Crack open a can of . . . toast?
That’s what you’ll be able to do when New York City-based burger chain Shake Shack introduces 12-ounce cans of Toast American pale ale — a craft beer brewed with fresh surplus bread that would otherwise be discarded — in restaurants across the boroughs on Friday.
Toast founder Tristram Stuart, 40, got his idea for the bread-recycling operation he launched in the United Kingdom in 2016 after visiting a microbrewery in Belgium. Instead of mashing just barley malt — step one of the brewing process, which involves heating and stirring the grain in water until it starts to release an enzyme that breaks long carbohydrates into sugars — he replaces up to 40 percent with torn bits of bread.
“The very first recipes for beer from the ancient Babylonians were precisely designed to use bread and other grain-based foods that otherwise . . . wouldn’t be preserved,” Stuart says. “The process of fermentation is the process of preservation. . . . So what we’ve done is brought brewing back to its historical origins.”
Stuart, whose nonprofit, Feedback, has been campaigning to end food waste since 2009, and who enjoys a prominent cameo in the recent Anthony Bourdain documentary “Wasted!,” estimates that 44 percent of the bread baked in the United Kingdom goes to waste. It’s a slightly smaller percentage in the United States, where Toast produced its first batch of stateside beer with the help of the Chelsea Craft Brewing Company in the Bronx.
Brewing beer with that excess toast is a way of “raising its value,” Stuart says, “but also communicating with the public the causes and the delicious solutions to this problem.” (All of Toast’s profits feed into Stuart’s charity, the company says.)
At Shake Shacks around the city, the Toast suds for sale will be an American pale ale, prepared at an upstate brewery with leftover slices from the organic, family-owned Breads Alone Bakery. The ratio is about one slice of bread per can.
The pale ale is a golden-colored beverage that goes down smoothly with notes of caramel and tropical citrus, according to Joanna Ehrenreich, the head of operations and marketing for Toast’s U.S. operations.
“The mission and the story is all very good, but that isn’t going to sell beer unless the beer is excellent,” Stuart says, noting Toast’s accolades. (Its session IPA won a silver award in the 2017 International Beer Challenge last year.) “Our view is that this is a beer that will stand up to any other.”
The beer buyer on Shake Shack’s supply chain agreed, Ehrenreich says. When Toast pitched the idea of a partnership, its highest profile to date, Shake Shack “loved the concept of Toast Ale because of both the taste of our beer and how our cause fits in with their mission to ‘Stand for something good.’ ”
”We love partnering with suppliers who support a mission of sustainability,” Jeff Amoscato, Shake Shack’s vice president of supply chain and menu innovation, said. “Toast is seeking to better the industry by fighting food waste. Not to mention, Toast Ale is delicious!”
Danny Meyer’s burger chain has a reputation for being environmentally and socially conscious, with initiatives like composting and donating 5 percent of profits to a local charity, its website says. Meyer himself has publicly affirmed support for food waste reduction, voicing commitment in 2013 to then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s initiative to reduce the amount of food the restaurants in his Union Square Hospitality Group sent to landfills by 50 percent.
Shake Shack will donate all Toast pale ale proceeds from launch weekend to Stuart’s Feedback nonprofit and hand out free “Kick Back and Shack” cozies to the first 50 guests who try the new beer at participating restaurants.