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Turning bread into beer

Toast Ale is a liquid message in a bottle: a beer brewed in the UK with fresh, surplus bread that would otherwise be thrown away, it highlights the problem of global food waste, starting with our daily loaf.

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Toast Ale is made from a special Belgian recipe that includes fresh, surplus bread. All profits go to the charity Feedback to support the fight against food waste, making Toast Ale the best thing since…well, you know. Credit: Copyright 2016 Publicis

Toast Ale is a liquid message in a bottle: a beer brewed in the UK with fresh, surplus bread that would otherwise be thrown away, it highlights the problem of global food waste, starting with our daily loaf.

It tastes good, too.

Newly launched and brewed in London, Toast Ale recently won Best New Beverage Concept at the FoodBev awards, and has been lauded on British television by celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver. There has already been so much interest from people in the U.S. that Toast Ale has plans to launch in New York.

But this is a here-today, gone-tomorrow type of beer, and if the man behind this ephemeral brew has his way, production will eventually dry up -- and there will be plenty to celebrate.

The founder's strange dream

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"We hope to put ourselves out of business. The day there's no waste bread is the day Toast Ale can no longer exist," said Tristram Stuart, Toast Ale founder, food waste activist, and author of "Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal," a book nominated for a James Beard Foundation award in 2010.

Global food waste not only involves hunger, but greenhouse gas emissions and water waste. A 2013 UN FAO report estimated "that each year, approximately one third of all food produced for human consumption in the world is lost or wasted." Uneaten bread is one of the most shocking examples. According to Toast Ale, around 44% of bread in the UK, alone, is thrown away, including 24 million slices a year in UK homes.

Stuart discovered a passion to fight food waste when he was teenager raising pigs at his home in Sussex, selling off the pork locally to earn extra pocket money. He fed them unwanted food he collected from his local baker, greengrocer, and his school cafeteria. One morning, he noticed a particularly appetizing loaf with sundried tomatoes, which he ate for breakfast as he was feeding his pigs -- proof that much of the food destined for the garbage is perfectly good to eat.

Toast Ale is brewed in London by Hackney Brewery, which uses 100% green energy that comes from windmills, and gives spent grain to local farmers to use for animal feed. Toasted bread used to brew Toast Ale adds caramel notes that balance the bitter hops, giving a malty taste similar to amber ales and wheat beers. Jon Swain from Hackney Brewery said, "The important thing for us, as brewers, was to create a beer that tasted good and stood up against other craft beers."

Putting excess bread to good use

Toast Ale uses all kinds of unwanted bread -- white and brown -- collected from many sources, from artisanal bakeries to commercial sandwich makers, who typically waste bread by discarding the "heels" of the loaf. "We were pleasantly surprised that the taste of the finishedbeer wasn't too different -- therefore we could use all types of bread," said Andrew Schein of Toast Ale.

Although Toast Ale gives new shelf life to surplus bread, its mission is to encourage everyone to find creative ways to stop wasting bread in the first place. (Note to commercial sandwich makers: My husband adores bread heels -- I'm sure he's not alone -- so I challenge you to make a virtue of them by creating a range of "Well-Heeled" sandwiches. How about a pulled pork sandwich called "Pigs in High Heels"?)

All proceeds from Toast Ale go to Stuart's charity, Feedback, an umbrella organization for his three main food waste campaigns:

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-Feeding the 5000: Free public feasts, using food that would otherwise be wasted, held in cities all over the world.

-The Gleaning Network UK: Volunteers harvest surplus farm produce that would be left to rot and redistribute it to UK charities.

-The Pig Idea: Seeks to change laws that restrict food waste being used to feed pigs.

The inspiration and recipe for Toast Ale came from the bread beer, Babylone, brewed by the innovative Brussels Beer Project brewery, in Belgium. Brewing beer with bread is as old as beermaking itself. According to the article, Brewing: A legacy of ancient times by David M. Kiefer, published in 2001 in the American Chemical Society's magazine, Today's Chemist at Work, "Frequently, the dried malt was formed into small, lightly baked loaves. When a batch of freshbeer was to be brewed, these beer breads would be crumbled, mixed with cereals, and soaked in water."

Bread is a beloved, ancient staple that is often taken for granted. In the Biblical story of the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, the disciples collected 12 baskets of scraps after the outdoor feast. It's not clear what they did with them. People have traditionally transformed unwanted bread into French Toast and bread pudding, or croutons and breadcrumbs.

Now home brewers can make their own bread beer -- the Toast Ale recipe has just been published on its website.

Related Topics: FOOD
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