San Diego

Your Corner: Turning Old Cupcakes and Bread Into Vodka

Distillers are fighting food waste and saving dough

What’s old is new again. It’s a saying that applies perfectly to an idea by the owners of one of San Diego’s newest distilleries.

“When we first came up with the idea, no one thought it was a good one,” said Sam Chereskin, co-owner of Misadventure and Company.

His idea was to take old bread products and use them to make vodka.

Once a week Chereskin takes a van to the Jacobs and Cushman San Diego food bank and picks up a load of more than a thousand pounds of bread products the food bank can no longer give away. Most of them are past their due date, but still useable.

“We get twinkies, ho hos, French baguettes, crullers, you name it. The whole bakery aisle goes into our vodka,” said co-owner Whitney Rigali. “Essentially, all these baked goods have starches and sugars inside them, which are the building blocks to making any type of alcohol.”

Rigali walked us through the process which includes combining all the bread products into what could be described as a giant, warm blender. It mashes the mixture up into what he describes as a sweet porridge. From there, yeast is added to eat the sugar and create alcohol. At that point, what Rigali says is essentially a bread beer, is heated to extract the alcohol, which is eventually turned into vodka.

There are multiple reasons for doing it this way.

For one, the bread products they get from the food bank are free, which Chereskin and Rigali say allows them to make and later sell the vodka for less.

The other, more important reason, is about a lot more than alcohol.

“If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest contributor of greenhouse gases behind the United States and China,” said Chereskin. “In 2014, the amount of food wasted could fill the empire state building 90 some times.”

According to the USDA, more than $16 billion worth of food is wasted in the U.S. every year. The National Resource Defense Council claims 40 percent of the food made in this country is never eaten.

If other companies catch on, using old bread products to make alcohol could be one way San Diego fights food waste because the distillery industry is growing in the county.

According to California’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, there are 17 licensed distilleries in San Diego County, compared to just two, five years ago.

“We’re piggybacking off the craft brewing scene, the boom, really,” said Rigali.

For now, Misadventure and Company is pretty much alone in its process, and Sam Chereskin said he has multiple reasons to feel good about the work they’re doing.

“I have a reason to get up in the morning that goes beyond having a drink, but I get to have that too. So, it’s a pretty fun day.”

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