“To change the world you have to throw a better party than the people destroying it. We brew our award-winning beer using unsold loaves from bakeries and unused crusts from sandwich makers. With a slice of surplus fresh bread in every bottle and all profits going to the charity Feedback to fight food waste, Toast is the best thing since… well, you know.”
So goes the mission statement of Toast Ale, led by Chief Toaster Rob Wilson, who visited the Turl Street Kitchen as part of an Oxford Hub lunchtime talk. A few years ago, Wilson identified a blessing in disguise: unfortunately, 44% of bread produced in the UK is wasted, between initial overproduction, at the sandwich factory and bakery stages, and in households, and he found a way to repurpose bread that was previously banished to the dumpster into an interesting component of a delicious drink. By replacing one third of the malted barley with bread, Wilson and his colleagues have created an award-winning, socially conscious beverage. Toast has nothing to hide: the recipe is available online for home brewers to experiment for themselves, though, Wilson reminds us to please source excess bread rather than store-bought. The ratios and methods took some time to develop; Wilson explains how replacing half of the barley with bread was too much (you shouldn’t be able to detect any ‘bread notes’ in the current rendition) and how they initially toasted the bread for a caramel flavour but this became too laborious. Also, they initially hired students to tear the bread, but now own a garden shredder to turn the bread into crumbs. Since starting this company, Wilson has become a self-proclaimed bread nerd, and he eagerly tells us about how they use sandwich bread because it is higher in sugar and lower in salt than artisanal bread; this higher sugar to salt ratio works better for the brewing process.
Wilson recognises the challenges in marketing the beer. He is confident in letting the taste do the work, and he describes with pride winning a blind taste test against Guinness as a David and Goliath moment. Wilson also retells a time when he surprised someone in a pub drinking Toast and they initially discussed the taste. When the client asked Wilson to further describe the story, they found the excess bread aspect fascinating, but in saying that all profits go to charity, the Toast-drinker was put off and dubbed it a ‘charity beer.’ Wilson’s primary goal is for Toast to be regarded as good-quality beer, foundation story aside. His second motive is to utilise the beer industry to reduce (and perhaps eliminate?) bread waste. He does acknowledge that this would mean the end of Toast and that is actually a long-term goal. The third principle surrounding Toast is to spur conversation around food waste, because “beer is sexier and trendier than talking about food waste,” and the final motive is the charity aspect.
After describing the origins of Toast, Wilson opened up the floor for an intimate question-and-answer session, where he went into detail about how they source the excess bread (they do not take bread that would be going towards feeding the hungry), how expanding globally has brought new challenges, how he is looking to create an airbnb-style platform to connect bakers and brewers, and the pros and cons of glass bottles versus cans.
Overall, the Oxford Hub at Turl Street Kitchen provided a warm atmosphere for Wilson’s familial and candid talk about Toast. You can drink Toast Ale at Turl Street Kitchen, or find it in your local Tesco and Waitrose.