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These Belgian Brewers Are Turning Wasted Bread Into Tasty Beer

About 500 kilograms of uneaten bread can be processed using yeast and US- or UK-sourced hops and made into a 4,000-liter batch of the beer, which is a 7-percent amber called Babylone.

Hilary Pollack

Hilary Pollack

Photo courtesy of Brussels Beer Project

Craft beer brewing has been exploding—literally and figuratively—in the past decade. Trade group The Brewers Association reports that the number of regional microbreweries in the US more than doubled between 2008 and 2014—from 1,521 to 3,200, respectively—and Europe, Asia, and South America have seem similar brewing booms. One of the strengths of the scene is the sense of ingenuity and adaptability. Because many of the beer varieties are made in small runs, there's ample opportunity to experiment with ingredients and process.

Which brings us to Belgium's Brussels Beer Project, which wants to take your unwanted bread and turn it into delicious booze. Typically, beer is made from a simple mixture of water, yeast, hops, and barley (or another similar grain). But with food waste an ever-growing problem in Western societies—an astonishing 40 percent of food goes to waste in the US, for example—BBP cofounder Sebastien Morvan thought up a way of killing two birds with one stone: making some of that waste into something that can get us drunk.

In Brussels, bread is a major player in the local food waste problem, comprising 20 percent of the sustenance that ends up in city dumpsters. Using a little simple mathematics (what are those, again?), Morvan's desire to find a home for the wayward baguettes and slices motivated him to discover that about one and a half slices of bread per bottle can reduce his brew's barley usage by 30 percent. He teamed up with Atelier Groot Eiland—a nonprofit focused on employment and education—to produce leftover and unsellable bread from local supermarkets that could be processed into meal suitable for beer-making. About 500 kilograms of the uneaten bread can be processed using yeast and US- or UK-sourced hops and made into a 4,000-liter batch of the beer, which is a 7-percent amber called Babylone.

Although the BBP's project is certainly an admirable way to address food upcycling, it's far from the first time that bread has been used to make beer. We all know that you can do the opposite—as in, bake bread that contains beer—and you'll find stout breads and Guinness cakes all over, but brewing with bread is actually a millennia-old process. Some beer academics even speculate that beer was originally a by-product of early bread-making up to 10,000 years ago, when accidental fermentation of damp grains during the malting or mashing process resulted in the foamy, drinkable liquid we so know and love today.

Morvan says that the ensuing variety is admittedly an acquired taste, and that it "might not please everybody's palate." "It's fusion between maybe what they used to do with bread 1,000 years ago and contemporary brewing," he told Reuters.

One of the biggest challenges that the brewers faced was finding the right way to process the bread so that it didn't clog up the brewing machinery. But it's better that it finds itself stuck there—or even more preferable, in a beer—rather than local waste bins.