral traditions embedded within them. Our dedication to preserving and promoting these traditions is unwavering.”

From idea to reality 

Miski Brewing’s journey from a passionate dream to a groundbreaking reality is a testament to the power of innovation and collaboration. By creating the world’s first 100 per cent quinoa-based, gluten-free beer, Ricardo and Mariella Irivarren not only filled a market niche but also introduced a new level of inclusivity and sustainability to the craft beer industry. With the support of dedicated partners like BMO and the innovative spirit of the Niagara College Food and Beverage Innovation Centre, these founders transformed an ambitious vision into reality.

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