According to the EPA’s most recent Fact Sheet, in 2014, 136 million tons of waste ended up in a landfill. The single largest category of waste was food, at 21.6 percent. That means that in one year Americans trashed over 29 million tons of compostable food scraps.
In the US alone, a third of all bread is wasted. We all know the drill—it gets stale or it goes moldy, and, really, nobody likes the heel. So you chuck it. Here in the Hudson Valley, composting is a lot easier and more popular of an option than in some urban centers, but people still throw away a LOT of food. And it’s not just homes, bakeries throw out the lion’s share of bread waste—countless unsold loaves are trashed every day in order to keep a fresh supply.
Activist Turned Brewer
In 2015, British social entrepreneur Tristram Stuart was traveling abroad when he met the founders behind the Brussels Beer Project, who were working on Babylone, a bread-based bitter, made in the style of 5th-Century BCE-era brewers. Stuart, who has dedicated his life to publicly campaigning against food waste, saw a golden opportunity. Back home in the UK, almost half of all bread produced is wasted. According to Stuart the global food system is “hemorrhaging food at every link in the supply chain,” a problem he has worked tirelessly to address with his nonprofit Feedback Global, which advocates for a stable, circular food system.
“I decided to create a beer that could tackle bread waste at an industrial level, whilst raising awareness of food waste globally and raising funds for Feedback,” Stuart says. Thus, Toast Ales was born, a B-Corp Certified company that brews its beer from entirely from unsold loaves of bread. “We brewed our first batch in Hackney, London and launched to coincide with a feature on Jamie Oliver and Jimmy Doherty’s Friday Night Feast in January 2016,” Stuart says.
With over 20 employees and production facilities in six countries, including the US, the UK, Iceland, and South Africa, the company has grown wildly in just two years. In July 2017, Toast opened its first Stateside brewery in the Bronx in collaboration with Bread Alone Bakery. “It's been a year since launch, and we couldn't be happier about the reception here,” says Jo Ehrenreich, general manager of the American branch. Toast has been stocked at Whole Foods since Day 1, and it’s also available at Shake Shacks, Blue Hill, and many other restaurants, stores, and bars across New York City, Long Island, and the Hudson Valley (look for a De Cicco’s near you).
It turns out, brewing with bread is not such a novel concept after all. “The earliest records of fermented grains date back to 4000BC when the Sumer people in Mesopotamia fermented bread to create a “divine drink,” Stuart explains. “The Ancient Babylonians in 2000 BCE continued the tradition and are known to have brewed 20 different varieties.”
Toast’s brewing process is surprisingly similar to that of standard brewers. “We simply replace a third of the malt bill (malted barley) with fresh bread, which is sliced and torn up, then added to the tanks along with the other ingredients,” says Ehrenreich. “Bread replaces the necessary sugars for brewing, making almost any type of beer possible.” The company primarily brews with sourdough, though any kind of bread would do.
At the moment, Bread Alone remains the only supplier for Toast USA. The Catskills-based, family-run bakery chain produces close to 20,000 pounds of fresh bread a day, and of that has only about 200 pounds of leftovers (a far better ratio than the national average)
“We give away bread to all the humans that we can. We have a list of folks that come to the bakery, and we also donate to most of the local community food banks,” says Nels Leader, CEO of Bread Alone. “Anything we can’t give away to people we donate to animal farmers—there are a lot of well fed pigs in the Hudson Valley.” The remainder of the loaves are composted—except when they are reserved by Toast.
Toast and Bread Alone are well aligned from a values perspective. Bread Alone was one of the first bakeries to commit to using organic wheat (before the USDA had even defined the term), and more recently the company has made a deep commitment to sustainability, including investing in renewable resources, high-efficiency ovens, and reducing their waste.
“Toast is a value-added business built around a substantial source of food waste in the world. It’s a challenging business to create, and they are doing a great job,” Leader says. “They’re a nonprofit to boot, so there’s a lot to love.”
The partnership has been scaling up over the past year. “The first brew they did with our bread, they took 100 pounds of leftovers. That lasted them months,” Leader says. More recently, an uptick in beer production and distribution has led to higher and higher bread orders. “They took 600 pounds last week and just ordered another 600 pounds this week,” Leader says. “So, Toast is on pace to become a substantial home for a lot of our leftovers.”
Environmental CommitmentAs a triple-bottom-line company, Toast gives 100 percent of its profits to Feedback Global.
Toast never competes for food pantry or soup kitchen donations, accepting only the loaves that remain after bakeries have made their donations. As of June 21, the certified B-Corp has saved 27,141 pounds of bread from the British landfills, instead using it to brew 34,820 gallons of delicious beer. Through their nascent New York operation, they’ve rescued 2,175 pounds of bread and brewed 5,115 gallons of beer.
The beer list is a cleverly monikered mix of the trending favorites—Much Kneaded Craft Lager, Bloomin’ Lovely Session IPA, Purebread Pale Ale, an American IPA, to name a few. And brewing with bread apparently doesn’t mean sacrificing flavor either. Earlier this year, Toast Ale won the silver medal at the 2018 New York International Beer Competition for their American Pale Ale.
Which leads us to wonder, why isn’t everyone brewing with bread? “The fact remains that as much as third of all bread goes to waste in the US,” Ehrenreich says. “There is plenty to go around.”
The company’s goal is to save more than 100 tonnes of bread from the waste stream in three years, and the clock is ticking. “Unless our concept is scaled properly, we’re never going to be satisfied. The day there’s no more bread waste to be brewed, we can shut up shop and say mission complete,” Ehrenreich says. “Not many businesses count working themselves out of existence as a successful model—but we’re committed to eradicating the root problem. I believe that if you want to change the world you must throw a better party than the people who are destroying it. So, why shouldn’t we all raise a glass to ending food waste?”
Toast USA will celebrate its first birthday in America with a party at the Captain Lawrence brewery in Elmsford on July 21. The party will mark the release of two new beers: a lager and an IPA. There will also be brewery tours and a hog roast. Toastale.com/us/