Bread and Beer: A Common Past and an Intriguing Future


By Tobin Bottman

The production of bread and beer share many commonalities, as both rely upon water, grain and yeast, and have an ancient heritage, as evidenced in archaeological discoveries. This article documents the similarities between beer and bread, and what one delicious fermented treat might be able to offer the other.
Bread and beer share most of the primary ingredients with one another. What follows is a brief summary of them:
Water – The core of both bread and beer, in addition to, you know, all life on this planet. At many times in history, beer was safer to drink than water. The boil and fermentation scrubbed the nasties out of contaminated water and provided much needed calories to boot.
Grain – The material that creates the nutritive qualities of both bread and beer. While most bread is composed of wheat and most beer is composed of barley there is no hard and fast rule, and I for one, love breaking it routinely. Large wheat bills in my saisons and alternative grains and flours in my bread and pizza dough make the world a more wonderful place.
Yeast – Yeast, oh magical yeast. Both beer and bread share a primary yeasting agent: Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Yes, there are other yeasts that will, and do, ferment bread and beer, but S. cerevisiae is the king. Lager yeast is of course S. pastorianus, but it is still related to S. cerevisiae. Of note, ‘wild’ yeast cultures that may be used to brew beer in open and/or barrel fermentations that include bacteria other than Saccharomyces (Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, Pediococcus etc.), are notably similar to levain (or ‘sourdough’) starters used in production of rustic styles of bread. It is no wonder that I love the qualities of a barrel-aged saison and a crusty mixed-grain levain loaf so much. Both contain naturally occurring lactic acid bacteria which imparts acidity, gives both a more complex flavor, but also allows a more shelf- stable product that stales much more slowly.
Salt – Let’s talk about salt baby… Salt in bread is included to slow fermentation and inhibits water absorption. Salt is a very important component of bread, albeit a minor percentage of the mix. But that is true of beer as well. Not only for a briny Gose, but ‘seasoned’ brewers routinely add ‘water salts’ to the brewing liquor to create water chemistry that makes better beer.
Botanicals – Botanicals provide flavor for both bread and beer with hops clearly a beer-centric ingredient. Their preservative qualities are a benefit for beer, especially in days of old, but clearly their flavor additions are beyond repute. But other herbs and blends like gruit were used for hundreds of years prior to the introduction of hops to bitter and flavor beer, and many were likely used in bread production as well.
In addition to similar ingredients, similar chemical agents act upon both beer and bread: The browning of bread in the oven and carmelization of wort in the kettle both rely upon Malliard reactions to create flavors not otherwise present that are key to the character of both breads and beers. And both beer and (leavened) bread depend upon the action of yeast, albeit in slightly different ways. And both can be made by you and me. And have been for thousands of years.
So how do these ingredients figure into beer and bread production in past and present times? Throughout history, both beer and bread were critical nutritive sources throughout many parts of the world at various periods in the past. Beer was brewed in what is now China over 7000 years ago, and what is now Iran over 3000 years ago. Ancient Egyptians even had a goddess of beer, Tenenit. While brewed by Romans, beer never really caught on with them as they were busy with wine…among other things. More recently, beer was being brewed in Bavaria as early as 800 years ago.
The history of breadmaking is spread across a wide swath of the planet. Ancient Egyptians are credited with making the first leavened bread, but unleavened bread, made from mixed crushed grains with water and ‘baking’ on hot stones in the sun or later, hot ashes, dates to much earlier. There is evidence of breadmaking at a 14,500 year old Natufian site in modern day Jordan. The remains of loaves of bread (called panis quadratus or Herculaneum loaf) were identified in archaeological deposits from Pompeii, buried by ash from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the year 79 AD.
And there are even beers brewed using bread, like Seto Koduolu from Russia and Estonia. Bouza from Egypt and Sudan is another type. Kvass, a fermented drink made from bread is a cultural mainstay in many areas of eastern Europe.
So given the intertwined history of beer and bread, might we utilize aspects of one to create a version of the other, drawing on elements of the past to make modern interpretations? With heirloom grains like emmer, einkorn, and spelt recently being reincorporated into baking, these could be used in brewing beer too. Given its ‘rustic’ character, saison seems like the perfect candidate to incorporate heirloom grains. Gose is a natural choice as well, but any style containing wheat will likely work well. The following recipe for an einkorn saison uses einkorn berries milled with the rest of the otherwise standard grist. The einkorn has a decent diastatic power that will be helped along by the barley malt to ensure adequate enzymatic conversion.
That saison can then be used to make bread along with more traditional brewing ingredients, barley (in the form of dried malt extract) and beer yeast, to make a truly ‘crossover’ beer bread! A recipe for a barley saison bread is detailed below.
Beer and bread are clearly closely related and were critical to populations around the globe deep into history. They share many of the same ingredients and both provide nutrition. And both can easily and deliciously be made by you at home. Keep brewing, keep baking, keep innovating! Cheers.

Einkorn Saison, All Grain, 5 Gallon:

OG: ~1.054
FG: ~1.002
ABV: ~6.8%
IBU: 23
SRM: 5
8 lb. Pilsner malt
2 lb. Einkorn berries
.5 lb. Acidulated malt
.5 lb. Caravienne malt
.5 lb. Munich malt
.5 lb. dextrose @ 15 min.
40 g. Willamette 5.5 AA hops @ 60 min.
.5 tsp. Irish moss @ 15 min.
.5 tsp. yeast nutrient @ 15 min.
1 x Imperial Yeast B64 Napoleon, or liquid or dried saison strain of choice
Process – Mash crushed grains at 147 for 90 minutes. Boil for 60 minutes, adding hops at 60 minutes (and a handful of finishing hops of your choice at flameout if desired).
Notes - Recipe is for 5.25 gallons into the fermenter, for 5 gallons at packaging. If desired, add flameout aroma hops of choice. While Belgian Pilsner malt is wonderful, locally malted grains, if available, are a great option. Einkorn berries can be sourced online or at natural food stores. They may need an extra grind through the grain mill. Give the fermentation time on the yeast to adequately dry out, 2 to 3 weeks is common. Don’t worry if the fermentation gets hot, that yeast strain loves it. Carbonate to 3 to 3.3 volumes CO2 and keg or bottle.

Barley Saison Beer Bread:

15 oz. all-purpose flour
9 oz. 90-100 degree saison
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dry malt extract
¼ tsp. dried saison yeast
Whisk together dry ingredients in mixer. Fitted with a dough hook add saison with motor running on low speed for 3 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes. Raise mixer speed to medium and knead for 7 minutes. Cover mixer bowl tightly with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 3.5 hours. Then transfer covered dough to refrigerator for about 10 more hours. Then place back on counter for another 3 hours at room temperature. Oil hands, remove dough from bowl, punch down and knead for 1 to 2 minutes. Round dough ball, lightly oil, place back in mixer bowl (or floured boule if you have one), and allow to rise again for 3 hours. Dump dough ball onto a prepared baking sheet and shape lightly. Make a couple of artful slashes with your lame or sharp knife. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes. Remove from baking sheet and finish directly on the oven rack until golden brown, usually an additional 10 to 15 minutes. A fully cooked loaf should have a ‘hollow’ sound if knocked on the underside.
Notes – If you don’t have the time (or patience!) for the long rise, increase yeast to one to two teaspoons and allow to rise until the dough volume has doubled. Knock down, knead, and allow to double in size once more.
You can also substitute Einkorn flour for half of the all-purpose wheat flour, which will result in a denser loaf with a pronounced ‘nutty’ character.


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