The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Bread vs Beer

old baker's picture
old baker

Bread vs Beer

Do any of you bakers also brew beer?  How do you compare the two processes, which is easier?

In a TED presentation, Peter Reinhart stated that bread is solid beer and beer is liquid bread.  Both use the fundamental same ingredients; grain, water, yeast, and flavoring.  Salt in bread, hops in beer.

The biggest difference between making each is the need for cleanliness in brewing, whereas baking is more forgiving.  After a certain point in the brewing process, sanitation is required.  All vessels and equipment have to be rinsed in sanitizing chemicals or the brew may be infected with unwanted yeast and bacteria.  This will result in a spoiled product.  Even breathing over the un-fermented beer (called wort) can cause it to become infected.

OTOH, bread dough isn't as sensitive to yeasts in the air.  In fact, some breads are made with yeast and bacteria collected from the air (sourdough).

What are your thoughts?

Postal Grunt's picture
Postal Grunt

I did do some home brewing for about five years but figured out that I wasn't getting anywhere with it. First of all, I had to travel at least 45 minutes or trust the early internet outlets for materials. That doesn't sound like much but I had only enough capacity for making two cases worth of homebrew. Add in the time required for the processes and the cleanup and the end product was more expensive and no where near the quality of what I could find at the local liquor stores.

The only solutions I could find to those problems of costs and quality were to go to much bigger and more expensive equipment. Since my friends were reluctant to even try homebrew, enlisting their help on a regular basis for the production involved with all grain brewing wasn't going to happen. I admit I enjoyed the learning and executing the processes in a disciplined manner but reality arose and I ended up giving away or selling what equipment I could.

On the other hand, I can bake bread on my own with relatively little clean up. Good flour can be obtained in quantities of ten pounds or less relatively easily without traveling great distances. My starter has survived over ten years of use and one pound packs of IDY or ADY can be found at the closest Target or Walmart. I can use them when I want. Salt isn't a problem either. The local water isn't bad at all. It would be nice if I had more freezer space available but Mrs PG can't resist a good sale at the supermarket.

So I like baking bread more than brewing beer. I get a great deal of satisfaction from a good looking and tasting loaf. My Saturday night pizza isn't bad either. In a perfect world, I could do both but I try to be somewhat realistic so I'll enjoy baking.

old baker's picture
old baker

I'm lucky in that I live in a city large enough to support several brewing supply stores, so getting ingredients isn't a problem.  I buy grain through a local brewing club, getting 50 lb bags and storing to be used as needed.

Brewing at home allows me to tinker with the ingredients to get unique flavors that I can't by at a store.  It's probably more expensive than store-bought beer, but it's a hobby.  Hobbies generally don't make or save money; we do them for the enjoyment.  As with bread, I can buy good products at some of the local bakeries.  But baking is enjoyable too.

People spend money for the darnedest things, right?

Bread1965's picture

I brewed my first batch of Honey Blonde Ale this spring using my own raw honey (I'm also a hobby beekeeper). It was my first time doing so and I really enjoyed the experience. And the beer turned out well other than I didn't add enough bottling sugar so I didn't get the classic head of foam when poured. It was actually pretty good. 

Comparing the two I think in many ways there are a lot of similarities. Time is the real issue.

I can decide to make a loaf of bread and eat it within two days when my starter is up an running. And when I've neglected it, it might take me four days. But otherwise simple and quick with lots of room to tweak along the way.

Beer's the same but the lead time is a bit longer to pouring that glass. As to cost, I think I figured out (ex sunk costs of buying some basic equipment I didn't have) that it cost me about 1.5-2$/bottle. But like you I live in a city with lots of resources so my costs probably reflect that. Still cheaper than a pub or the beer store. And as to cleaning it didn't bother me much that I had to be careful with sanitation as I'm more that inclined generally. I thought this summer I'm going to go at it again but do a gallon or two at a time rather than five (which gave me about 50 bottles). Like bread that would allow me to tweak and play around with flavours and styles. So I think there's a lot of similarities.

You're an "old baker" so you'll appreciate I too am getting older. I'm no longer young and full of ambition, vigour and drive. It took me over five decades to realize I can't follow every dream. Even now I tell myself to 'gear down' when the urge strikes to take on a new more ambitious direction. I'm walking more gently on the earth as a result and enjoying hobbies along the way. Bees, bread, beer.. maybe next I should take up the banjo...

old baker's picture
old baker

I've always wanted to learn to play it, but I can't carry a tune in a bucket.  Absolutely no musical talent.  A retired friend took up the mandolin a few years ago and has gotten pretty good at it.  So many things I'd like to learn how to do, but at my age I'll stick with what I do best.  Baking, beer, skeet shooting.

eddieruko's picture

I've done both. Sourdough baker here. Ease in the eye of the beholder, and what your interests/priorities are. 

At the end of the day, I stopped brewing when we had our third kid. I simply couldn't afford to devote 4 hours to brew and clean on a Saturday/Sunday. 

Sourdough baking still requires a good chunk of time when considered from start to finish, but it is so much easier for me to adjust to my schedule, particularly because there is less "touch time".  Bulk fermentation is usually 4+ hours, but that's maybe 15-20 minutes of mixing and folding. Oh and there's much less to clean. For me, baking bread is much easier to multi-task... I can mix and go play with the kids, or get some chores done, or make a quick run to the store before I have to stretch and fold. 

There are times I think about getting into gallon-brewing, where I can brew on the stovetop. I enjoyed the time I had to focus on brewing beer. But it is more of a time commitment, when ingredients need to be collected from specialty stores or online, equipment set up, sanitation, recipe prep, and monitoring the brew, chilling, draining... If you have the space, it is definitely rewarding. If you're handy, it is a great way to DIY a lot of equipment.

Nowadays, I'm entertaining families at the house and attending less parties. Sharing homemade bread is an easy way to showcase my skills and interests. I learned that not everyone enjoys beer, or even the same styles that I like to make... but almost everyone enjoys bread (except for the one friend of mine who has celiac disease, so beer is out of the question there too).