I only know two Russian proverbs. And one of those goes like this: “Foolish is the man who thinks he can reduce War and Peace to a six-part TV series for Sunday night telly.”
Before relaying the other, let’s just admit that BBC 1’s War and Peace is a fantastic treat, marred only by a sense of having been more condensed more fully than a can of that sweet milk.
Enough of that though, as this morning I wish to talk about beer and bread, two important ingredients in a life roundly lived. That at least is my theory, one which has got me this far.
Here, then, is the proper Russian proverb: “When you die, all the bread you ever wasted is weighed. If it is heavier than you, hell is your destination.”
That came from one of my many bread recipe books, and I remember those words when tipping a small concrete chunk of stale bread into the bin. Stale bread can have many uses, not least in making croutons for soup, but there does come a point when what was once springy and fresh is beyond alternative use.
So I was thrilled to read about a London brewer who is using waste bread to make beer; genuinely pleased, as here were two of my favourite things joined in parsimonious union.
The Hackney Brewery is reported to have made beer from unsold loaves of bread, the first time this has been done in Britain. The ale is made from “bread that would otherwise be thrown away by bakeries, delicatessens and supermarkets”, according to the Guardian.
The idea for the beer came from Tristram Stuart, founder of the charity Feedback, which campaigns to end food waste, and was inspired by a Belgian brewer who already follows this process.
Stuart says that 24 million slices of bread are thrown away every year in this country. An awful lot of bread. And an awful lot of people going to hell.
Toast Ale is made by turning waste loaves into breadcrumbs which are toasted and then brewed with malted barley, hops and yeast. The resulting beer is said to be a pale ale with a distinctive taste. Each bottle uses one slice of bread, and all profits go back to the Feedback charity.
Toast Ale costs £3 for a 330ml bottle. That sounds a lot but I will definitely give it a try.
This crusty ale seems like a good way to raise the matter of what we throw away. According to a survey by Love Food Hate Waste, 49 per cent of adults eat bread every day, with 38 per cent buying two loaves a week (the same number as I bake each week). Shockingly, 18 per cent of bread buyers admitted to throwing away a whole loaf before opening it, while 25 per cent threw away the end of a loaf.
As for the ale, there is a pleasing wholeness to this idea, as bread and beer have always been linked, and not only in my diet. Bread needs assistance to rise in the oven, and this comes from yeast. Before the production of commercial yeast, early bakers made their own sourdough cultures (popular again now among craft bakers and bread-obsessed home bread bores) or made a ‘barm’ using yeast residue skimmed from the top of beer during the brewing process. This yeasted scum was fed with flour and left to grow, after which it could be used to raise bread.
Home bakers can have fun using live beer, which still has yeast in the bottle, to experiment with in making beer. Although you do have to waste a bottle of beer to do that.