Ecocentricity Blog: Brewing Full Circle

By: John A. Lanier
Sep 11, 2019 9:30 AM ET
Summary: 

They fully understand that bread-to-beer is a lower-value use of the nutrients, but it’s a heck of a lot better than the bread going to a landfill. I’m impressed, because it shows they have a robust understanding of how the circular economy should work.

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I wish I knew who told me this joke, but alas, my memory fails me. Tip of the cap to you, Mystery Person. You’ve won quite a few chuckles off me over the years.

“I wonder who the first person was to look at a cow and think, ‘I want to drink what comes out of those dangly things.’”

Yep, I’m laughing to myself right now. Good times. I wish I was funny….

Relatedly, who was the first person to soak some grains in water, magically have that sugar-water begin to ferment from wild yeast in the air, leave that concoction to do its thing for a while, and then decide to drink the end-product? I imagine that brave human bringing the liquid to his or her lips thinking, “This will probably kill me this will probably kill me this will probably kill me……[sip]……..oh my gosh this is amazing! World, I give you beer!”

Remarkably, scientists have shown from chemically-tested pottery jars that humans have been brewing beer for at least 7000 years. We apparently invented beer before we invented the wheel. That’s worth a collective human pat-on-the-back, right? Go us!

The earliest recorded beer recipe is nearly 4000 years old. Archaeologists have discovered ancient clay tablets with the Sumerian language, and one of them contains a poem to the Sumerian goddess Ninkasi. The poem is literally instructions on how to make beer from bread. Not only did these ancient Mesopotamians make beer: they liked it enough to work it into their religion.

Today, beer has grown into an industry…a big one. Global 2018 beer sales passed $600 billion last year, and I bet that number will keep rising. It may not be religious today (well, maybe it is for some), but I think modern humans like beer as much as the ancients did, if not more.

I think it’s cool that some folks are even returning to an ancient method of brewing beer, and embracing the circular economy at the same time. In general, people don’t brew beer from bread anymore, opting instead just to boil malted grains. But bread-to-beer absolutely still works, and it’s the main idea behind Toast Ale.

Started just a few years ago, Toast Ale was meant to help address the problem of food waste through our collective desire for good beer. They figured out how to replace one third of the grain bill with old bread, and the beer is dang good (though limited in its availability, unfortunately).

The skeptics among you might be thinking, “If we’re worried about food waste, shouldn’t we be eating bread instead of using it for beer?” To that, the folks at Toast Ale agree (as do I). From their website: “We never take bread that could instead feed people via one of the many brilliant organisations that receive and use, or otherwise help with, donations of surplus food.” They fully understand that bread-to-beer is a lower-value use of the nutrients, but it’s a heck of a lot better than the bread going to a landfill. I’m impressed, because it shows they have a robust understanding of how the circular economy should work.

So if you ever see Toast Ale (likely in the UK or in New York City), raise a glass!

Valerie Bennett
Ray C. Anderson Foundation
+1 (770) 317-5858