Bread and beer have always gone hand-in-hand.
Historians may debate which came first but since the Egyptians discovered the amazing properties of yeast, probably by accident, bread and beer rate highly amongst every countries accomplishments.
Fast forward thousands of years and these two ancient staples could help solve the modern dilemma of food waste and brewers and bakers are getting together again.
London based Toast Ale is already making a great business out of converting leftover slices of mass produced bread into beer. Just before Christmas we went to Horsham Market and stumbled across Crumbs Brewing who are doing the same thing, but with a twist.
Pork Belly enjoyed the tasters they offered so we bought a selection. Over Christmas he and our son subjected them to a rigorous quality control process. All three brews passed the test, so we went to the home of Crumbs, Reigate to find out more.
Beer from bread
Over a good strong coffee in Chalk Hill Bakery’s café we met up with Chief Crumber Morgan Arnell. First we had to find out what his title actually meant.
“It’s not a joke, I really am the chief crumber. There are three of us in the business, my wife Elaine takes care of the accounts so she’s the Crumb Counter, Adria Tarrida works on the marketing side so he’s the Crumb Spreader and I spend a lot of my time cutting up dried bread and putting it into a machine to make crumbs.”
Of course there’s a lot more to it than that.
Morgan is a marketing consultant who’s spent most of his life in the drinks trade working with big breweries. He wanted to branch out into something smaller and more local to celebrate his love of Reigate.
He’d always enjoyed the artisan bread from Chalk Hills Bakery and when he learned owners Chris and Rosie Robinson used to be publicans a germ of an idea began to form. A phone conversation that began “Do you fancy trying to make some beer from your leftover bread?” started the wheels turning.
Harnessing brewing expertise
A simple concept, but tricky to put into action. First Morgan contacted brewing expert, Tim O’Rourke, who became intrigued by the idea and the logistical problems it posed.
“People might say ‘why am I paying artisan prices for a beer made from leftovers?’ They don’t realise a whole load of effort goes into it.
We did a lot of testing on how to get the most out of the bread. The best way to get flavour and the most starch, which is what breaks down into sugars to ferment, is to turn full sized loaves into crumbs.
My wife and I spent an inordinate amount of time in front of a very large crumbing machine bashing bread to bits.”
“Having bread in the brewing process is technically difficult; it needs a good airflow to counteract the stodginess.
The mash gets very heavy and not every brewery was willing to risk their machinery on an untried product. Some local breweries, while interested, didn’t have the capacity to take on the work.”
“Fortunately Goddards on the Isle of Wight were prepared to let us run trials, and as I have connections there and go back several times a year, the logistics worked out okay.”
Once a week Morgan collects the stale loaves from Chalk Hill, turns them into crumbs and freezes them. A couple of times a month he takes them to the brewery where he remains hands-on during the process, learning more with each brew.
“Our first ale was ‘Bloomin’ Amber’ made from Chris’s most popular loaf, the Surrey Bloomer. The bread is an everyday loaf, very versatile so we wanted our brew to reflect that. It’s a dark continental style brew, halfway between ale and lager.
Like the bread, it’s accessible and not pretentious.”
Pork Belly agrees, describing it as a lager with ambition and one he’d happily crack open any time of the year.
Their first brew in May 2017 sold out in a matter of weeks, so the team began to think about a slow and sustained expansion.
“Because we outsource the brewing it’s a low profit product so we had to be careful. We launched a crowdfunding campaign, to make sure we had sufficient backing before we went on to produce our next two brews.”
“The Sourdough Pale Ale uses the crisper, zestier bread crumbs and produces pale ale that’s lower in alcohol, hoppy but light and not overly bitter.
Rye bread is much more complex, dark and interesting with caraway seeds.
This was a more challenging brew to get just right and we’ve produced something darker and stronger. The caraway flavour comes through in the Rye Ruby and it’s a real winter warmer.”
It’s still early days for Crumbs but they’re already planning their next steps.
“We’ll soon be using up all of Chalk Hills’ leftover bread so we need to consider the future. Our whole ethos is to produce something local in partnership with others, a product that reduces waste and has a story to tell.”
“We’re already exploring producing a porter style beer from used coffee grounds and we’re still hoping to partner with a local brewery, something that might happen soon.”
“The fun part has been the learning curve. We’re not pretending to be experts but it’s an adventure in brewing where we’re led by the bread.”
More information about Crumbs Brewing
Crumbs beers are available in several shops in and around Reigate and the team can be found at markets and foodie events.
Full details and info on how to order directly can be found on their website
If you’re interested in how they’re getting on Morgan writes an occasional, light-hearted blog post too.
Photographs ©Adria Tarrida and Crumbs Brewing
Beer sampling by Pork Belly