REAL LIFE

We turn donuts into booze!

Jenny and Sue make tasty tipples from treats that would normally go to landfill
  • Jenny McDonald, 61, from Dunedin in New Zealand, couldn’t believe the amount of bread and bakery products going to landfill.
  • She teamed up with her mate Sue Stockwell to turn donuts and other baked goods into gin and bring their ‘bread-to-bottle’ idea to life.
  • With their business Dunedin Craft Distillers, they hope others will be inspired to help reduce food waste too.

Here Jenny tells her story in her own words

While having a coffee with a friend, she began ranting about how much of our bread and bakery products end up in landfill.

‘It’s such a waste,’ she said, and I couldn’t have agreed more.

Food waste has a huge environmental impact, accounting for up to 10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Shockingly, over 900,000 tons of bread is wasted each year – around 24 million slices every day!

Being environmentally conscious and having a scientific background, I began to wonder what could be done about it.

As bread was full of starch and carbohydrates, I figured it could produce alcohol. Going online, I found a few distillers globally were doing exactly that to create award-winning spirits.

We could do it too! I thought.

It was September 2019, and that exciting realisation led me to meeting Sue Stockwell through a friend. Sue had worked for years in food service management.

The two of us were part of a group of four women who got together during lockdown to try and give our ‘bread-to-bottle’ idea a try.

After a year of experimenting, we’d figured out the process.

While the other two opted to remain enthusiastic supporters, Sue and I decided to make a go of it.

I reduced my hours as a contract researcher in technology, and Sue, 69, was retired.

Knowing it would take three loaves or the equivalent to produce one 750ml bottle of vodka or gin, we approached KiwiHarvest – a charity that collects excess food from supermarkets and redistributes it to those in need – with our idea.

Jenny and Sue
Mates Sue and Jenny (Credit: Supplied.)

‘It looks like a big pot of porridge,’ I said.

‘Have you produced a bottle of gin yet?’ they asked.

‘Er, not yet, but we’re hopeful,’ I replied.

Luckily they agreed to give us any leftover bakery products that’d normally go to the dump. We didn’t want to take food out of anyone’s mouths, so we only took the goods that were stale or past their best-before date.

Renting a commercial kitchen by the hour, we began receiving their bakery waste. When the first consignment arrived, our mouths fell open.

‘Look at all this!’ Sue and I both said, opening massive bags filled with croissants, iced buns, sliced bread and jam donuts. Most of it was stale so we weren’t tempted to have any of it with our morning coffee!

Carefully sifting through it all, we discarded anything mouldy or containing meat. Then we combined it in batches with water and malted barley to create a sticky mash, which we cooked for three hours.

‘It looks like a big pot of porridge,’ I said.

Jenny donuts
The bakery products get turned into a sticky mash (Credit: Supplied.)

‘It smells like a brewery in here,’ Sue said.

Afterwards we strained off the liquid and let it ferment with yeast for a couple of weeks.

At that stage, it was eight per cent alcohol.

‘It smells like a brewery in here,’ Sue said.

Luckily, that was just the smell we were after.

After heating the liquid in a still, the alcohol level increased to 94 per cent.

After further filtering, we proofed down the liquid with rainwater harvested from Mount Cargill to a drinkable 40 to 45 per cent.

Putting aside a batch for vodka, we added coriander, juniper and spices to another batch – and produced our first ever bottle of gin!

Normally we gauged the quality of our alcohol by rubbing some between our hands and sniffing it. This time, we poured some out and had a proper taste.

‘It’s perfect,’ we agreed, still incredulous that such a delicious drop had been produced from jam donuts and stale bread!

Despite its ingredients, even coeliacs could drink it as all the gluten had gone, making it gluten-free.

It was September 2020, and it had taken a year of experimenting. However it was a labour-intensive process taking two to three weeks from ‘bread to bottle’.

Bottling Machine Jenny McDonald
The bottling machine (Credit: Supplied.)

Calling ourselves Dunedin Craft Distillers, we were the first distillery in New Zealand to produce botanical spirits from discarded bakery products.

Soon people were snapping up our bottles, not only at the local Otago Farmers Market, but also at a number of local and nationwide outlets including cafes, restaurants and bars. We soon won our first medal at the New Zealand Spirits Awards for our Cacao Vodka.

Today there are six products in our range selling from $40 for a 250ml bottle, up to $88 for 750ml. Many have won prizes, including a gold medal in 2023 for our gin The Bay.

So far we’ve up-cycled over 6.5 tons of bread and bakery surplus into 2300 litres of spirits, with our own waste products going to animal feed – non alcoholic, of course!

At our distillery, we now do a full ‘bread to bottle tour’ to take customers through the process and include tastings. And to think our only prior knowledge of alcohol was drinking it!

Jenny and Sue
Jenny and Sue of Dunedin Craft Distillers (Credit: Martina Sandkuehler Photography)

People ask if we want to go global. The answer is no! We shouldn’t be shipping stuff around the world.

We want others to do what we do in their own area, to help reduce food waste everywhere.

We’re now covering our overheads and employing regular casual staff, but not quite paying ourselves
– and we’re pretty much working seven days a week!

Some think we’re bonkers, but we love producing our own spirits.

In fact, we think it’s really neat!

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