U.K.’s Toast Ale Saves Bread From the Rubbish Bin

Brewers are highlighting the problem of food waste by mixing old loaves with barley to make beer.
(Photo: Toast/Facebook)
Jan 28, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Sarah McColl has written for Yahoo Food, Bon Appétit, and other publications. She's based in Brooklyn, New York.

Three heels of bread are languishing in my freezer, the last remnants from loaves that, unless I’m struck with a bout of bread-crumb-making industry, may sadly end up in the trash.

Tristram Stuart, who was just named one of 30 leading crusaders against food waste at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, wants to save people like me from our wasteful ways. This week in the U.K., he debuted Toast Ale, a beer brewed from surplus bakery bread that’s been toasted, blitzed into bread crumbs, and then brewed with malted barley, hops, and yeast to make an amber-colored ale with notes of caramel. For each bottle of beer, one slice of bread finds a new, non-landfill home.

This is easy drinking for a good cause. All profits from the beer go to Feedback, Stuart’s charity dedicated to ending food waste. Like the USDA, the U.N., and other food-industry leaders, Feedback’s goal is to halve food waste by 2030. Inspired by a similar process for brewing with bread developed by the Brussels Beer Project, Stuart convinced the Belgians to collaborate on the recipe with Jon Swain, cofounder of Hackney Brewery.

Reviewers thus far have called it a “really, really good beer: a well-balanced, full-bodied brew with a malty caramel finish.” Celebrity fans of the beer include British chefs with bona fides, including Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

But back to my leftover sourdough and seeded rye. Stuart’s plan is to make the recipe open-source, in the hope that aspiring home brewers will join the movement. Also on the horizon is the possibility of setting up local bakers with local breweries to make their own regional variations of the beer, both in the U.K. and abroad. Folks from Peru and Iceland have already called for details.

It’s a problem worth making a dent in. In the U.K., 24 million slices of bread are thrown away each year, with nearly half of all bread produced winding up in the trash. Chris Young of the Real Bread Campaign attributes the vast waste to a basic devaluation of commercially produced bread.

“People just don’t value factory loaf. They just don’t care about it anymore,” he told the BBC. “None of the bread that is thrown away is ‘real’ bread, homemade or artisan bread.”

Can Toast add the value back to bread? Lest you’ve donned your cynic’s hat, Toast isn’t intended as a flash in the food-waste pan, more symbolic gesture than something genuinely enjoyable. This isn’t quite as high-concept as a purse made from fruit “leather” (though innovative products like that can go a long way toward furthering consumer consciousness). Toast was brewed to be a delicious beer.

“The important thing for us, as brewers, was to create a beer that tasted good and stood up against other craft beers. We worked hard to brew a beer that wasn’t just a fad but something that people could enjoy time after time and would have a significant impact,” Swain said in a statement.

Toast isn’t the first product to leverage what otherwise might end up in the trash. The award-winning Chase potato vodka, also made in the U.K., was created from the peelings of Tyrrell’s potato chips. Closer to home, Coffee Flour, a gluten-free flour made from coffee pulp, has found its way into brownies and other baked goods.

While it may not give you quite the same buzz, certainly the easiest consumer move against food waste is simply to make less of it at home.

“The day there’s no waste bread is the day Toast Ale can no longer exist,” Stuart said in a statement. “We hope to put ourselves out of business.”