Crumbs Brewing

How it all began

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Designer Beer

Excited by the fact we seem to have a great beer on our hands it was time to turn our attention to a bit of marketing. Most importantly what is Crumbs actually going to look like? In a sea of wild and wonderful craft beers that seem to be growing in number by the day we need Crumbs to make some noise.

We’re confident the people of Reigate will love our story and the journey we’ve been on – but if we’re not wearing the right clothes you might not even give us a second look!

Step in yet more new local friends – the wonderful team at Four Leaf design in Reigate.

Kate, Mark and Matt couldn’t wait to get their teeth into the challenge as well as getting their mouths round a few samples of Crumbs Amber.  Their passion for beer was quickly evident (or maybe they only recruit raging alcoholics?!?) It was only 10am but the team reassured us they’d all had big breakfasts and weren’t driving home that day.

No bullshit here please

The meeting was refreshingly low on what we officially term as “marketing bullshit”. Having spent a lot of my career working with brand and advertising development its amazing how quickly you can slip into some terrible parody of an East London hipster advertising agency type who is high on confusing jargon but probably quite low on intelligence and dress sense.  With our own brand we have instilled an immediate system of fines for anyone saying bizarre things like “what is the emotional essence of the brand?”, “does the curve of the letter C resonate with the warmth and personality at the heart of your mission?”, “what subconcious response do we want the brand to inspire in potential consumers?”….. I dunno – that they actually want to bloody well drink it!?!

Luckily we warmed to the Four Leaf team as they are distinctly free from bullshit but very high on skill, creativity and good old fashioned common sense. Thank heavens for that!

Really looking forward to seeing their ideas.

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Version 1 – it’s here!

So exciting to take first delivery of our first test brew: Crumbs Amber Lager version 1. Feels like it’s taken a long time to get here when in reality it wasn’t that long ago I was munching on a bacon sarnie in Chalk Hills. Before you ask though – sorry, we haven’t made enough to get out and sell it at this stage. This was just to test the process and most importantly work out if our recipe delivers the kind of beer we actually expected.

So what does it taste like?

The big question – is it any good!? Well, I know we might be biased but the answer is most definitely “yes”.  I say “yes” even though Elaine, who is definitely not a beer drinker (she’s holding out for when we repurpose an artisan ingredient to make prosecco) was quoted as saying “That’s the least offensive beer I have ever tasted” – that’s one for the advertising campaign!  It’s actually a glowing endorsement from a long suffering wife who has been on more brewery tours than she cares to remember and is fed up of me going “try this beer, it’s different, you’ll like it”. The fact that Crumbs hasn’t been rejected outright is actually quite a big step forward!

So how would I describe it? I’m no expert when it comes to tasting notes (and to be honest, find so many ‘experts’ disappear up their own expert backsides at this stage) so bear with me.

We purposely brewed this to have more of an accessible lager style without excessive hoppy bitterness – I’d refer to it as a Vienna Style lager.  This allows the maltiness of the bread to come through and gives it a really ‘warm’, rounded finish – sorry that sounded a bit wanky didn’t it – let’s just say its extremely drinkable! The eagle-eyed amongst you will also notice this batch came out at 4% abv. That wasn’t actually the intention – a few issues with our mash temperature left us a little low. This will definitely be something we dial up slightly in the final product, aiming for 4.5 – 4.8%, a bit stronger but definitely still not rocket fuel.  We want this to be something non-beer ‘fanatics’ will enjoy. If you like Chalk Hills bread and the artisanship that goes into making it, then you should like Crumbs.

We also tested a Belgian yeast in the making of version 1 – giving the beer a bit of complexity and interest without overpowering things. The ‘Belgian’ character it gives (think hints of a beer like Leffe) wasn’t necessarily expected but it’s working quite nicely, especially when the beer is well chilled. We might dial it back a little in version 2 – we’ll have a play around (you see what I said about our slightly ‘relaxed’ approach to brewing – she’ll be good).

Amber lager - our first recipe!One real positive, even though this was brewed using bread, the totally unfiltered batch this is still looking pretty bright. We weren’t sure how cloudy the beer would be, we partly expected something wheat-beer-esque. It wouldn’t have been a massive problem (I love a good wheat beer) but the cloudy look can be a bit polarising. This looks great, you couldn’t really get much more ‘amber’.

So, there are definitely a few tweaks to explore in V2 but we couldn’t be happier with how this turned out. It’s a shame we didn’t make more. Just deciding if we do one more small brew before going big!  Thanks for bearing with us – hopefully we’re making you thirsty!  Realistically it’ll be May before you can get your hands on it – not too long. Just close your eyes and imagine a warm spring day, flowers in bloom and a cold pint of delicious Crumbs!  Can’t wait….

Which reminds me – we really need to think about some bottle designs, a bit of marketing and maybe getting some nice local retailers to sell the stuff for us.  Minor details. Sure we’ll be fine!

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Crumbing goes up a gear!

While our first trial brew develops into the fantastic beer we know it will be, we turn our focus back to keeping up the supplies of our wonder ingredient, Chalk Hills delicious bloomer loaves.  Now we’re scaling up for a larger brew the volume needed is on the up so we’ve treated ourselves to a shiny new crumbing machine.

Elaine gets to grips with the new crumber

Taking pride of place in the corner of Chalk Hills Bakery it’s small but very powerful, and rather noisy. The peace and quiet of the baker’s working day is definitely interrupted when the brewers are in!

The other slight challenge is that being in a bakery you

I love the smell of crumbs in the morning

are surrounded by temptation. We tend to arrive post the morning bread rush when the bakers themselves have headed off back to bed (I love the idea of baking but I’m not sure I’d be well suited to the rather unsociable hours). But this is when Chalk Hills turn their attention to the naughty stuff – treats of every description are either in production or stacked there begging to be eaten. Ginger bread men, cakes, pastries and some of the largest meringues you’ll ever see – its like Willy Wonka has branched out into the cafe business.  Sorry – I’m getting distracted, back to the deafening roar of the crumber… even that is mildly intoxicating…. the smell of fresh bread crumbs mixed with the rich smell of the malt sacks we are reusing just makes me want a beer. My waistline doesn’t stand a chance.

Even crumbs have to wear a seatbelt

The Food Waste Feel Good Factor

It feels great to be doing something productive with such beautifully crafted bread that would otherwise go unsold. Doing our little bit for the growing problem of food waste in our society is a good thing. The end product won’t only taste good but also do good.

It’s amazing how much bread our monster crumber can get through in a couple of hours. With a spot of sunshine today this particular batch gets to enjoy the fresh spring air while being taken to storage. Nothing but the best treatment for our star ingredient.

Beer that’s better bred! (I really need to start making a note of all these potential tag lines…)

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The first trial….

Finally, enough of the talking and researching, it’s time to put theory into practice and actually get some beer made. The longer term plan is to create our own brewery in Surrey but for the time being, we have done our best to form an alliance with some friendly brewers that will help us on a contract basis to begin with.

It’s always funny to see the mixed look of panic and intrigue spread over a brewer’s face when you explain what we’re up to. Their curiosity is usually tempered by the vision of a sludgy stuck mash that buggers up their precious kit. My confident “it’ll be fine” reassurance doesn’t always wash.

One lovely bunch who showed the right kind of spirit are our new friends at Goddards Brewery. Coincidentally based where I grew up – on the Isle of Wight. Maybe not as local as we first planned and certainly not the most straight forward choice regarding shipping logistics but it soon became apparent the team are a passionate, skilled bunch and very much up for the challenge of making such a unique beer.

Added to this they have a very smart bit of test kit that allows you to play with a small quantity brew before committing to scale. This was perfect as, although we’ve been pretty rigorous with our planning to this point, I still had a nagging doubt this was going to be trickier than we thought.

With a brew day planned I had the minor issue of getting together a small but still reasonably significant batch of bread crumbs. As Chalk Hills don’t currently own an industrial scale crumber the job fell to myself and my wife Elaine (co-founder of our business and very much the voice of reason in the relationship). Cue a kitchen full of bread and a highly over worked Kenwood food processor!

Ingredients assembled it was brew time. The fun part. A chaotic, utterly exhausting but thoroughly enjoyable day of brewing was not without its issues but we learnt a huge amount putting theory into practice.  I really think brewers should open up their doors to the public to get hands on more often – the smells, the craft, the chemistry are all intoxicating. I really hope this beer tastes good as the idea of making a living out of this is too good to be true. No pressure!

As I write the first ever batch of Crumbs Amber is fermenting peacefully… we can’t wait for the first taste.


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OK – so how do we do this??

Good news – Chris and Rosie from Chalk Hills Bakery  were really interested in the idea of making beer from their unsold bread. We were also glad to hear that other people are already out there doing the same thing as us (not just ancient Egyptian civilisations): Toast Ale are brilliant champions of food waste reduction, using a wide range of left over bread from many sources to make beer.

But whatever other people are up to, the challenge for us still remained – how do we brew a beer that truly gets the most out of the delicious artisan bread at Chalk Hills? As well as addressing issues of food waste this needs to be a beer worthy of such a delicious ingredient.

To call myself a brewer is probably stretching the truth. Lets settle for enthusiastic amateur and frequent beer drinker. Anyway, I’ve always believed that childish naivety unlocks great ways of doing things and I’m certainly full of that. Also, having spent a lot of my working life coming up with new booze ideas for other companies how hard can it be?!

First things first – some expert advice. That has come in two forms so far:

Tim O’Rourke  is a font of all knowledge on all things beer. Apparently brewing has been in his
blood since the 1900’s but I don’t think he looks that old. With 35 years experience as a master brewer he’s set up breweries around the world and more recently focused on passing on that knowledge through his expert training. Fortunately, he was as intrigued by the idea of a beer made from bread as I was and has been invaluable in getting our heads around how to do this.


The second was to get a bit technical – I know my way around a brew but I (and Tim for that matter) had no real idea of what role bread can really play in the process. How much should we use? How should we use it – crumbed, shredded, toasted? How well does it actually convert into fermentable sugars and, most importantly, how well can we truly capture the flavours of the delicious bread to create a really stunning, unique beer? Help came in the form of of Campden BRI – guys with some serious kit (and white coats, it’s always good to trust people wearing white coats).

After a lot of very stupid questions on my part and nodding enthusiastically when the conversation got too technical, essentially the answer was YES, it would work. We cracked the optimal proportions to truly get the most from the bread and it turns out the best form for the bread was crumbed.

Hmmm nice idea for a business name……..

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Everything good starts with a bacon sarnie

If it starts with a bacon sarnie it’s bound to be good. Well, thats how Crumbs Brewing started so we’re hoping thats true…..

In my spot in the window of Chalk Hills Bakery in Reigate, tucking into my Friday treat (don’t tell my wife, I’m supposed to be on a diet) it struck me that one of the best things about the sarnie is not the bacon or even the sauce, it’s the bread. The soft, white delicious bread that brings everything together in a warm sandwich of loveliness.  However, do we ever really give bread the love it deserves?

Looking around the shop – stacked full of a variety of loaves of all shapes and sizes –  I realised what a frustrating life the baker must have. All that effort, skill and artisanship put into something that so often gets over looked or, even worse, wasted when it passes its sell by date. Surely left over bread of such high quality deserves more than becoming bird food?

With a bit of Googling (I’d do anything to avoid what it was I was actually supposed to be working on at the time) it turned out there was an answer. A truly wonderful answer. An answer that was almost as appealing as the bacon sandwich in front of me. The answer was BEER…..

As far back as early Sumerian cultures there has been an undeniable link between beer and bread. Indeed, if some stories are to be believed, beer only came about as a result of damp stale bread accidentally starting to ferment in storage jars. This early liquid became so mystical it was awarded its own deity – Ninkasi – the first embodiment of beer. Later on the Babylonians took this one step further and directly recognised the dual role of baker and brewer in the artisan job ‘lukasninda’ – the man of the beer loaf. Egyptian hieroglyphs for beer even featured the bread barrels in which it was fermented.

More recently, many monks have had the right idea – much of their spare time was spent either making bread or brewing beer!

As well as arming myself with plenty of interesting facts for my next evening rambling in a local pub I was on to something (albeit a few thousand years later than most civilisations). It was time to have a word with Chris & Rosie, the lovely owners of Chalk Hills Bakery….




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Follow our journey

Most brands wait until they’ve got a finished product and slick marketing to start telling people about themselves. Who wants to be most brands!?! We’re at the start of a journey so follow us now to see how it goes. If it’s a disaster then at least we have a good case study on how not to launch a beer.

As well as following our blog go and like us on Facebook – hopefully there’ll be a free beer in it for you (as and when we manage to make some)……


Our posts so far:

Everything good starts with a bacon sarnie

OK – so how do we do this??

The first trial

Crumbing goes up a gear!

Version 1 – It’s here

Designer Beer

44% of the bread produced in the UK goes to waste. Oh Crumbs!

Crumbs! It’s brew 001

Beer and Music. Is there a better combination?

Crumbs! We’ve got a new look…