tl;dr – Making a witbier using 50% household waste bread
Over a year ago, I wrote about making beer from bread. That post had been precipitated by a talk by a food waste charity, who were looking at ways of reducing the shocking amounts of wasted bread, and, in it, I touched briefly on what I thought of as the central problem with using otherwise wasted bread in brewing; that, while the intention is good, there’s no obvious upside from a brewing point of view. Bread on its own does not seem to be a particularly tasty substitute for base malts, and its use as an adjunct causes more problems that it solves, so making beers like Toast Ale seems, from the outside, to be largely about covering up and hiding the bread component. Both the original Toast Ale and, before that, the similar Babylone (from Brussels Beer Project) were Pale Ales and that’s not a style many would choose to highlight a malt component.
On the other hand, that’s not necessarily the point of the exercise. It’s perfectly valid to hide a bit of waste bread in your grist… every kilo in the mash tun doesn’t go to landfill, the beers themselves are perfectly decent and, more importantly, are drawing attention to a damaging issue many people may not have even considered. I’m sure it was never Feedback’s intention to convince breweries to chuck out all their Marris Otter and, as a food waste charity, that probably wouldn’t be a good outcome for them either.
What if we did want to use bread as a serious brewing ingredient, though? What if it’s actually delicious? You never know until you try. Second best case scenario: what if it’s merely palatable but cheap? God knows, there’s plenty of room for that in the global brewing industry. Tell ABInBev they can replace half their grist for free and no-one will notice, and we wouldn’t have a waste bread problem for long. Worth finding out, I thought…. here’s my thought process:
When Hackney Brewery made their version of toast ale they decided, after some experimentation, to use one type of bread, cut into slices, and toasted/dried in an oven. This makes a lot of sense, for consistency, conversion, and imparting some extra flavour, but this kind of processing mitigates against the widespread (and high-percentage) use of bread in brewing by adding extra time, labour and energy costs. If you can’t just get a delivery of bread, hack it roughly into manageable chunks, and dump it in the mash, then I think the idea of bread as a significant ingredient is a non-starter. So that’s what I’m going to do.
While there’s obviously a incontestable, and tightly enforced, international law that absolutely everything, everywhere has to be a Pale Ale, we might be able to get away with something else if it’s just a small batch. Bread is mostly wheat, so a wheat beer of some sort seems the logical choice and, of those, Witbier seemed the most promising style, for two reasons: Firstly, the spice and yeast flavours may pull some focus away from the bread and, secondly, witbiers traditionally use unmalted wheat. Wheat for bread flour is never malted in the first place, and any enzymes there might be are destroyed by baking, so bread probably most resembles unmalted wheat, as an ingredient.
|Batch Size||Boil Time||IBU||SRM||Est. OG||Est. FG||ABV|
|25 L||90 min||9.7 IBUs||6.9 EBC||1.048||1.009||5.1 %|
|Name||Cat.||OG Range||FG Range||IBU||SRM||Carb||ABV|
|Witbier||24 A||1.044 - 1.052||1.008 - 1.012||8 - 20||3.9 - 7.9||2.6 - 3.4||4.5 - 5.5 %|
|Pilsner (Weyermann)||3.6 kg||45.28|
|Oats, Flaked||750 g||9.43|
|Saaz||25 g||90 min||Boil||Pellet||3.8|
|Orange Peel, Bitter||25.00 g||5 min||Boil||Spice|
|Coriander Seed||10.00 g||5 min||Boil||Spice|
|Acid rest||37.78°C||20 min|
|Beta glucanase||47°C||20 min|
|Mash out||75.56°C||15 min|
|26/06/17 - Kegged 1.013 @ 5°C|
|Download this recipe's BeerXML file|
I looked at mashing bread in more detail in my last post on this matter. Since witbiers contain 50% malted barley there would be more than enough enzymes available to convert the starches in the bread, so it probably wouldn’t be necessary to use enzymatically activated wort. However, I thought it still advisable to use a long low-temperature rest to gelatinise the starches and dissolve (or at least suspend) them. In this case, I mashed in at room temperature and brought the temperature up to 37° for a twenty minute rest.
This was a pretty decent beer! By the erratic standards of my homebrewing, this was a definite winner. It debuted at an annual family pissup that feebly masquerades as cricket match and, as an easy-drinking, hot-weather beer, it certainly did its job. It was well-received by many of the highly skilled athletes in attendance; enough that the keg was gone by the start of the second innings at least.
I entered a few bottles I’d saved into the National Homebrew Competition, and the judges’ analysis, among other things, bore out a feeling I’d had that it was a bit full for a witbeir, which seems like a straightforward thing to blame on the bread… Perhaps a more aggressive mash schedule might give a better conversion and a drier beer, or perhaps there’s a hard limit or an inexcapable unfermentability with bread. This certainly bears further experiments, and we’re saving up bread to try again. Unfortunately, this is taking a while because, apparently, we don’t waste much bread… And the lady from Feedback wasn’t particularly impressed when I said I was deliberately buying more bread than we need in order to have enough to experiment with!