A Rising Collaboration

The Beer and Bread Connection

Spent grains await their addition to the mix at Bröt Bakery.
Spent grains await their addition to the mix at Bröt Bakery.

Written By

Pamela Hunt

Written on

February 09 , 2016

Once upon a time, in cobblestoned villages across Europe, brewers and bakers depended on each other, trading beer and spent grains for loaves of bread made with those grains. But on our side of the Atlantic, this relationship has largely been lacking.

“This country never really had the tradition of small-town breweries,” says Heike Meyer, owner of Bröt Bakery in Fairfax. “In Europe, some breweries have been around hundreds of years, and they’re still in the same village. And bakeries are abundant, too.”

Now, some of Vermont’s bread and beer makers want to bring this collaborative tradition to the Green Mountain State.

Bröt Bakery

It was a Tuesday morning when I visited Bröt, and Heike was turning the dough for her sprouted bread. A sweet, beery aroma filled her toasty kitchen, where three large plastic tubs were arranged on a long table. As I settled in, she donned a pair of bright blue rubber gloves and dove into the seed-studded mass in one of the containers.

“The turning process allows the dough to get aerated,” she explained as she folded the dough over onto itself. “It also allows the beer to get soaked up by the sprouted grain”—in this case, spelt and einkorn. “And because of the long resting time, you end up with flavors that you otherwise wouldn’t have in a beer bread that’s made in just two hours.”

After working the dough for a few minutes, she let it rest and moved on to the next tub. Although the fermentation had been going on for six hours already, the dough wasn’t anywhere near ready to form into loaves. The turning process would continue every half-hour for the rest of the day, dictated by a twittering alarm set on Heike’s smartphone.

Heike learned the baking craft in her native Germany, working for Weichardt, the oldest biodynamic bakery in Berlin. After a spell in New York, she and her husband, Jens, decided to move to Vermont, where they could become more self-sufficient, grow more of their own food, and become part of a smaller community. She began baking bread mostly for herself and their neighbors; now she sells her product at City Market in Burlington, the Fairfax farmers’ market, and the Hudack Farmstore in Swanton, as well as through her bread CSA.

But it was getting to know Paul Sayler, brewmaster at Zero Gravity in Burlington, that opened up a new avenue for Heike—and for the Zero Gravity brewery. When Heike broached the idea of making sprouted bread with beer, Paul and head brewer Destiny Saxon were immediately on board. “Heike likes to try different beers,” Destiny told me, “from pale ales to weizenbocks.”

“We do like Zero Gravity,” Heike says. “Many American beers—they’re very hoppy. Zero Gravity is more moderate, more in the German tradition.” She picks up a growler each week in exchange for a loaf of bread for the brewers. She even shared one of her recipes with the pizzeria’s kitchen so they could make those stalwarts of the biergarten: soft baked pretzels. “It really feels like the classic relationship from the small town,” Heike says, “when the brewer and the baker worked hand in hand.”

Elmore Mountain Bread

On the other side of the Green Mountains, husband and wife Andrew Heyn and Blair Marvin were beginning their day-and-a-half-long baking process when I visited their shop, Elmore Mountain Bread. Andrew was adding flour to a massive, 50-year-old German diving-arm mixer. “It most closely replicates hand kneading,” Blair said. “It’s a workhorse!”

Since they launched their business in 2004, Andrew and Blair have produced multiple styles of bread, from spelt ciabatta to a loaf featuring grains grown down the road in Berlin to tasty maple cinnamon raisin loaves. The one I was interested in was their Brewer’s Bread, featuring beer from Morrisville’s Lost Nation Brewing. The bakers’ relationship with these brewers goes back to when Andrew worked at Rock Art Brewery, where Allen Van Anda was the head brewer before going on to co-found Lost Nation.

Their beer/bread collaboration was prompted by yet another big name in the Vermont culinary world: Joey Nagy of the Mad Taco and Mule Bar. When Joey was tapped to create the menu for the Lost Nation taproom, he called on friends Andrew and Blair to supply the bread. This partnership fit right in with the pair’s mission: to supply their local community. “First and foremost is Morrisville—it’s our market target and our town,” Blair said.

They initially used spent grains in their dough, but now that they mill all of their own flour, they use toasted organic grains/barley. But they definitely still use beer. Over the loud whir of the food-grade paint sprayer Andrew was using to coat the fermenting buckets with olive oil, Blair explained, “All of our breads are long-fermented and use fresh-milled flour, so we’re trying to bring out the nuttiness and sweetness of the grain. A beer with a lot of hops isn’t good because then you get a bitter taste. Lost Nation’s Pitch Black or their darker beers are great. Any beer with a more malty profile is the way to go.”

When I wondered aloud if all of the liquid in the Brewer’s Bread was beer, Blair answered, “No, it’s mostly water—all beer would be too sweet.”

“And too expensive!” Andrew interjected.

“We make it with a little beer,” Blair continued, “toasted fresh-milled barley, and malt syrup. Andrew basically does a ferment with it—it’s essentially making a quick wort.”

And, Andrew added, “to intensify that malted barley flavor, I’ll reconstitute the malt in water and mix in the toasted barley into the dough, make a paste, pitch in a little regular bread yeast, and let that ferment overnight.”

From grains harvested in a neighboring town to the Vermont-brewed beer, Blair and Andrew are proud to be a part of such a supportive community. “We count our blessings every day for the local cheese, the bread, and the beer . . . for everything,” said Blair.

Their partner at Lost Nation couldn’t agree more. “It is inspiring to be around other business owners such as [Blair and Andrew] who continue to evolve and hone their craft,” Allen told me. “Working with them is, to the core, the Vermont way: neighbor supporting neighbor, where everyone wins.”

Miss Weinerz

In the winter of 2014, Ren Weiner was working at American Flatbread in Burlington while making doughnuts for the coffee shop Scout & Co. as part of her collaboration-based business, Miss Weinerz. When the Flatbread kitchen asked if she wanted to create a sweet treat in the wood-fired oven, a new collaborative project was born: cinnamon beer buns.

In these brunch-time sweets, Ren includes Zero Gravity’s ground-up spent grains and their Green State Lager—“an homage to Vermont.” The pastries are served with a side of dipping glaze, also made with the beer.

The early dinner crowd was just filtering into American Flatbread’s Burlington Hearth as Ren, Destiny Saxon, and I sat around a table, talking about using beer in bread. For Ren, it’s “like grain tea. It’s not the alcohol for me—it’s the grains and the flavors.” As for the spent grains, she’s eager to incorporate them into her baking. “I’m really into using byproducts from other processes,” she said.

And Destiny, Zero Gravity’s head brewer, certainly has no shortage of grains after she brews. “Even after farmers take the bulk of them,” she said, “there’s plenty left for bakers.”

“It’s not inedible—it’s not garbage,” Ren added. “It’s all fiber. And it’s preferments. If anything, it’s like more digestible grains. So why wouldn’t we incorporate that into our diet?”

Using beer with her levain isn’t without challenges, though. Ren heats the beer to concentrate it and kill off some of the yeast. Otherwise, its interaction with the sourdough can be a bit unpredictable. “Sometimes it’s like…” She imitated an explosion with her hands. “And other times, meh.”

Destiny laughed. “I should put one of your buns in a cask of beer. Then it will be full circle.”

“The baker and the brewer—at one time, they were like…” Ren clasped her hands. “I like the collaborations up here in Vermont. You just don’t get that in New York.”

About the Author

Pamela Hunt

Pamela Hunt

Pamela Hunt lives in South Burlington with her husband and two dogs and writes about travel, food, and general Vermont goings-on. Follow her website.

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