The Essex Street Brewery's Toast Pale Ale

A toast to London

Destination: Audi climbs behind the wheel of an Audi Q2 to visit
the London microbrewery that's helping to end bread waste

The Audi Q2 driving to the Essex Street Brewery company

'You break the bread into pieces because it’s very important that it all gets wet,' explains brewer Vanesa Le Blas from the Essex Street Brewery company in central London. She's standing next to a 1000-litre mash tank, the one in which she mixes surplus fresh bread with roasted malt to make a special type of beer called Toast Ale. Her most recent batch of the beer used 88 kilos of waste fresh bread, supplied by a sandwich maker. 'The malted barley contains enzymes and these break the starch in the bread into sugars, and then later they eat the sugar and produce alcohol and CO2 gas,' she explains.

Having extracted the carbohydrates from the bread, the resulting liquid is drained off and boiled in a vast steel kettle for an hour and a half. 'We add hops two times,' says Vanesa. The first lot provides the beer’s bitterness and the second, added just minutes before the end, contributes to its aroma.'

Vanesa Le Blas from the Essex Street Brewery company

Vanesa Le Blas holding a loaf of bread

A bottle of Toast Pale Ale

We drive to meet Vanesa in Audi's new Q2 compact SUV, ideal for the busy city streets. Parked up outside, we explore the microbrewery, which is among the first places in Britain to brew beer using waste fresh bread. It does this by following a recipe created by Toast Ale, a company seeking to eradicate bread waste through beer. It estimates that some 24 million slices of bread are thrown away each year in the UK.

Each bottle of Toast Ale, available online at or on tap in selected microbreweries, contains the equivalent of a slice of bread. 'The concept is simple,' explains Rob Wilson from Toast Ale. 'Brew a brilliant beer from bread that would otherwise go to waste – so very directly tackling food waste, while also communicating an important message about food waste to consumers.' More than this, profits from the beer business go to fund Feedback, a charity fighting global food waste. 'There's about a million tonnes of bread that is wasted each year worldwide,' adds Rob, 'and about a billion tonnes of food waste is created each year.'

A barrel of Toast Pale Ale

Rob Wilson from Toast Ale

The Audi Q2 leaving the Toast Ale microbrewery

By drinking Toast Ale you're helping to raise awareness of the problem – and to solve it. Having made 60,000 bottles of beer in the past year, the company's aim is 500,000 bottles next year, stopping half a million slices of bread going to landfill. Besides ambitions to be in a supermarket near you soon, Toast Ale is also launching in the US and Iceland in 2017. 'We're going to need to sell millions of bottles to eradicate bread waste,' says Rob.

Back at her brewery, Vanesa Le Blas is contemplating her third brew of Toast Ale. 'I want to make different versions of Toast,' she says. 'I think the next one is going to be brown Toast – a porter made with bread.'

Written by Alec Marsh. Photographs by Fred MacGregor.


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