A Former Noma Chef Has Created One of the World’s Most Sustainable Breweries

August 28, 2019

By Diana Hubbell, August 28, 2019

Matt Orlando was working at The Fat Duck, Heston Blumenthal’s triple-Michelin-starred London restaurant, when he first met René Redzepi. It was 2005, years before Noma would become a household name and shoot to the top of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Orlando had heard about an experimental restaurant in Copenhagen taking a radical approach to Nordic ingredients through an intern, though, and he was intrigued. 

“René hung out with a bunch of us afterward,” Orlando says. He was so impressed by the Danish chef’s vision that when he received an unexpected invitation, he accepted. “He asked me to come and check it out for a week. I ended up staying for two years.”

It was a risky move for a chef who had cut his teeth at pedigreed restaurants including Le Bernadin in New York. At the time, most Danes regarded the project with suspicion or outright derision. Few expected a high-end restaurant serving fermented reindeer hearts and lichen to last long. 

“When I started there, Noma was almost a joke around town. Everything in upscale dining was French or Italian. No one was looking at Scandinavia for inspiration. The nickname other chefs gave us was ‘the Sealfuckers,’” Orlando remembers with a laugh. “But René never wavered. He essentially created a new cuisine and any time you’re doing something that defies the existing norms, you’re going to have critics.”

Courtesy of Broaden & BuildMatt Orlando in the garden at Amass.

After several years and a stint as Noma’s chef de cuisine, Orlando opened his own restaurant in the burgeoning industrial neighborhood of Refshaleøen on the edge of Copenhagen. Rather than attempt to create a carbon copy of Redzepi’s restaurant, as so many of its famous alumni have done, Orlando wanted to keep that spirit of innovation alive. It was this desire to create something truly original that led to Amass, in 2013, and six years later, Broaden & Build, one of the world’s most ambitious, sustainable breweries right next door. 

“In the beginning, Mikkeller brewed all of our beers for us and we got to a certain point where we were asking for food-focused beers with ingredients from the region,” Orlando says. “At a certain point, they were just like, ‘Why don’t you start your own brewery?’”

Amass is far from a normal restaurant, so it follows that Broaden & Build is no ordinary brewery. Many have noted that it adheres to the New Nordic creed of using hyper-local, seasonal ingredients from the region, often in unexpected ways.

Every single dish contains some byproduct of a dish that either is or recently was on the menu that we’ve upcycled into something that’s delicious.”

“It’s about looking at the brewing process through the eyes of a chef. “I’ve been involved in fermentation my whole career, but this is a whole new arena,” Orlando says. “Brewing beer is a creative process in which you’re learning how to transform flavor completely.”

On any given day, the 22 taps at Broaden & Build be pouring a double IPA made with green gooseberries or a golden ale with elderflower. Most recently, the brewers made a double IPA with green fennel seeds, as well as a Vienna-style lager with citrusy black currant leaves. Many of these ingredients come from foragers, farmers, and even their own garden. 

"Last week, we brewed a lemon skin-miso gose. The idea came to me around midnight, so I texted our Tiago Falcone, our head brewer. He wrote me back at 2 a.m. to say, ‘I’m into it,’” Orlando says. “It’s going to be this super savory, citrusy, umami-loaded beer.”

Yet Broaden & Build's ethos runs deeper than funky, exceedingly food-friendly beers. Both the lemon skins and miso in that unusual brew came from leftover products within Amass's own kitchen, as do countless other ingredients in the brewing process. By forcing brewers and chefs to work in tandem to create a sustainable, cyclical process, Orlando is undertaking an experiment in sustainability that is nothing short of radical.

“When you own a restaurant, your peripheral vision becomes infinitely larger. You start to see things you create through the process of refinement that wind up in the garbage,” Orlando says. “As soon as I saw that happening in my own restaurant, I felt a moral obligation to address that.”

Courtesy of Broaden & Build

It's working. Every single year, he orders a detailed analysis of his facility’s CO2 output. After six years of streamlining and tweaking, Amass has roughly half the carbon footprint of a standard restaurant of comparable size. Now, Broaden & Build is now continuing that mission by creating a blueprint for an eco-friendly brewery. While other brewers have started to examine ways to reduce their impact on the rapidly warming planet, Orlando’s project is taking matters further with a dedicated onsite research center.

“It takes an enormous amount of energy to power a brewery, so one of the big things for was figuring out how to implement all the data in a brewery setting,” Orlando says. “The menu at Amass changes based around different byproducts. In the brewery’s research space, we’re focused on finding even more ways to turn products perceived to have no value and turning them into products with value.”

In the brewing world, the biggest of these hurdles is spent grain, the malted barley left behind after the first boil. The European Union produces 3.4 million tonnes of the stuff each year, much of which ends up in landfills due to its highly perishable nature. Innovators around the world have experimented with converting spent grain into everything from nutrient-dense flour to bioplastics. Orlando’s team have wizarded it into everything from chocolate bars made with pumpkin seed oil to a growing material for koji, or aspergillus oryzae, the flavorful fungus used in fermented Japanese staples like soy sauce and miso.

Brewing beer is a creative process in which you’re learning how to transform flavor completely.”

“We’ve grown kojis on spent grains and used that in beer to get these banana-y, fruity tones in the background,” Orlando says. “Koji is something we use so often in the kitchen, now it’s adding a whole new dimension of flavor to beer.”

Bolder still is the system that the brewery has developed to help offset their energy demands. Broaden & Build sends a portion of its spent grain to a local company that ferments the grains, then captures and converts the resulting methane into biofuel, which Amass buys back. 

“We produce a quarter of the CO2 and it’s a quarter of the cost to operate the brewery,” Orlando says. “It’s a bigger initial investment, but it pays for itself quickly.”

That level of efficiency extends to the brewery’s dining menu. Though you won’t find a cheeseburger at Broaden & Build, the shared small plates are less daunting than the DKK 1095 ($162) tasting menus at Amass. Instead, this is serious comfort food for serious beer-lovers—think velvety chicken liver mousse with imperial stout and walnuts.

“The ethos behind the food is the same as at Amass. Every single dish contains some byproduct of a dish that either is or recently was on the menu that we’ve upcycled into something that’s delicious,” Orlando says. “We use a lot of different beer yeasts. We have crisps on the menu made with beer grains and seasoned with hop pellets.”

Courtesy of Broaden & Build

Some may pay lip-service to green initiatives, but Orlando is not one of them. His team is pushing to bring some of these big ideas to large-scale industrial companies. His latest side project getting an ice cream made using the malty, fermented sugars of leftover commercial bread to market. At the same time, Orlando is already working to foster a sense of community between Copenhagen’s brewers and chefs, sometimes simply by showing up at restaurants with a backpack loaded with beer cans. His aim is to encourage others to use the sorts of circular systems he has developed through years of painstaking trial and error.

“At Amass, we have this confection served with coffee that’s like a fudge brownie made out of spent beer grains. We use the trimmings from those brownies to brew a brownie stout. Then we take the grains from that stout and use them to make more brownies,” Orlando says. “Another example comes from our sea buckthorn sour. After we brew, we take the seabuckthorn out of the beer, hold it at 60 degrees Celsius for six weeks so that the sugars caramelize, then use that to make this incredibly delicious honey.”

For now, you’ll most likely find Orlando in the brewery, plotting new ways to revolutionize the ways we eat and drink. While his work may not be particularly Noma-esque, he has the same pioneering spirit that launched the New Nordic movement in the first place. Just as Redzepi forced everyone to reconsider overlooked Scandinavian ingredients, he's looking to smash our current paradigm and make every brewer think twice before chucking food waste in the trash.

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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