Cover Anushka Purohit (Photo: Tony Luong)

Anushka Purohit and her peers from HKUST have developed Breer, a locally produced craft beer made from surplus bread. Purohit explains what is involved in producing one can of Breer and how you can get involved in the upcycling process

Talk us through the name of your beer.

Bread and beer: we wanted to keep it simple. When someone hears the word “Breer”, it should remind them of beer, but also make them wonder why there’s an extra letter there.

How did the idea come about?

My team and I met at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), where we were all undergraduate students. When I heard of the Enactus [an international non-profit organisation that promotes social entrepreneurship] competition, I knew I wanted to take part. When brainstorming what social problem I wanted to solve, I couldn’t think of anything but the food waste problem in Hong Kong.

I was in Lan Kwai Fong one evening and saw someone drinking a pint of beer, and I realised that bread and beer are both made of [cereals such as] barley. For Enactus, all we needed was an idea, so my friends and I entered the competition and ended up winning. With the prize money, we invested in our first trial batch of bread beer—and it worked.

Why bread?

Hong Kong wastes 3,600 tonnes of food every day and almost 47 per cent of it is just leftover bread from bakeries and supermarkets. Although there are food donation drives in Hong Kong, they have extremely stringent requirements as to the types of bread that can be collected. As a result, a lot of the bread does not meet those requirements, so that which isn’t sold at the end of the day in bakeries goes to waste.

Which bakeries are part of your network?

We have worked with 21 bakeries in Hong Kong, now including one of the city’s oldest bread manufacturers: Maxim’s.

What was the biggest challenge you faced when starting this company?

When we began Breer, the concept was so new that it was hard for people to believe it was possible. When we approached bakeries, many of them wondered why they should believe a bunch of university students. I remember going to a bakery at 11am on a Saturday. I pitched the idea in Cantonese and asked the bakery to trust us this one time. If we were unable to make the bread beer, I promised them that I’d never come back. The head baker laughed, but we managed to get our first two kilograms of sourdough to make our first beer that day.

How is Breer pioneering the concept of food upcycling in Hong Kong?

During the pandemic, it has been harder for restaurants to estimate how much food they should produce every day, which has resulted in a lot more wastage. Breer legitimises the idea of turning trash into treasure. We look at everyday materials and nip the problem in the bud by reducing what we dispose of. The possibilities are endless; we are a team of young students and we thrive on experimentation.

We even made the world’s first pizza crust beer with leftover pizza crust. We worked with Pizza Hut to collect pizza bases and brewed a pale ale with it, which had never been done before. Our motto is “waste is not waste until you waste it”, and Breer hopes that Hong Kong rethinks its current practices and looks for sustainability at every step of the way.

Where do you do your food upcycling?

We opted for a contract brewing model because we are a pandemic-born business and we wanted to support other local businesses. We work with existing breweries and rent their licence and machinery to develop our products, although the research, recipe and final products are all ours.

You have stated that Breer is aiming for zero food waste in Hong Kong in the next five years. What progress has been made towards this?

Since we began Breer, we have helped to save ten tonnes of bread that would otherwise have been wasted. Our mission is not only limited to bread, though. We have also identified other wasted materials in Hong Kong. For example, coffee grounds: when a cup of coffee is brewed, the grounds are disposed of. We are currently experimenting with recipes to brew stouts flavoured with used coffee grounds.

What is involved in producing one can of Breer?

We wanted to give each Breer drinker complete transparency on the difference they are making, so each of our products has a customised QR code that includes data about that specific batch of beer. Each can has 5.6 per cent alcohol by volume, with 20g of surplus white bread, along with malt, hops, yeast and water. By consuming one can of Breer, an individual offsets 0.09 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, and saves 0.055 litres of water and 0.3 sq m of landfill space.

How can people get involved with Breer?

We have a Breer runner programme in which anyone can get involved. Depending on when we have brews scheduled, our Breer runners visit bakeries to collect bread then drop it off at specific breweries.

Were you a beer drinker before founding Breer?

While I had tried beer, I don’t think I really understood the art of beer until I started researching it. There are so many different styles of beer and ways of brewing and, especially in Hong Kong, so many stories behind each product.

What’s next for Breer?

We’re working towards the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We’re hoping to promote responsible consumption and production by making customers rethink their purchases and making producers rethink their practices. We’re also developing new recipes, with a very special pineapple-based fruity beer in the works for this summer.

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