First Draft: Brewers take on bread-to-beer challenge
No one should go hungry in Pittsburgh.
Not when hundreds of cases of perfectly edible tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce, milk and even meat are tossed out by supermarkets and restaurants every week.
Leah Lizarondo and her organization 412 Food Rescue are able to find a home for most of it. They pick up the food and give it to shelters, pantries, schools and other community organizations.
But there’s one item that often gets tossed out anyway: bread.
“We have so much bread that the market is flooded,” Lizarondo says. “Even the nonprofits say they have enough.”
And it is good quality. Artisan stuff. We’re not talking Wonder Bread. She figured somebody had to want this stuff, even if it was a little stale.
Fortunately, somebody did. But they didn’t want to eat it. They wanted to drink it.
Lizarondo challenged Scott Smith of East End Brewing and a bunch of area homebrewers to see if they could turn leftover loaves into beer.
The homebrewers’ version was served Aug. 28 at a benefit dinner for 412 Food Rescue, and East End is planning a “bread-beer” release sometime in early November, with the proceeds going to the organization.
They thought of it as a fun and — hopefully — tasty way to support 412 Food Rescue and draw attention to its mission.
And why not? Beer is essentially liquid bread. And while there were some technical hurdles to overcome, the brewers were up for it.
“It sort of tests your skills as a brewer to really understand what’s happening in the steps you take for granted, ” Smith says.
It also gave brewers a chance to highlight their own efforts to reduce waste.
There’s no getting around it: Making beer is a resource-intensive process. Estimates vary, but it takes roughly 20 gallons of water to make a pint of beer. And there’s a lot of energy that goes into heating and cooling wort.
Smith and other brewers are sensitive to the issue. They send their grains to dairy and hog farmers. They recapture water, recycle packaging materials and do everything they can to avoid filling Dumpsters.
The bread experiment gave them another opportunity to walk-the-walk.
“Everything you throw away has to go somewhere, and someone else may be able to use it,” says Malcolm Frazer, a member of the Three Rivers Alliance of Serious Homebrewers, or TRASH. “It’s another way of reducing waste, maybe lowering your food costs by recycling in your own household or bringing awareness to the fact that things don’t have to have one use.”
Frazer and Smith did not have to figure everything out for themselves. There is precedent for brewing beer from old bread. A group in the United Kingdom has developed a bread-to-beer recipe, called Toast Ale, and posted it online.
Frazer based his first attempt on that Toast Ale recipe. It needs some tweaks, though. For example, he didn’t realize how much the types of bread would affect the beer’s flavor.
“I think it has potential, but I didn’t do it right,” Frazer says. “Very super hazy … I didn’t get the body.”
Frazer, Smith and the other homebrewers aren’t just trying to make a drinkable beer. They want to make a good beer.
And, to be sure, they had to adapt more than their techniques to make it work. They had to pick the right beer style.
Bread is starchy, which means you’re going to get cloudy beer. That’s OK for some styles, but you’re not going to make a decent pilsner this way.
Frazer opted for wheat pale ale and a Grisette, a low-alcohol Belgian farmhouse style that doesn’t place a premium on clarity.
Smith had a bit more of a head start. He’s experimented with bread-beers before, doing perhaps a half-dozen of them over the years, some more successful than others. One issue he’s faced is finding enough of the right kind of bread.
You can’t just throw any old loaf in with the malted grains. Stale bread is fine, but it can’t be moldy, he says. It has to be preservative-free. Preservatives will hinder the yeast’s ability to ferment. Plus, Smith prefers certain grains, like rye, because of the spicy character they contribute.
Smith is still developing his recipe, though he’s hoping that whatever he creates tastes “like a piece of toast.” He’s also had success making a Russian kvass, a low-alcohol rye-based drink.
Smith and Frazer were confident their beers would come out well. But, even if they don’t, at least the project has given people something else to talk about, Lizarondo says.
“This is a great way to reach a lot of people and talk about food waste via something that everybody loves, which is beer,” she says.
Chris Fleisher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7854 or firstname.lastname@example.org.