Water, malt, hops, barley, yeast and – leftover bread?
The recipe may not follow Germany’s beer purity laws, but one of the latest brewing innovations is reducing food waste and helping planet Earth.
Created by Tristram Stuart, an environmental/food waste author and activist, Toast Ale collects surplus bread from bakeries, which would normally end up in a dump, and uses it to create craft beer. The pale ale hit UK shelves, restaurants, and online shopping carts in 2016, with all profits going towards Stuart’s non-profit organization Feedback.
Now, the operation is moving stateside to Chelsea Craft Brewing Company in the Bronx, New York.
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Madi Holtzman did the legwork.
“I spent literally all of last Summer going door to door to every local brewery in the city,” Holtzman, an NYU grad student studying Food Systems, told Global Citizen. “I stumbled across Chelsea and cold-called Pat [Greene, director of brew operations at Chelsea], and he said he had actually heard about Toast on a radio show when it first launched in London.”
Greene was familiar with the concept of using bread in the brew process and considered trying it after hearing about Toast on CBS News.
“When I came in that morning I was discussing it with my brewer,” Greene said. “Out of the blue, Madi called me a couple months later.”
Chelsea signed on to make the pilot batch of Toast American Pale Ale last March.
In theory, repurposing leftover food into a new product is a no-brainer, but it’s easier said than done. When it comes to the actual brew process, adding bread can seriously complicate a batch of beer.
Mark Szmaida, Chelsea’s head brewer with 30 years of experience, was apprehensive about the partnership.
“Bread is very glutinous,” Szmaida explained to Global Citizen. “So when it breaks down in water, what does it form into? Like a dough ball, which would block your mash.”
“If something gets stuck against the screens, or blocks the water from passing through, then you’re sunk,” he said.
Greene says the UK team worked on the process almost at a homebrew level, making a barrel at a time, and perfected the recipe. By layering bread and malt like a lasagna, and adding rice hulls which breaks up the grain in the bread, brewers can prevent their mash from becoming sticky and clumpy.
Finding bread was no problem.
“There’s always spare bread available,” Greene said. “There have been restrictions on even serving poor people old food so if it expires, it expires. The bread hasn’t spoiled; it’s just outdated itself.”
Over one-third of fresh bread in the US goes straight to landfills, according to Toast’s crowdfunding campaign to finance the next two US brews.
“The reaction we’ve gotten has totally validated the need for Toast as a solution,” said Holtzman. “Essentially, every bakery we’ve reached out to has not only enthusiastically said, ‘yes, we’ll bring you our surplus bread,’ but has gone to lengths to get their surplus bread to us.”
Greene says the type of bread doesn’t have an impact on flavor, which means there’s no limit to the styles of beer that can be made with bread in the recipe.
In fact, Chelsea added northern pacific hops to the recipe to give the American Pale Ale more of its titular flavor. The English operation also offers a Lager and a Session IPA.
Szmaida is pleased with the result: “Even though it’s a regular beer, it’s different; it’s unique. I’m sure hardly anybody could pick out that there’s bread in it. To me, it tastes like a good beer.”
They hope to have cans of American Pale Ale in stores by, appropriately, July 4. Whole Foods will be selling the beer exclusively for one month.
Toast Ale was featured in the documentary “Wasted!: The Story of Food Waste,” which premiered at Tribeca Film Festival last April. The film examines how 40% of the food humans produce gets thrown out and the resulting environmental impact. When food ends up in a dump, the lack of oxygen during decomposition releases methane, a greenhouse gas.
Toast is one example of how society can be more food-efficient.
There are cultural motivations for using beer to promote sustainability. Some may call it a gimmick (including beer purists like Szmaida) but, marketing aside, Toast Ale is spreading the word about reducing food waste to the above-21 crowd and helping the planet in the process.
“The reason I thought this would work – we donate a lot of beer for charity – and we always say, ‘beer makes the event,’” Greene said. “You can have an art show, but if there’s beer at the event, they’ll remember the beer, you know?”
“Toast is a celebratory way to talk about something real, to save food from landfills, and I would hope bring the conversation to a wider audience who might not necessarily be inclined to think about it,” Holtzman said. “If it’s in this light-hearted, drinking-with-friends-setting, I think that changes the tone and makes it available to more people.”
“Our kind-of philosophy is that to save the world, we have to throw a better party than those destroying it.”