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Toast Ale, the charitable brewery making beer from bread

PUBLISHED: 13:16 03 October 2017

At the mash tun stage, where bread is a vital ingredient (photo: © Tom Moggach)

At the mash tun stage, where bread is a vital ingredient (photo: © Tom Moggach)

Tom Moggach

Craft beer brewed with surplus fresh bread and all profits going to a charity devoted to ending food waste; what's not to love?

Toast Pale Ale (photo: © Mark Wesley)Toast Pale Ale (photo: © Mark Wesley)

The puns come thick and fast when you’re hearing all about Toast Ale, a company brewing beer with surplus bread and whose mission is “ending food waste one beer at a time.”

For a start, I’m speaking to ceo Rob Wilson, who has the glorious title of Chief Toaster and has been advising Toast since its inception in late 2015 before joining it full time. Naturally, he jokes that it’s the best thing since sliced bread.

Now an increasing number of brewers, both in the UK and internationally, are taking up the challenge to brew with surplus bread and you can find Toast Ale on the shelves of the UK’s largest retailer Tesco as well as Waitrose and a host of independent shops, restaurants and bars.

Prior to Toast, Rob led an organisation called Ashoka which supports a global network of social entrepreneurs to scale their system-changing enterprises. They included Toast’s founder Tristram Stuart.

Chief Toaster, Rob Wilson (photo: © Fred MacGregor)Chief Toaster, Rob Wilson (photo: © Fred MacGregor)

Over the past 15 years the Tonbridge father of two young sons has launched a number of social-change organisations such as READ International: supporting education in East Africa; Generation Change: supporting youth social action in the UK and Undivided: a campaign to get the best possible Brexit deal for young people.

He has co-authored a book with his wife Nikki about social entrepreneurs in Africa called On the Up, which the couple wrote on honeymoon while travelling from Cape Town to Cairo.

However, Rob tells me, nothing has ever captured his attention or imagination like Toast. “We’re saving food that would otherwise go to waste, we’re raising awareness about food waste, we’re ploughing our profits into the amazing food waste charity Feedback and at the centre of it all is the best beer you’ll ever drink!”

Toast’s founder Tristram is an author, speaker, campaigner and expert on the environmental and social impacts of food production. All profits go to Feedback, the charity he also founded, which aims to put a stop to food waste.

Tristram was inspired by the Brussels Beer Project, which created ‘Babylone’ with bread that would otherwise be wasted, based on an ancient Babylonian recipe – making beer out of bread is an “innovation” that may be as old as bread itself.

The facts behind Toast Ale speak for themselves: a staggering 44 per cent of bread is wasted, so brewing a craft ale that uses unsold loaves from bakeries and unused crusts from sandwich makers, plus the natural ingredients of hops, yeast and water makes such sense you can’t believe it hasn’t been done on any scale since Babylonian times.

Right from the beginning there was massive interest quickly followed by celebrity endorsement. “Jamie Oliver featured our first beer when we launched, which gave us the golden ‘Jamie glow’, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has talked about Toast, we’ve been on The One Show – people get captured by the concept and so many still remember Jamie talking about us,” beams Rob.

The now multi-award-winning beer is brewed by master brewers in Yorkshire and Rob is also collaborating on future projects with craft breweries all over the UK. Toast Ale has launched in the USA, South Africa and Brazil, with plans to expand into Australia, New Zealand, India and Singapore. The world is its bread bin.

Currently there are three core products – the flagship Pale Ale was followed by Bloomin’ Lovely Session IPA and then the Much Kneaded Craft Lager. A Top Lager Special Edition was introduced for Summer 2017.

Each bottle bears a discreet ‘did you know label’ with such nuggets as the UK wastes 46m slices of bread a day. “We don’t want to seem like we’re preaching or poking a finger, we just want to communicate in quite a subtle way one of the most urgent issues of our era: one third of the food we produce is going to waste,” says Rob.

“Most people aren’t aware of just how massive this issue is, they think it’s the airline or car industry, or oil and gas as the biggest challenges to our environment. But the reality is that there is another huge contributing factor that we’re all as much part of as when we turn on the lights and expect power to come through; when it comes to the food-production system, we are massively wasteful.”

He adds: “Next year we hope to bring in a beer we’ve launched in New York to the UK range, American Pale Ale. It’s important to us that we make localised versions as we don’t want them all to taste alike – we’re not interested in a Coca-Cola concept!”

Rob would love to do a Kent-based collaboration to make a bread-based beer and strongly believes every brewery should be replacing a small quantity of its grain with bread. And it doesn’t have to be fancy artisan bread either.

“Industrial-scale wastage is happening at the sandwich manufacturer level and serendipitously cheap and cheerful has turned out to be the best bread for our beer. If there are too many nuts or seeds in the bread then it starts to affect the taste and clog up the mash tuns,” says Rob.

Form an orderly queue here, sandwich makers and brewers of Kent …

How to make Toast Ale

We combine surplus fresh bread with malted barley, oat husks, hops, yeast and water. Bread is packed with carbohydrates, which are broken down to sugar by amylase in the barley, then yeast converts the sugar to alcohol.

Toast’s founding principles

1. To produce great craft beer that consumers love

2. To eliminate bread waste directly by brewing as much of it as possible

3. To raise awareness of the problems of, and solutions to, food waste

4. To maximise profits, all which will go directly to Feedback and other local food waste organisations

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