Consider for a moment the journey of a slice of bread. Starting in a field of wheat, grains are harvested from the crop, then ground in a mill to produce flour and finally baked into a familiar loaf at a bakery or in the family oven. The final destination is likely to be a sandwich, a slice of toast or perhaps a delicious bread and butter pudding. How then is bread ending up as beer?
Our love for bread is undeniable yet we still waste 900,000 tonnes of bread every year. Around 24 million slices every day. That’s a LOT of bread.
Tristram Stuart, founder of the charity Feedback, set out to do something to ease this bread food waste issue with his new brewing startup Toast Ale.
The Toast Ale Story
It was back in 2008 that Tristram discovered that a single sandwich manufacturer was wasting 13,000 slices of bread every day. Not because the bread was bad or unsuitable for sandwiches, but because their retail customer simply wanted the crust and the next slice in removed from every loaf. This resulted in 17% of each loaf going to waste. That’s almost a fifth of all loaves wasted for cosmetic reasons.
Thanks to the wonderful food waste enthusiasts at Toast Ale, it’s no longer necessary for these perfectly edible bread ends to be wasted. The team at Toast experimented with bread from some small London bakeries to discover how this unwanted bread could be reused to make another food product. The result was Toast Ale, a deliciously malty pale ale, which launched in London in January 2016, and all the profits from its sale go to Feedback.
Toast now has an ongoing relationship with a large sandwich manufacturer. All the heel-ends of loaves that are usually discarded during the commercial production of pre-packed sandwiches are reused to produce their Toast Ale. The venture has been so successful that they’ve outgrown their initial brewing activities with friends at Hackney Brewery and have had to expand operation to Hambleton Ales and Wold Top Brewery in Yorkshire.
The Toast Ale Range
The team at Toast Ale have achieved an amazing result in such a short time and they’re very happy to have had the support of bakers in and around London:
“We’ve been approached by many bakeries across the country, from local independents to larger chains, looking to find a way of redistributing their leftovers rather than wasting it. Bakers really care about their product – there is a lot of love that goes into baking – and the last thing they want is for it to end up in landfill. Many larger companies have found ways to divert waste to be used as animal feed, which is far better than landfill, and also better than composting or anaerobic digestion (AD), but we’d all prefer to keep it in the human food chain. Or, even better, have no surplus at all!”
From the initial pale ale offering in early 2016, Toast Ale have expanded their range to include a session IPA, a lager and even a limited release special summer edition lager called ‘Top Lager’. The addition of the IPA and lager were due to a popular crowdfunding campaign that raised nearly £28,000 in 28 days from a total of 449 individual contributors. You can get your hands on some Toast at Queens Tennis this summer, at Waitrose or online through the Toast website.
Toast have also done a number of collaborations with other breweries, including Temple Brewhouse in London who’ve created an amazing ‘Brown Toast’ porter. Not content to stop there (there is an enormous amount of bread waiting to be brewed, after all), Toast recently ran a successful crowdfunding campaign for a US launch and are now brewing an American Pale Ale in New York.
Reduce, Reuse Food Waste, Then Recycle
When it comes to food waste, it’s so often thrown in the bin with all the other rubbish. Let’s be honest, it’s by far the most convenient way to dispose of it. Those who have gardens might have a compost bin for food waste so they can use it on their plants, or you might have a local authority that collects food waste. However even if we’re composting, we’re still probably throwing away a lot of food that could’ve been eaten, usually because we buy too much or because of over-cautious sell-by date.
As the popular song by Jack Johnson encourages, it’s better to reduce, reuse and then recycle. While it’s a catchy tune, it takes more than a few clever lyrics to change the behaviours and habits of people and businesses around the world.
With that in mind, Tristram Stuart, in collaboration with the Feeding the 5000 campaign group, designed the food waste hierarchy as a guide for how to handle food before it becomes waste:
The hierarchy provides a “logical and environmentally sustainable order of priority for the management of food”. From the top down the hierarchy displays five steps for food waste, in descending order of preference according to the environmental outcome of each.
What the hierarchy demonstrates is that we need to change the lifelong habits we’ve all acquired of disposing of perfectly good food. By thinking about how much food we actually need we can easily reduce the amount of food wasted, and we can equally put our excess or surplus food to better use by feeding those in need or reusing the food for alternative uses.
Make Your Own Beer From Bread Food Waste
The amount of wasted bread at home and in businesses around the world is HUGE. Given the scale of the problem, Toast Ale are working on plans to expand their operations even more and to help bakeries and breweries connect nationwide to brew Toast themselves.
Toast are so committed to this initiative they have made their Toast Ale recipe public and encourage home brewers to use their own leftover bread at home to brew up a batch of Toast. Or, if you love bread so much that you never waste any at home (excellent news), reach out to your local bakery or cafe, they’re bound to be able to help you out with enough so you can brew up a batch of your own Toast Ale.
And if you thought using bread waste to brew beer was clever, how about using the by-products of the brewing process to make granola bars? Talk about a circular economy!