Have you ever ordered a sandwich at the local sandwich shop and received an end piece of the loaf? Of course not. So what happens to all of the crusts? Often, they contribute to the millions of pounds of food waste in this country and worldwide. While crusts may not be favored for artisanal sandwiches, some creative brewers are finding a use for extra bread — turning it into beer!
Finding fresh bread on a path to a landfill and rerouting it to mash tuns was the idea Tristram Stuart came up with in the fall of 2015. Stuart is a lifetime advocate for reducing food waste in the United Kingdom and the founder of the like-minded charity Feedback (http://feedbackglobal.org). Partnering with London’s Hackney Brewery for the initial batches, Stuart’s latest initiative, Toast Ale, is a pale ale brewed with up to one-third of the malt bill being replaced with bread that would otherwise be thrown away. All of the profits from the beer go to Feedback and its efforts to continue educating others about food waste.
“The amount of bread thrown away is a catastrophic number — to think that about half of the bread produced isn’t used. Yet it makes good beer, and (through this initiative) we intend to have a big impact on reducing food waste,” said Julie Prebble, who communicates with breweries, distributors, and customers as she works beside Stuart as Business Development Manager for Toast Ale.
In addition to positive reviews Toast Ale is receiving from consumers in the early going, the beer was also awarded Best New Beverage Concept at the 2016 World Food Innovation Awards.
Toast Ale isn’t the first commercial example of beer being brewed using bread — however it is the first to do so for the purpose of reducing food waste and raising global awareness of the issue. Stuart first became aware of the concept of brewing with bread from Brussels Beer Project (http://www.beerproject.be/en), a Belgian brewery that brews a 7% ABV bitter called Babylone.
“Tristram came across the concept of brewing with bread and turning it into beer and instantly said, ‘Hang on, this is a great vehicle for using up food waste in a useful way and to create a delicious product out of it at the same time,” Prebble said.
Food waste is becoming more of a publicly visible issue across the globe — particularly in Europe where France earlier this year became the first country to ban supermarkets from throwing away unsold food without offering it to food banks — and bread makes up one of the largest proportions of that waste. According to statistics from Feeding America (the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization), an estimated 70 billion pounds of food goes unconsumed in America each year — which is an estimated 25–40% of all food grown, processed, and transported in the United States.
The waste of bread comes from consumers buying more than they can eat, stores or bakeries buying and baking more than they can sell, and crusts often being discarded. “Bread has a very short shelf life, but when you brew it, it prolongs its shelf life,” Prebble said.
Thanks to the eagerness of Hackney Brewery to get involved and the help of Brussels Beer Project (which advised on the process by sharing its knowledge and procedure for Babylone), Stuart was able to bring his idea to store shelves in London in early 2016. Much of the research regarding how to best use bread in the brewing process had already been done by Brussels Beer Project, but Hackney’s Director Jon Swain said the process could vary from brewer to brewer.
“They gave us some tips on how they use the bread. There are some huge differences in the (brewing equipment) we have and theirs. Plus the Belgian methods of brewing are different to ours. I.e. they use a lauter tun, where we do not, and they use step infusions and protein holds where we use the method of single infusion mashing. This goes back to the type of grain we use, British grains have superb levels of modification from the malting and are packed full of enzymes to help conversion,” Swain said.
The brewing process for Toast Ale is very similar to a traditional brew day at Hackney — except for the preparation of the bread for the mash. Upon receiving the bread, it is sliced and put in an oven set at 195 °F (90 °C) to dry and given a light toast. “There are two reasons we do that; one is that when the bread is added to the mash the thin slices allow the enzyme-rich mash water to penetrate into the bread and break down the starches. The other is to create Maillard reactions on the bread itself; these become easily accessible sugars so that they are easily extracted in the mashing process. They also add a lovely toasted flavor that carries through to the finished beer,” Swain said.
After the bread cools, Swain recommends breaking it into smaller pieces to make it easier to mix into the mash, and then add rice hulls or oat husks to help prevent the mash from sticking.
“One of the brews we did, we crushed it up a bit too fine and the mash stuck together in a huge ball. We managed to free it up a bit, with extra husks, but that was a lesson learned. If you are planning on homebrewing it I would suggest you aim for crouton-sized pieces of bread,” he said.
To brew Toast Ale (a clone recipe of which is available on page 50), Hackney stuck with their regular mash schedule of one hour at 153 °F (67 °C) without a protein rest, however homebrewers may find a protein rest useful when brewing with higher percentages of bread in the mash.
As with any new ingredient, homebrewers may find some variances in how to best utilize bread in the brewing process, as each homebrewer’s efficiency and process will have a slightly different effect. Swain and Hackney Head Brewer Darren Walker have also made some changes to the recipe since the initial batch as they come to better understand the impact of bread.
“The one major difference is the hop additions. When we brewed the first batch we added a lot of big American hops that, maybe due to the bread, carried though a lot more than we expected and was a bit overpowering. So we switched out the Chinook for some UK Bramling Cross that paired really nicely with the US Cascade and subdued the hops flavor so the bread flavors could be more apparent,” he said.
The proportion of bread has also been experimented with — starting with 23% of the mash and having made up as much as 33%. Any higher than that and the increased risk of a stuck mash is much greater. Also, as there are no enzymes in bread, a large proportion of malt is required in the grist to be able to convert the starches to sugars.
The type of bread used will affect the flavor, and experimenting with different breads will be part of the fun of testing out this method for homebrewers. Swain warned about adding too many types of bread to the same recipe, though.
“The fist batch we did we had a mixture of specialty breads. It did carry quite a convoluted character to the final taste. So we then decided to go with a singular type after that,” he said, also warning against using bread with very strong flavors or with additives like olives or nuts.
Essentially, the bread is intended to take the place of some of the base malt, however if homebrewers want to get even more creative, they could try using rye bread in place of some of the rye malt in a recipe. Swain advises not to do away with the specialty grains entirely, however. “I personally would treat it as two very different ingredients. You have to bear in mind that bread has been baked and then toasted and then mashed, so to get the flavors to carry through to the final beer you may need to add some more rye to the mash,” he said. “You would have to take into account any specialty malt additions depending on what bread you used and what flavors you are after in the final beer.
A pale ale was chosen for the first beer release of Toast Ale because of its wide appeal, however as Stuart and Prebble look to branch out to have more breweries joining the movement additional styles brewed with bread are anticipated. Because of Hackney’s small size (it brews on a 6-barrel system) each batch of Toast Ale is only sold in about a dozen bottle shops, restaurants, and bars in and around the northeastern borough of Hackney, as well as limited online sales in the UK. However, with more breweries committed to joining the project and brewing their own version of Toast Ale, as well as other beers using excess bread, a wider distribution is expected soon. Prebble said expansion into the United States is also being planned.
“We’ve got some breweries that will use the recipe we have — it’s there, it’s proven, we know customers love it and are ordering it — and others who really get the experimental idea behind it and how you can use bread in so many varied styles of beer who will be producing their own recipes,” she said.
Swain is encouraging that expansion. “We are proud to have proved the concept, and that making great beer from bread can be done. (But) we only use 70 kg (154 lbs.) of dried bread per brew; a larger brewery will be able to make more of an impact in (reducing) the 44% of all bread that is being thrown away,” he said.
The most recent brewery to get on board with brewing Toast Ale is Nick Stafford’s Hambleton Ales, in Yorkshire. The Toast Ale team has also met with a London homebrew club and challenged them to brew their own interpretations of Toast Ale. Part of that challenge includes brewing different styles, which everyone is anxiously awaiting the results of. Swain envisions positive results can be had with most beer styles, but advised against very light styles such as Pilsners and blondes as the toasted bread would likely contribute flavors that would be out of place in those styles. Homebrewers should also experiment with the percent of bread that is used. While 40% is the largest percent of the grist Swain recommends, lesser amounts will result in varying flavors. “We decided to develop the recipe around bread as an ingredient, so when you drink it you’ll be able to taste that there is some bread there,” he said, but if a homebrewer happened to have just a couple of crusts they didn’t want to throw away, they could toss those in the mash with little flavor contribution.
With more professional brewers getting on board to join the revolution and homebrewers learning about the possibilities of helping solve a global problem while also creating a unique batch of beer, Prebble said Toast Ale is doing exactly what it was intended to do.
“Lots of people have been talking about food waste and there’s lots of finger wagging and pointing; we wanted to do something positive and show that you can have fun with it in your homebrew and make something delicious with it,” she said. “And in that, we hope it will raise awareness and get more people thinking about the food and drink they buy and how they consume it.”
For more information about food waste in the United States, visit the USDA website at: http://www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/faqs.htm
Toast Ale clone
(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG = 1.048 FG = 1.010
IBU = 6 SRM = ~12 ABV = 5%
6.7 lbs. (3 kg) pale malt
2.9 lbs. (1.3 kg) dried crumbed bread (equivalent to 4.8 lbs./2.2 kg fresh bread)
4.6 oz. (130 g) caramalt (35 °L)
4.6 oz. (130 g) Munich malt (9 °L)
15 oz. (425 g) oat husks or rice hulls
0.8 AAU German Hallertau Tradition hops (90 min.) (0.14 oz./4 g at 5.5% alpha acids)
1.4 AAU Cascade hops (5 min.) (0.32 oz./9 g at 4.5% alpha acids)
2.3 AAU Centennial hops (5 min.) (0.27 oz./8 g at 8.5% alpha acids)
0.67 oz. (19 g) Cascade hops (0 min.)
0.27 oz. (8 g) Centennial hops (0 min.)
0.67 oz. (19 g) Bramling Cross hops (0 min.)
1.6 oz. (45 g) Cascade hops (dry hop)
0.93 oz. (26 g) Bramling Cross hops (dry hop)
1 tsp. Irish moss (15 min.)
Safale US-05 or White Labs WLP001 (California Ale) or Wyeast 1056 (American Ale) yeast
¾ cup corn sugar (if priming)
Step by Step
Dry the sliced bread in an oven at 195 °F (90 °C) for about 1 hour. Time and temperature will vary depending on your oven, but generally the lower the temperature the better. Once the bread is dry, coarsely crush to the size of large croutons.
Mash in all of the grains, bread, and oat husks or rice hulls at 153 °F (67 °C) in 3.3 gallons (12.5 L) of water for 60 minutes. This is a liquor to grist ratio of 2.7 to 1 by weight. Sparge the grains with 172 °F (78 °C) water until you’ve collected 6.5 gallons (25 L) — this will require using about 5.25 gallons (20 L) of sparge water.
Bring the wort to a boil and boil 90 minutes, adding the hops and Irish moss at times indicated. After the boil is complete, cool to 68 °F (20 °C), aerate, and then pitch your rehydrated yeast. Ferment at 65 °F (18 °C) until fermentation is complete. Add dry hops and then condition for up to four weeks at around 54 °F (12 °C). Bottle or keg as normal.