We spoke with Lawrence Speelman from Toast Ale, the brewery taking the UK by storm with their awesome beer brewed using fresh surplus bread.

Lawrence is used to a low waste lifestyle, loves ancient history (especially when it relates to ancient brewing practices) and last but obviously not least, he loves beer.

In this interview, we explore how collaborating with other breweries, sourcing surplus ingredients and donating to food waste charities might just be the key to a sustainable future in beer.

“We are part of a greater community of change-makers working toward fixing the global food system.”

For starters, could you introduce the brand, what you sell, and how you started?

I’m Lawrence, I am the Customer Service and Logistics Manager at Toast Ale. Toast is a brand brewing using surplus fresh bread from various sources, but primarily from production. This helps us to up-cycle an extremely wasted product, and also to raise awareness of the causes and solutions to food waste. It was started in 2015 by Tristram Stuart, who is a global food waste pioneer.

Almost all of our profits go to food waste charities and we try to celebrate the ways in which change can be made. Being able to be more sustainable by drinking beer is obviously a rather nice combination — we try to celebrate little changes. By doing that we help to build a much more positive outlook on the idea of sustainability. We want to get people who aren’t already excited about being more sustainable, be more excited about being sustainable. We are part of a greater community of change-makers working towards fixing the food system and indeed making the planet better.

What is the guiding philosophy behind Toast Ale?

Brewing for a better planet. We have a few very core values which primarily are: to save surplus bread by brewing, to raise money for food waste charities through FeedBack, and to raise awareness of food waste and the waste counteractive… oh, and to brew amazing beer [laughing].

What does it mean to be a social enterprise with regards to Toast’s business activities? Why is it important to you?

Well, we were founded as a social enterprise. Whilst we’re not necessarily a non-profit legally, all of our profits go to charity. We were set up as a force for good. We’re a certified b-corporation as well. We are a company that is striving for growth and profit so we can do more good. Being a social enterprise is important to us because it demonstrates we have a strong commitment to bringing about change, making improvements and ultimately that our business is used as a force for good. That doesn’t mean that we can’t say we are also a business that is striving to be bigger and better. As I said, we want to do more to improve the food system and the world in general.

How does your brand contribute to a sustainable future in the drinks industry?

We’re doing something that actually is very old, it’s a very ancient principle. I’m an ancient history geek so I could spend ages telling you about the history of brewing using bread, but what we’re doing is trying to demonstrate that this is viable today. We produce an amazing, high-quality product that is using surplus materials and we want to show the industry that this is possible. So we try to get other breweries to do what we’re doing, collaborate with us, start brewing using bread, specifically using surplus bread, and surplus ingredients, like surplus fruits and so on. And by doing that, help to make brewing as sustainable and circular as it can be. That’s what we’re really trying to do. We’re sharing a concept really — the idea is for every brewery to do what we’re doing, so that the entire brewing industry can be more sustainable as a result.

That’s great! Could you explain how these collaborations work?

Generally, the collaborations are a one-off and profits go to charity. It’s brewed by the brewery we are collaborating with, but it is a collaborative effort: we normally source the surplus ingredients. We often have a close relationship with the breweries we work with. We try to get as many breweries as we can onboard and some of them have even continued to brew the beer that we made collaboratively with them. Some of which have even ended up in the supermarkets!

What’s the biggest sustainability challenge your brand is facing?

We are trying as a company to become as carbon neutral as possible, but the thing is we’re a start-up company based in London. So whilst we are up-cycling bread, we obviously have various areas of our business — like our logistical solutions — that could be more sustainable. It’s just very difficult because to be distributed in the UK we need to work with various wholesalers. Whilst we have good relationships with all of our wholesalers, we don’t export internationally even though some of them do. Even if they don’t export our products internationally, they do distribute them nationally using the most conventional methods. For me, one of the biggest challenges is trying to make our logistical solutions as sustainable as possible. There are solutions there. For example, we work in a sustainable co-working space, we deliver our beer with a pedal bike company — so a cargo bike courier that can make local deliveries by bike is obviously much more sustainable than a motorcycle or a van. But, you know, if we want to deliver nationally, then I need to put that in the hands of someone else and it won’t always be a sustainable, cost-effective, solution.

That’s the other thing about being a social enterprise and a not for profit: you have to make margins and be cost-effective. There’s a line to say “we want to grow and make as big a difference as we can” but at the same time, we are putting our beers on pallets and moving them on trucks because that’s how the system works. As far as I’m aware no national retailers or wholesalers are using electric trucks or more sustainable options. I know that many have made commitments to be more sustainable going forward, but it’s a long game. At the moment, that’s the thing that jumps out to me first and foremost regarding our environmental impact as a business.

Wherefrom is building a community of conscious consumers. What’s something you do, as an individual, to lead by example in the realm of sustainable consumption?

It’s a very apt time that you’re calling me because currently, my team is undergoing a food waste challenge week. It’s a week where we, as a team (have a look at our socials), have made a commitment for a week to eat nothing but surplus food. We’re working with other businesses like Olio, Too Good to Go, Oddbox, Karma, Rubies in the Rubble (none of these are drinks companies but they are all working in the realm of food waste). So that’s either food that’s beyond expiry, food that we’ve collected via apps, food that has the reduced yellow label stickers in the supermarket, and even food that’s been cleared from fields, anything that would have otherwise been wasted. We’re only allowed to eat that for an entire week, it’s a pretty big challenge, and that’s how we’re leading by example.