The Global Language of Business

Beer goes back to its roots; a refreshing take on sustainability

Aug 1, 2019, by Austin Gleeson - Category: Food

Raise a toast to the new beers helping to tackle food waste.

An increasing number of craft brewers are using leftover bread to make beer, this take on sustainability is fresh but bread and beer have a long relationship.

Like many other food and beverages, beers’ origins are hotly debated. Most likely it was developed independently in various parts of the world, perhaps back in the early Neolithic period, over 11,000 years ago.

Beer Rations Tablet
Beer Rations Tablet. Credit:

One of the more interesting debates amongst academics is to whether beer was discovered accidentally, through the use of grains for bread, or whether beer preceded bread and was intentionally developed as an intoxicant. Which puts the phrase “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread” in a whole new light!

However, it is widely agreed that the oldest known recipe for the brewing of beer comes from ancient Mesopotamia. The most popular theory surrounding the production methods of Mesopotamian brewers was their use of crumpled flatbread to create “bappir” (Sumerian for “beer bread”).

Similar to porridge, the brew was thick. Stories describe both humans and their gods consuming the beer through straws to filter out the overly nutritious, but sadly less alcoholic, pieces of bread. The stories do not mention if these were single-use straws or not!

Mesopotamia Beer Gods. Source: Schneider-Weisse

Until relatively recently, if you wanted a similar style of beverage your best option might be to travel to Eastern Europe and try "Kvass", a fermented beverage made from bread. Kvass has a very low alcohol content of around 1.2% and it's not unusual to see it being sold from street-side stalls. We have found this recipe from Holden Wilson at Anthrochef for the brewers amongst you if you’re keen to try his take on Sumerian beer for yourselves.

Sumerian Beer Home Brew
Sumerian Beer Credit: Anthrochef

A tasty take on sustainability

The more contemporary relationship between bread and beer is returning to its historical closeness, driven by a number of food waste campaigners and brewers with a focus on sustainability, food waste, and the circular economy. More than a third of all food produced is wasted according to figures from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. Due to its’ short shelf life, bread is one of the main offenders, with the typical buffers of food banks and feeding programmes being unable to deal with the excess in the supply chain. One of the more refreshing ways to turn this bread waste into valuable products came from the Belgian ‘Brussels Beer Project’ that in 2015 launched “Babylone”, a circular economy project using unsold fresh bread in the recipe.

BabyLone Beer
Babylone Beer. Credit

With a focus on creating positive solutions food waste campaigner Tristram Stuart, was inspired by the approach of the Brussels Beer Project to create Toast Ale; a project that would draw attention to the problem of food waste whilst creating a range of tasty brews with a group of global craft brewers.

Tristam recently spoke to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation about how a simple idea, like returning to a beer brewed from bread, can create a compelling story and accelerate the shift towards a circular economy.

Whilst the Irish links between bread and beer aren’t quite as ancient, they are deeply intertwined, with monks drinking beer during Lent, calling it “liquid bread”; many of our breweries having a monastic heritage; and St. Patrick legendary personal brewer, a priest named Mescan.

That being the case it can only be a matter of time before this tasty take on the circular economy is more prevalent in Ireland, and we'll raise a glass to that.

Time Is A Flat Circle
Credit: HBO

Tags: sustainability, craft beer,