The idea to turn bagels into beer was born the same way many good ideas come about - over a beverage and conversation. Members of Ohio State’s Food Recovery Network (FRN) had met at a local pub to discuss what to do with large quantities of leftover bagels the student-run organization recovered daily from University Dining Services.
Their group of 20 volunteers recovered 600-plus pounds of food each week from six locations across campus and made deliveries to Star House and Faith Mission, local food banks, where they shared salads, sandwiches and pastries with underserved community members.
Mike Fackler, Environment, Economy, Development and Sustainability Major and past FSN President, took a sip of beer and commented that it smelled like a bagel, and said, “I wonder if you can make beer out of stale bagels.”
Those fateful words are the genesis of the bagel kvass ‘Close the Loop’, a Russian-style brew made from over 1,000 recovered bagels. It is now on tap exclusively at Seventh Son Brewing, a popular craft brew house located in Columbus’ Italian Village.
FRN has amassed 230 chapters since 2011 and collectively recovered 3.9 million pounds of food from campuses across the country. The OSU group’s ability to take their efforts from bread to keg is due to its leaders’ innovation, vision and ability to leverage grant funds.
In February 2019, they entered the Ohio State Energy Partners’ (OSEP) Smart Campus Challenge, a venture capitalist-style student sustainability competition. They pitched an idea to ramp up their food recovery efforts and develop a technology platform to capture data on campus food waste in hopes of optimizing university purchasing patterns.
“We placed first in the competition and received $54,000 in funding,” says TJ Kirby. He serves as current FRN President and is a graduate student pursuing his Master’s in Mechanical Engineering and doing research at the Center for Automotive Research. “We purchased a Nissan Leaf for pick-ups and deliveries and hired a local tech company to help develop the web-based platform.”
In addition to streamlining food recovery logistics, FRN’s Vice Presidents Alex Carr, Mechanical Engineering, and Austin Epler, Accounting, doubled down on the bagel beer idea by emailing another round of pitches to local brewers. A promising lead the previous year had not panned out.
In September, Seventh Son Brewer Chris Carter, OSU Civil Engineering alum, and Brewmaster Colin Vent, who had previous experience brewing beer from bread, responded with a meeting request. The idea of using recovered food in the brew was intriguing yet they had no way of predicting the sheer scope of material they would have to work with.
Carter was busy in the brew house the first day Epler, who says his car still smells like bagels to this day, showed up with a carload.
“I came back 30 minutes later to begin sorting the varieties - honey, blueberry, and everything - into barrels, and they were still unloading them onto the bar.”
Carter got to work steeping the sorted bagels in barrels of hot water for five days. When they tasted the slurry, he was optimistic. The next step was combining it in fermenting tanks with Seventh Son’s house yeast, base grain and water.
When they tasted the brew a few weeks later, Carter says he knew then that the decision to tie up a tank for three weeks was worth it.
“It definitely tastes like a bagel,” says Carter. “But it has flavors you wouldn’t get using usual ingredients. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever made.”
Employees gathered to brainstorm the name. ‘Close the Loop’ emerged as the clear winner based on the shape of the recycled ingredients. The name also references another aspect of Seventh Son Brewing’s efforts to reduce food waste. 40,000 pounds of their wet grain travels by dump truck each month to Bluescreek Farm where it is gobbled up by cattle and pigs.
Seventh Son Brewing untapped the first of 40 kegs of ‘Close the Loop’ at a tasting on December 3, 2019. The beer is getting good reviews on Untapped, which is like Yelp for beer. Woody’s Tavern, the famed on-campus watering hole, has a keg on order for January. FRN hopes this initial success will lead to a second collaboration based on another popular beer trend – pastry stouts.
“After a year of pickups on campus, we have identified meaningful trends,” says Carr. “We’ve got plenty of brownies, cookies and muffins we’re happy to deliver.”
Carter is very open to the idea. “A Kvass is labor intensive but pastries break down quickly.”
In the meantime, the FRN will continue to combat food waste one carload at a time and relish the dent their efforts have made in keeping bagels out of the landfill. They will also continue to develop their web-based platform to take on campus food recovery to new heights.
“Dining facility staff will be able to enter and track food,” says Epler. “FRN will connect that info to volunteers who will deliver it to requesting food banks.”
Kirby adds that they will be better equipped to help University Dining Services further mitigate food waste once they are able to work with raw data.
Sounds like another opportunity to close the loop.
Inset: Ohio State’s FRN leadership Team:
President, TJ Kirby, Graduate Student in Mechanical Engineering, Center for Automotive Research
Vice Presidents, Alex Carr, Mechanical Engineering, Austin Epler, Accounting
Past President, Mike Fackler, Environment, Economy, Development and Sustainability
Bagels still seeing a lot 300/day
Pick-ups every day
Masks, sanitizer, food insecurity even bigger things, job losses
Taking risks picking up food but people are depending on it more
Bagel beer not a thing this year
Composted againg25 by 25 on ag campus, current coffee grounds, taking bagels