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Toasting British Innovation

English brewers push the boundaries of reason and taste

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Brewers are always looking for new ways to tantalize your taste buds. It seems like every few days, there's a new style that mashes up several traditional styles. These machinations have inspired brews like white IPA, a cross between Belgian witbier and American IPA, and farmhouse IPA, a blend of farmhouse ale with IPA. Now two British breweries have created new twists on beer.

Newcomer Curious Brewery, just a short train ride from London in Ashford in Kent, is owned by Chapel Down, one of England's premier winemakers. While the main production brewery and restaurant complex are still under construction, the brewery is producing several beers with its own take on traditional brewing.

Perhaps the most interesting is the Curiouser & Curiouser series of limited-edition beers. The series enlists the help of brewers from around Britain, all with a nod to the winemaker. The first in line, Curiouser & Curiouser Chapter 1, is Bacchus sour ale blended with wild-fermented chardonnay. You read that right: They're mixing beer and wine to make a hybrid.

The wine-beer admix is produced in collaboration with The Wild Beer Co., about 30 miles west of Stonehenge. Brewers there worked closely with winemakers at Chapel Down by barrel-aging the beer with chardonnay and Bacchus wine yeast. The result? A complex sour beer with aromas of citrus, nuts and vanilla.

The literarily astute have surely already recognized the name Curiouser & Curiouser; it was taken from and inspired by Lewis Carroll's most famous book, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The packaging even includes the inscription: "Drink Me: Every adventure requires a first sip!" Subsequent brews in the series will be titled and themed to chapters in Carroll's book.

Another British brewer is tackling the weighty topic of food waste. Toast Ale is produced in association with Wold Top Brewery and uses the ends of loaves of bread to brew delicious beer. The creator, food waste campaigner Tristram Stuart, got the idea after visiting a brewery in Belgium that was doing the same. He teamed with English sandwich-making companies to obtain the unused heels of the loaves.

The innovative idea is a partial solution to a food waste issue involving some 24 million slices of bread thrown away each year in England alone. The bread replaces one-third of the grain used in the mash process. The resulting beer is said to have a slightly sweet caramel flavor, but it's still very similar to other beers.

Using bread in brewing is nothing new. More than 4,000 years ago, Babylonians used bread as a fermentable for beer. Wold Top modernized the practice for the 21st century.

Last year, Stuart brought his Toast Ale recipe to New York City and, with help from Chelsea Craft Brewing Company in the Bronx, produced the ale. It was served at Tribeca Film Festival in conjunction with the premiere of Anthony Bourdain's documentary Wasted! The Story of Food Waste. To support his mission, Stuart has vowed to donate 100 percent of his profits from the beer to his foundation Feedback.

Those are just two recent innovations in the brewing industry; I, for one, can't wait to taste the next big idea.

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