Can Bagel-Brewed Beer Solve the Problem of Food Waste on Long Island?

Local brewers are partnering with bagel shops to fight food waste on Long Island.

Seven local breweries are now making bagel beers for charity.

As many of our adventures do, this all started with Kevin going down a bit of a late-night Google rabbit hole. The initial search was “how to increase the body and head retention of hard cider,” and next thing you know, he was researching nontraditional brewing grains, specifically bread. Bread led to bagels and yada yada yada . . . seven local breweries are now making bagel beers for charity.

Back to the “yada.” While looking for recipe guidance, we stumbled upon Toast, a British-based project that uses wasted bread to brew beer. In the United Kingdom, 44 percent of all bread winds up in the trash. Toast Ale reclaims some of that and includes it in their recipes for a lager, pale ale and IPA. Not only are they converting excess food into something people can enjoy, all profits are donated to a charity combating food waste on a global scale.

What toast is to a full English breakfast, bagels are to a New York breakfast (or late-night snack). Most times when we come home with a dozen bagels, a few get eaten and most wind up stale before we remember to freeze them. We figured that instead of throwing them out, we could try using them during our next brew day.

While many local bagel shops donate much of their excess food to those in need, a lot still winds up going to waste.

Turns out using bread to brew beer is not a new idea. In ancient times, it’s said that a variety of alcoholic beverages were made by fermenting bread. This makes sense, since beer is essentially water, hops, yeast and malt and is often called “liquid bread.” For the malt portion, typically grains like barley, rye and oats are heated in water in order to extract sugar and starch from them. Bread of all types can serve a similar purpose and be used as a substitute for some or all of the grain. We spoke to Pat Alfred, brewer at Greenport Harbor, who added, “Bagels aren’t that abstract from the traditional brewing ingredients, and I believe they have something to contribute to the beer.”

Though saving a handful of bagels from our own garbage was well intentioned, we began to think about how many must get wasted on a daily basis. Not only in people’s homes but in bagel shops as well. After speaking with a few of these local shops, our suspicion was confirmed—while many do donate much of their excess food to those in need, a lot still winds up going to waste.

So the idea grew, and in addition to experimenting with our own recipes, Barrage Brewing Company, Blind Bat Brewery, the Brewers Collective, Greenport Harbor Brewing, Spider Bite Beer Co., Sand City Brewing Co. and SquareHead Brewing are going to join us and produce their own socially conscious beers. We will all be using leftover bagels provided by the Long Island Bagel Café, which just so happens to have a location in our neighborhood.

Proceeds from ticket sales—as well as a coat and toy drive—will benefit local charities as well as Rescuing Leftover Cuisine of New York City.

In the same way that malts each have their own unique flavors—dark malts impart rich, roasted flavors in beer, while pilsner malt adds sweet, honey-like notes—different bagel varieties will influence the end result. Pumpernickel bagels can replace rye, while cinnamon raisin and French toast lend themselves to dessert beers. Who knows, a rainbow bagel might even explode like a colorful bath bomb in a warm tub of beer.

The Brewers Collective will be brewing kvass, a very low ABV Slavic fermented drink made from rye bread. “Our version will be a bit stronger than is tradition and made with bagels from New York, which everyone knows are the best in the country,” says co-owner and brewer Tim Dougherty. Paul Dlugokencky of Blind Bat Brewery is also aiming to utilize rye flavors, but in a very different way. “With bagels having been born in the Jewish communities of Poland, I’ll be brewing a Polish-inspired Baltic porter using pumpernickel bagels in the mash.”

Once we perfect our homebrew bagel beer recipe, we will be sharing it on this very website. Additionally, we are organizing an event where all the bagel beers will be served under one roof. Since the breweries are going “old school” and brewing on their smaller, pilot systems, the beer will be very limited. Proceeds from ticket sales—as well as a coat and toy drive—will benefit local charities as well as Rescuing Leftover Cuisine of New York City.

Kevin Sihler of Sand City said it best: “We’re literally taking the waste and turning it into something that gives back to the community. That’s a neat thing.”

Since 2013, Rescuing Leftover Cuisine has taken over one million pounds of leftover food and transformed it into meals for the needy. Forty percent of food in the United States is thrown away, while one in seven Americans is food insecure. In addition to rescuing food, they also aim to tackle the issue of excess production and have partnered with food providers across the country to reduce waste at the source.

Along with the help of the local brewing community, we hope to bring attention to this issue in a unique way. Though bagels and beer definitely don’t seem like a typical pairing, we are all aiming to merge the two into something that tastes good while doing good. We think Kevin Sihler of Sand City said it best: “We’re literally taking the waste and turning it into something that gives back to the community. That’s a neat thing.”

You can help support Socially Conscious Beer’s quest to eliminate food waste on Long Island by attending their event—Nothing Wasted—on Thursday, November 30 in Melville.

Illustrations by Kevin Breslawski.

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Husband and wife team Alicia Valeo and Kevin Breslawski write the blog Beer Loves Company.