By Cat Wolinski
Food waste is a growing global issue, famously claiming the shocking statistic that 40 percent of food in the US is thrown away.* But in recent years, global organizations like Feedback, based in London, have been working to put a stop to food waste, not the least of its efforts being devoted to our favorite agricultural product: beer.
Toast Ale USA is the US-based arm of the original Toast Ale, founded by global food waste fighter and author, Tristram Stuart, who also founded Feedback. The sister organizations brew beer using surplus bread collected from area bakeries, with 100 percent of profits going to Feedback.
Toast Ale USA’s flagship pale ale, Toast American Pale Ale, as ASN reported, launched in Whole Foods followed by other retailers in New York City and Long Island in July.
So, what kind of stale bread can you use to make beer? “Any kind of bread, so long as it doesn’t have seeds, nuts or dried fruit,” says Madi Holtzman, Toast Ale USA director of operations, noting that such tasty additions can harm brewery equipment. According to Holtzman, roughly 60 to 70 percent of the grain bill is comprised of leftover bread, a “flexible combination” of white, wheat, rye, sourdough, and multigrain.
An enticing variety, but Holtzman says, the type of dough is surprisingly irrelevant. “It’s the long chain carbohydrates that we’re fermenting, so in terms of flavor, we’re still relying on malt,” she says, which is Caramalt.
As the only paid employee, Holtzman is practically running a one-woman show, relying on interns to help with PR, marketing and events. In fact, she herself is a student, going for her Master’s degree in food studies at New York University.
“I have become obsessed with food waste in the past two years, and the absurd social and environmental problems [it causes],” she says. She met Stuart at a Feedback event in Union Square last spring, who “casually mentioned this Toast idea that had just launched in London,” she recalls.
Stuart eventually tapped her to take on the roll, which she readily accepted and which has since become “very full time. School has become very part time,” she says. But that’s not to say she’s not learning. “I feel like I’m getting a crash course MBA, learning about the ins and outs of every aspect of setting up a business. It’s been a rollercoaster for sure…very overwhelming at times, but also empowering. It keeps me on my toes 100 percent.”
While it’s safe to say Toast Ale USA is based in New York, it’s difficult to pin down exactly where: “We’re in a co-working space in Chelsea [Manhattan], we’re brewing in the Bronx [at Chelsea Craft Brewing Co.], and our primary bread partner is Bread Alone, based upstate New York,” says Holtzman. What’s clear is that the root of the company’s efforts is in its partnerships with local, like-minded organizations. For the time being, that’s exclusively Bread Alone, which Holtzman says has been “the perfect partner.”
That’s not to say Toast won’t expand – Holtzman says she can see herself someday working with the likes of Eataly, Orwasher’s, Runner & Stone, or Granddaisy. Excited, she rattles off a few more ideas: a one-off collaboration with Daily Provisions, a bakery associated with the Union Square Market; or perhaps a collaboration with Roberta’s, in Brooklyn.
Toast Ale USA could even, she projects, expand to more cities, like Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh. “Down the road, we intend to partner with regional non-profits throughout the U.S. and local food waste and food recovery groups.” For now, though, the focus is getting Toast Ale into as many hands as possible here in the Northeast.
“It’s literally a message in a can,” she says.
*Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill, Natural Resources Defense Council.