When it comes to running a bagel bakery, Dianna Daoheung, Matt Kliegman and Noah Bernamoff have always done things a little differently. Back in 2014, the trio had the chutzpah to bring a few of Montreal’s bagel-making techniques to tradition-obsessed New York. A touch of honey in the initial boil adds a faintly floral note to these rounds, while a brief stint in a blazing-hot wood-burning oven renders them slightly singed. The gamble paid off and New Yorker’s greeted Black Seed’s arrival with lines around the block.
Now, on an average day, executive chef Daoheung oversees the production of more than 3,200 bagels, most of which end up at one of Black Seed’s five shops around the city. For all their popularity, however, some of those bagels inevitably end up leftover at the end of the day.
“For sustainability reasons, we started brainstorming ways to use leftover bagels—we’ve made bagel chips and breadcrumbs, but there are only so many bagel-adjacent products out there,” Bernamoff says. Finally, they hit upon an idea. They reached out to Travis Kauffman, the proprietor at Folksbier Brauerei, a Brooklyn microbrewery. “We asked him if he had any thoughts about using bagels to brew beer. He said he’d never done it before, but he decided to give it a try.”
Brewing beer with stale bread is nothing new. In the United Kingdom, the non-profit Toast Ale transforms old loaves into pilsners and IPAs, while the mega department store Marks & Spencer has dabbled in using its leftover sandwich bread to make fruit beers. While it may be tempting to write such efforts off as gimmicky, they’re a laudable step in the fight against food waste. Currently, the United States wastes an estimated $218 billion of food annually, more than 52 million tons of which winds up rotting in landfills.
After Bernamoff showed up with sacks of bagels, the crew at Folksbier began tinkering with when and how to incorporate all those additional starches. While other breweries have incorporated alternative cooked grains into variations on a gose, Kauffman turned to another sour German beer for inspiration. He deemed everything bagels a little too pungent for a beer, but decided that he could substitute all of the other varieties for some of the wheat in their standard recipe for Berliner Weisse.
“It’s very tricky to do. We replaced about a quarter of our grist with bagels,” Kauffman says. “We took a pretty conservative approach this time because the sugars that come off the bagels are harder for the yeast to digest. The health of the yeast is a big part of what makes a beer delicious and give off complex aromas.”
Those nuanced aromas made it into Black Seed Glow Up, the finished brew that launches today. In the future, Kauffman hopes to increase the ratio of bagels in each batch of beer, as well as the production. Folksbier is also donating a dollar of the proceeds from each bottle sold to No Kid Hungry.
When you first drink it, the first thing you think wouldn’t be ‘Oh, I’m eating a bagel.' Our bagels are wood-fired, which adds a certain smokiness and depth of flavor.”
“The end product is this very lively, bright beer,” Kauffman says. “We use a little bit of their honey for the beer making process. It creates some nice aromatics, but the sugars mostly ferment out, so it’s a really bright, clean tart beer.”
While the bagels contribute vital sugars, the final result doesn’t taste like something you’d pair with lox and a schmear. Kauffman swears his palate can detect the bagel undertones, but to the layperson, the bread’s presence mostly reads as a subtle toastiness.
“When you first drink it, the first thing you think wouldn’t be ‘Oh, I’m eating a bagel,’ Daoheung says with a laugh. “Our bagels are wood-fired, which adds a certain smokiness and depth of flavor.”
Since Folksbier is such a small operation, they kept their initial production to a few hundred gallons. Both they and Black Seed are eager to scale up in the future in order to boost the environmental impact that this launch could have. The first batch used roughly 100 pounds of bagels, or about a week’s worth of waste. Bernamoff would like to see that number triple or quadruple.
“We’re hoping that the beer-making will swallow up the balance of the bagel waste from our shops,” Bernamoff says. “Our mission was to give our food waste a very productive opportunity to find its way back into the world.”