Brooklyn Brewery's Ruggernaut Beer Went Through A Wood Chipper

If you know anything about Nordic food, you know there's always going to be leftover rye bread. And if you're Jonas Andersen, beverage director for the Great Northern Food Hall at NYC's Grand Central Terminal, you know that extra bread would make a great craft beer. Ruggernaut is a new collaborative brew from the Great Northern Food Hall's Agern restaurant and Brooklyn Brewery. "Rug" means "rye" in Danish and Juggernaut was one of Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver's favorite old comic book characters, hence the name. The beer incorporates the unsold bread from Meyers Bageri, the food hall's Nordic bakery, and packs a robust, toasty rye punch at 7.5% ABV.

Ruggernaut is available at The Bar, Grain Bar and Open Rye in the GNFH for $10 a bottle. It's also available to purchase to-go at Great Northern Deli for $5 per bottle. We spoke with Andersen about the process of making beer from bread, what role a wood chipper plays and what to eat with this heady, bready brew. Hint: it involves even more rye! Needless to say, Wonder Bread fans need not apply.

How did this beer collaboration come to be? 

We were saving rye bread from the [Great Northern] Food Hall over last summer. There's always going to be leftover bread, so we were able to send it back to the bakery to store in the freezer. When we had enough, we took it out to Brooklyn Brewery to make it into beer. It was a challenge to figure out how to get from a whole loaf of rye bread to something we could brew beer with.

How much bread are we talking about?

We did a pilot batch last September — just 50 liters — and for that we just chopped up the bread by hand. You need to break up the bread for the yeast to work on it. When we got to the point of having to chop up the bigger batch, we realized it it would have taken us hundreds of hours to do by hand. I thought of using a wood chipper almost as a joke, but Garrett thought it was a smart idea. We tried one that didn't work, but the second one did, so we put all this frozen rye bread through the chipper and collected what it spit out. We put at least a couple hundred kilos of bread through the chipper.

So there was just a chipper in the middle of the brewing floor?

Yes, they ended up buying one because they can use it in the future. And it's fun to throw frozen rye bread through a wood chipper! Garrett was pretty excited about it.

Is rye bread the only thing the yeast feeds on?

It's a barley blend beer, so barley and rye.

Is the bottling going to be released all at once?

No, some of what we made is going towards a Ruggernaut 2.0. We're aging some of it on barrels of rye whiskey from New York Distilling Company, so the next release will be "rye on rye."

What's a great food pairing for it?

Open-faced sandwiches, because of the rye in the beer. They're super-neat — it's what every Dane grew up with for lunch, and it's one of the main things we do at the Great Northern Food Hall. I'd pair the beer with the lighter ones. The meat-heavy ones not so much, but the salads, especially egg and shrimp, pair really well with the Ruggernaut. I was surprised by how much rye bread flavor we ended up getting in the beer. It has the same acidity you'd find in rye bread, so drinking Ruggernaut is like taking a bite of rye bread. It smells a lot like rye bread and it comes out that same really nice golden brown color.

What was your favorite part about this collaboration?

For me, the best part of it is just the fact that we get to make beer from leftover rye bread, it was really cool that we could really do this. It's not just a fun project of making beer, it's a way of eliminating food waste. I think there's a bit more focus now on eliminating food waste, and making beer with wasted bread is definitely one of them. There's only so much you can do in a kitchen with bread — croutons or breadcrumbs, maybe crisps, but you can only do that to a certain point.

Is the Great Northern Food Hall food waste-conscious?

As a restaurant group, MeyersUSA is dedicated to maintaining a sustainable food system which means creating as little food waste as possible, so we're also growing mushrooms in the leftover grain from beer production. We paired up with a mushroom grower for Brooklyn Farms called Small Hold. They grow mushrooms in small greenhouses, bring local produce into restaurants and show restaurants how to grow mushrooms in their backyards.

New to our menu: Venison and King Oyster Mushrooms. Our mushrooms are grown and harvested by our friends from our spent @brownsvilleroasters coffee grounds and leftover rye mash from our @brooklynbrewery collaboration. Chef @gkgislason serves them with mushroom purée, pour over coffee oil, and finishes the dish with freshly ground coffee.

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You can grow mushrooms in a lot of different things, sawdust, spent grain, coffee grounds. Right now they're picking up all the coffee grounds from Grand Central — about an oil drum's worth per week or 50 gallons of coffee grounds. They're also a massive source of waste. Coffee grounds compost in no time, but you're not composting when you're just throwing it out. They mix coffee grounds with spent grain from beer production, and it's used for growing mushrooms. We have our own grains we use for rye bread, the leftover rye bread is used in beer production, the leftover beer grains are used for mixing with coffee grounds to grow mushrooms. It's a really long cycle of using byproducts from either coffee, bread or beer that's fun to be involved with.