Here's something we can all toast to: A British brewer has perfected a way to turn surplus bread from bakeries and sandwich shops into a popular craft beer.
Toast Ale uses upcycled bread (approximately one slice per pint) to replace a third of the barley typically used in beer production, all while preventing food waste and reducing its environmental impact.
Louisa Ziane, the chief operating officer, says the technique is actually based on an historic brewing method from Mesopotamia.
"The ancient Babylonians used to create a divine drink that was made by fermenting bread," she says. "It wasn't beer as we know it today — it was probably more like an alcoholic porridge — but the principal idea of fermenting a grain in order to preserve the nutrients and create this additional intoxicating effect was the very origin of brewing."
Toast Ale has collaborated with 56 breweries in 7 countries to share its modern bread-to-beer method, as well as promote its greater mission of getting the entire industry onboard to combat regional waste. Increasingly, it's not alone in this fight.
Waste is the latest cause célèbre across the food and beverage world. The USDA estimates that 30-40% of the US food supply is squandered between production and purchase. It's a similar story around the globe.
That's why a growing line-up of forward-thinking producers are now using discarded grocery items to create ales and spirits that pair great tastes with a good cause.
"The food system is the biggest contributor to climate change and biodiversity loss ... so by fixing an inefficacy in the food system, we have a really great opportunity to take action that will mitigate climate change," Ziane says. "Plus, food is a great topic on which to engage people in climate solutions without making them feel guilty."
Below is a look at nine brewers and distillers who, like Toast Ale, are turning today's trash into tomorrow's booze.
Catch of the Day, Iceland
Björn Steinar is a product designer and "professional dumpster diver" who believes so strongly that we shouldn't tolerate food waste that he frequents the rubbish bins of food importers in Reykjavik to make handcrafted vodka out of fruits tossed away due to fluctuations in supply and demand.
Steinar does this using a simple open-source distilling machine to show how anyone with spare change and space in their garage could replicate his methods.
The resulting Catch of the Day spirits come in flavors like blood orange, melon or apple, ensuring that these unwanted fruits will forever outlive any "best before" dates.
Where there's a will, there's a whey — at least, that seems to be the motto of this Tasmanian micro-distillery that turns whey (the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained) into award-winning spirits.
Hartshorn Distillery produces the world's first vodkas, whiskeys and gins made from sheep's whey, the latter of which includes rare Aussie botanicals and won a gold medal at the 2018 World Gin Awards.
It's common in the industry to mask your base ingredient through triple distillation, but creator Ryan Hartshorn double distills his spirits (and doesn't filter them) so that the whey's natural flavor profile shines through when they're sipped neat.
The idea came to the so-called "vodka shepherd" as a creative way to upcycle waste from his family's Grandvewe Cheesery, which produces blue, manchego and spreadable sheep cheeses from the same animals that give birth to the spirits.
Dairy Distillery, Canada
Hartshorn isn't the only one in the dairy business turning animal byproducts into alcohol.
The process dates back over a thousand years with the Mongols, who have a long history of fermenting milk sugar into alcohol.
Most global dairy farmers these days dispose of their milk permeate, which is an expensive process when done safety.
Dairy Distillery saw an opportunity in this waste and, working in collaboration with the University of Ottawa on a lactose-loving yeast, perfected a production process that has half the carbon footprint of distillers using grain, corn or potatoes.
The resulting product is served in an old-timey milk bottle — a reminder of the vodka's unexpected origins.
Misadventure Vodka, California
Vodka, it seems, can be made from all kinds of wacky base ingredients, including donuts, croissants, cupcakes, cookies and even Twinkies!
San Diego's Misadventure & Co uses all of those and more.
Its Misadventure Vodka is, rather unsurprisingly, the world's first spirit made from surplus pastries, which are often avoided by food banks who prefer more nutritious options.
These starches that would otherwise end up in landfills, creating methane as they decompose, are instead converted into sugars that are then eaten by microscopic yeast to form a spirit that bears no resemblance to its bakery origins.
If fact, Misadventure Vodka is a perfectly smooth and neutral addition to any cocktail by the time it's distilled a whopping 12 times and loaded into dark brown bottles.
Greensand Ridge, United Kingdom
Greensand Ridge, the U.K.'s first carbon-neutral distillery, lets the seasonal surplus of Kent farms (and the regional food system) dictate what spirits it'll produce.
In practice, that means bespoke apple, plum and raspberry brandies, as well as gins that speak to the raw materials that are local and not suitable for supermarkets.
Founder Will Edge also makes a delicate honey-like rum using the surplus molasses from sugar production, which is a far cry from mass-produced Caribbean rums where added sugar and spices often mask the spirit.
To bring the process full circle, Edge uses Greensand's own organic waste as feed for local boar.
A team of researchers from the National University of Singapore has developed a novel way to create an alcoholic drink from tofu whey, a by-product of tofu production that, when discarded as an untreated waste, can contribute to oxygen depletion in waterways.
Called Sachi, it's made using an innovative fermentation technique that actually enriches it with calcium, prebiotics and isoflavones, which the researchers say may help protect against cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and hormone-dependent cancers.
The sake-like beverage has an alcohol content of about 8% and is said to be slightly sweet with both fruity and floral notes.
There's no word yet on when Sachi will go into commercial production, but it's hoped that it could play a key role in reducing waste in the burgeoning plant-based protein market.
Ventura Spirits, California
The sad truth of our picky consumption habits is that some fruits are simply not pretty enough for the supermarket.
Yet, that doesn't mean they taste inferior to their brethren that make it onto the fruit aisle.
The brandy goes through a four-year-long aging process in neutral French oak casks, giving those not-ready-for-primetime strawberries a chance to become the stars of the show.
Atlas Brew Works, Washington, D.C.
Speaking of "ugly" food, Atlas Brew Works makes a sour ale called Ugly & Stoned, which is crafted with aesthetically challenged stone fruits (think: peaches, plums and nectarines) that got shunned by shoppers and were too bruised to send to a food bank.
A collaboration with MOM's Organic Market and the Environmental Working Group, Ugly & Stoned aims to put the issue of food waste on the dinner table and showcase a simple and creative solution to the problem.
The kettle-soured American ale is a tart brew that, like all draughts at this Washington, D.C., brewery, is made with 100% solar energy.
Foxhole Spirits, United Kingdom
Even pretty fruit can easily go to waste in the myriad steps between production and purchase. For example, the process of cutting, trimming and packing table grapes to fit supermarket baskets leaves loose fruit and tiny bunches that will never be sold as fresh.
That's where Foxhole Spirits steps in.
The British producer transforms surplus supermarket grapes into alcohol, blends that with a grain spirit and then flavors the mix with 15 botanicals — including coriander, myrrh and rooibos — to produce its sustainably-sourced HYKE Gin.
Foxhole also launched the HYKE Signature Series to use more fruits that would otherwise go unused, including discarded oranges for a gin and tonic with a zesty tang.
In a happy twist of fate, the rejected fruit ends up back in U.K. supermarkets such as Tesco as an adults-only product that is unlikely to go to waste.
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