Grains of Possibility: Ways to Use Spent Brewing Grains

(This appeared as my Spring 2007 Column in American Brewer)

According to Gunter Pauli of the Zero Waste Research Institute 92% of brewing ingredients are wasted. Most of the waste is spent grain that still has lots of useful protein and fiber. From a business perspective, that spent grain is potential revenue that most brewers are either giving away or paying to have removed as refuse. Why let that grain go down the drain when that mushy malt can be turned into money?

Feed Is for the Birds
By far the most common use of spent brewers grain is as animal feed, primarily for cattle, but also for pigs, goats, fish and just about any other livestock. In a 2003 survey of 45 breweries, 38 said their spent grain was used as animal feed, mostly for beef cattle and dairy cows. Some brewers, like Allagash, Deschutes, and Kalamazoo claim to fetch a small price for their grains, but most breweries give it away for free, which is certainly better than paying waste disposal fees. But cattle feed is neither economically nor ecologically the most efficient use of spent grain.

AVBC Compost
(Anderson Valley Brewing Company collecting spent grain.)

Cattle require as much as 20 pounds of grain per pound of beef, and need 2,600 gallons of water to produce a single serving. A new United Nations study (Livestock’s Long Shadow, December, 2006) surveys the ecological damage done by livestock, including sheep, chickens, pigs, goats and cattle. According to the report, the world’s rapidly growing herds of cattle are the greatest threat to the climate, forests, and wildlife, and cause a host of other problems too, from acid rain to the introduction of alien species, from producing deserts to creating dead zones in the oceans, from poisoning rivers and drinking water to destroying coral reefs. The world’s 1.5 billion cattle produce 18 per cent of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Fuel to produce fertilizer to grow feed, to produce meat and to transport it – and clearing vegetation for grazing – produces 9 per cent of all emissions of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas. Oh, and boy do they stink – cow flatulence and manure emit more than one third of emissions of methane, which warms the world 20 times faster than carbon dioxide.

As usual though, small brewers are among those at the vanguard of a trend that is addressing these problems. Many brewpubs now feature the very meat that was raised on the brewery’s spent grain, often times raised according to organic methods of husbandry, thereby supporting local sustainability and limiting some of the environmental woes caused by global, industrial livestock. But while reciprocity between local brewers and cattle farmers may be better than sending grains to landfill, there are still plenty of good reasons to seek more efficient and creative ways to reuse brewers draff.

Compost Is the Most
According to the International Soil Conservation Organization, 65% of the world’s soil is degraded. Directly staunching the causes of topsoil loss (poor agriculture and forestry practices) may be difficult for brewers, but compost is an effective and accessible way they can help revive soil health. Schlafly Beer in St. Louis used money from a Missouri Department of Natural Resources grant to research various uses for spent grain and found that compost was the best option. Another grant, from the County Solid Waste department, got their compost system up and running. A local vendor packages and sells most of the finished product, and a portion is also used on the brewery’s own half-acre kitchen garden.

Great Lakes Brewing Company Compost
(Patrick Conway, co-owner of Great Lakes Brewing in Cleveland, gets his hands dirty in one of the brewery’s vermiculture compost bins.)

Carrie Farthman, at Schlafly, raves about the new-found life for their brewery waste, “composting spent grain not only cuts down on organic solid waste in our local landfill, but it creates a product of great use to local businesses and the well being of the land. We are thrilled at the opportunity to treat the byproducts of our primary production process as a valuable asset to our community, economy and environment.”

Turn on to Some ‘Shrooms
Spent grain compost can also be used as a growing medium for mushrooms. Schlafly is hoping to use another grant to renovate storage areas at their Bottleworks to create incubation and fruiting rooms that will use spent grains and spent yeast to grow oyster mushrooms they will serve at their two restaurants. Likewise, Great Lakes Brewing Co. in Cleveland provides spent grain and scrap paper to their partners at Killbuck Farms to grow organic shitake and oyster mushrooms that are used in entrees at their pub restaurant.

Bakin’ the Barley Goods
Spent grains also morph into all manner of delicious baked goods. Glenn Brady, brewmaster at Silver Gulch Brewing and Bottling Co. in Fox, Alaska harvests draff from the middle of the grain load in the lauter tun right after the sparge in a technique he says avoids teig (the pasty proteins that settle on top of the sparge grains) and gets only still-hot grain, which he says reduces the chance of unwelcome infections taking up residence before the grain goes to its intended use as an addition to his homemade breads.

The historic Frankenmuth Brewery in Michigan serves their chili in a spent grain “bread bowl”. Granite Restaurant and Brewery in Toronto matches jalapeno spent grain bread with their Best Bitter as part of a prix fixe beer dinner menu. The bruschetta served at Hales Ales in Seattle is spent grain crostini topped with fresh mozzarella, vine-ripe tomatoes, and fresh basil, drizzled with balsamic reduction vinegar. And if you think that sounds good as a first course, how about following it up with their slow-smoked pork shoulder in Hale’s Stout with barbecue sauce served on a spent grain roll. But it might be a toss-up between that and their Pacific Rockfish breaded and pan fried, and served with tartar sauce, lettuce, tomato, and onion on a spent grain baguette. Then there is Firestone Walker, World Beer Cup Champion Brewery and Brewmaster two years running in 2005 and 2006, whose ingredients reflect their commitment to locally and regionally grown ingredients, including the spent grains used to craft their pizza dough.

Dog Biscuits, Ethanol and Bio-Plastics
Looking for something a little more unusual than bread? Try drying and milling spent grain into flour and baking it into your favorite cookies. One brewery rolls it on to their own homemade dog biscuits. The possibilities in the bakery are virtually endless, but scientific laboratories have been creating some even more unexpected products. In Japan, the Akita Research Institute of Food and Brewing has developed a new technology that drastically reduces the cost of producing polylactic acid, the spent grain-derived basis from which they are making biodegradable plastics. In Akita Prefecture, one of Japan’s major agricultural areas, most food processing waste is incinerated or discarded in landfills, so the new technology is expected to be an economic as well as an environmental boon.

Coors Brewing has been producing another petroleum alternative with their spent grain, one that brewers have always made in low concentrations, ethanol. But this ethanol is made from waste grains and spilled beer and being sold as commercial fuel-ethanol. In 2005, Coors and project partner Merrick & Company, opened their second plant together in attempts to meet growing demand for the product.

“We’ve basically taken a waste stream and turned it into a revenue stream,” says Steven Wagner, the Merrick vice president who helps lead the Coors ethanol project. The ethanol is sold under a contract with Valero Energy Corp., which distributes the beer-ethanol to Diamond Shamrock stations around Denver. With federal regulations mandating ethanol fuel use and bio-based product procurement, fuel production and bio-plastics may soon become the most attractive option for brewers everywhere.

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115 Responses to Grains of Possibility: Ways to Use Spent Brewing Grains

  1. [...] also wrote about Schlafly’s reuse of spent grain as compost in this article in American [...]

  2. Beer says:

    Beer and Bio-fuel

    A couple of month’s ago I joined in the hand wringing that the increasing demand for bio-fuels was driving up the cost of beer because former barley fields were growing crops destined for ethanol plants. Now it appears that this doesn’t ha…

  3. Sugiyama Hiroaki says:

    Your column interests me very much. Google guided me to your blog.

    Our company handles the by-products of beer company in Japan. Beer waste is the lagest volume among their by-products. We have a sales of 15,000 MT beer waste a year in a condition of extracted waste. The beer waste has been used as cattle feed; beef cattle and dairy cows for a long time in Japan. as well.

    But recentry beer waste in Japan would be in short sujpply. Because Beer market would be smaller than before. In addition, “new genre beer” would be growing up in this several years. “New genre beer” is produced by liquid starch, without malt. When they brew “new genre beer”, they do not output beer waste (spent brewing grain) at all.
    Our customer complain about the short suply very much and we would be in trouble the shortage.

    Japan people purchase the “new genre beer” more than the traditional beer because the new genre beer is cheaper. The new genre beer would be sold at $1.00 per one can, while the traditional beer is $1.80. Therefore people supports the new genre beer.

    The price difference is caused by the liquor tax of Japanese government. The government judge the tax rate by the percentage of the malt material for the beer.

    Then we would like to import the beer waste from USA if the business would be profittable. For the economical delivery, the dried beer waste would be more preferable. The dried one should be less than 10% poisture rate and should be contained to the jambo bag by 300kg or so.

    We would appreciate it if you would advise us the possibility, US beer waste could export the goods to Japan.

    • RAUL FLORES says:

      I have 1500 metric tons of moist brewer grains available weekly.F.O.B Mexico.
      Let me know if you are still interested.
      Best Regards
      Raul Flores
      011 521 861 619 19 27

    • Joe Ong says:

      Dear Sugiyama Hiroaki,

      My name is Jose Ong from Bacolod City, Philippines. If you are interested, I have available source of spent malt from a nearby brewery. I’d also like to learn and discuss the drying process with you further. You can contact me at mrjoseong@yahoo.com Hope to hear from you soon!

    • yehanew says:

      we are in a process of managing the by product beer company around 25,000MT per day .if any body is interested to work (import) with us is welcome. please contact me on yehanew@gmail.com

  4. beeractivist says:

    Sugiyama Hiroaki,

    Interesting dilemma. The main value proposition of your business is turning a waste byproduct into a new resource. I am very interested in this kind of “zero-waste” business modeling where the “waste” of one business is used as “food” for another. So what happens when that waste disappears?

    Is this new genre beer what they call “happo shu”? From what I understand, the liquid starch used in this kind of beer is derived from something other than malted barley, like rice or soy. Correct? If it were produced using liquid malt, the production process should produce roughly the same quantity of spent grains as brewing directly with grains.

    Do these beers taste as good as the malt-based ones they compete against? I suspect not, but I guess that is irrelevant to your dilemma. The point is that people are buying it because it is cheap and therefore you have a shortage of spent grain for use as animal feed.

    To answer your question as best I can: most spent grain in the US is already used here as animal feed. In most cases it is given away for free but in some cases farmers pay a very small price for it. The question then is whether the value of spent grain is high enough in Japan to justify it being processed and shipped there. In my understanding, few brewers here dry their grains before giving them to farmers. So if drying is a requirement for you, it would be an additional expense – probably a considerable one at that. On the other hand, if you shipped it wet, that would be a lot of extra weight and might also have problems with molding. In your favor is the fact that California, and the west coast in general, is full of breweries, so ports like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle are close to the spent grain supply. If you can find some shippers who have one way loads – goods coming to the US from Japan without return goods filling them for return to Japan then the shipping could be cheap enough to make this worthwhile.

    You might start by contacting some of the bigger brewers on the west coast directly, such as Sierra Nevada, Anchor, and Anheuser-Busch (who has a plant in Los Angeles) to see this idea has an merit. If you can pay more than what they are getting now then you might have a deal.

    Good luck,
    Chris

  5. [...] Revolution and also wrote in my April 2007 American Brewer column about how Coors is already producing ethanol from brewing grains. I also blogged about how the cost of European barley is on the climb because farmers are switching [...]

  6. Sugiyama Hiroaki says:

    Dear Mr. Chris O’Brien,

    Thank you for your prompt kind reply for my mail dated
    September 1.

    I am a fun for American drama “24” , miss O’Brien appears
    in “24” as an investigation stuff. She is very capable for
    analysis on the terrorism and help Jack Bauer, the main
    cast. Your last name remind me her acting. 24 season 6 would
    start rent today!

    So, Spent Beer Grain! You would send us the interesting
    information as to the use of beer waste in US. US Brewers
    usually hand over the beer waste to farmer as animal feed in
    very low price. Perhaps they do not dry the waste but
    deliver it in raw condition. We would guess that lots of
    famar would feed the animal around the bewers in near place.
    They can obtain the fresh waste without molding.

    Yes, “Happo Shu” is one of the new genre beer. But about 25%
    malt grains would be used for “Happo Shu” which appered
    about ten years ago. We have been troubled the newest genre
    beer, which we call “the third genre beer”. It appeared
    about three years ago. As mentioned, they use the liquid
    starch instead of malt juice. The liquid starch would be
    produced from corn mainly and malt grains would not be used
    for the liquid starch at all. Soy or rice would be used as
    assistant materials. So we have a stirict short supply of
    spent beer grains.

    We would be appreciating your suggestion that the west coast
    is full of breweries and the preferable way to shipment for
    the goods. Generally, the dried Spent Beer Grains would have
    about three times as worthy as the raw waste. We would
    wonder that American dried spent grains could export Japan
    in profitable, because the breweries would usually hand over
    the waste to cattle or dairy farmer for free or in a very
    small price in your country.

    Dried one should be less than 10% moisture, while the raw is
    80% or so. We have ever found the dried one, imported from
    Asian countries mainly; China, Hong Kong, Phillipine,
    Indnesia. But farmer would often avoid the feed imported
    from Asia. Because they would trouble for the animal
    infection desease caused by the Asian feed.

    Your further information would be appreciated, about the
    possibility for export, the facility of drier in breweries
    and so on.

  7. Kenneth Yeung says:

    Sugiyama Hiroaki ,

    Yes, you do have a problem with Asian imports.
    If you are able to contact me at kmarkt2@yahoo.com, perhaps, I maybe able to work out some possibilities.

  8. Terry says:

    My son in law brews beer and the spent grains are ground up by his wife for dinner rolls and bread. She freezes the unused grains for later use. These spent grains make a very tender, sweet and moist product with 1/2 the sugar used normally to make sweet rolls. They contain the rich flavor of the grains and taste somewhat as if a molasses was added to it. In short it makes the most wonderful rolls and bread!!!

    I highly recommend brewers make their grains available to homemakers and bakers! If these grains could be produced, packaged, and marketed; there may be additional economic benefit to brewing beer.

  9. beeractivist says:

    Terry – I’m with you, man. Bake on!

    Chris

  10. Jan Warwick says:

    Can you tell me how she gets the stuff ground up.
    A blender? Or try to make really grapenuts.

  11. beeractivist says:

    Jan,

    Are you referring to the woman at Schlafly? In any case, I’m afraid I don’t know the answer. Try getting in touch directly with them. Best of luck!

    Cheers,
    Chris

  12. Hi- I am a new home brewer that will soon graduate to all grain. I also am a wood pellet stove user and have dabbled a tad with different bio-mass sources and will be attempting to burn spent brew grain. I have the ability to burn in my particular stove about a 1/3 mixture of corn but it must be very dry. Geesh corn has awsome BTUs as when compaired with store baught sawdust pellets. Just for example my stove has heat range settings that range from 1 to 10. The same amount of heat using corn at setting 1 is the same as all wood pellets on setting 4. Corn has lots of BTUs and i assume spent sugary brew grain will to. I plan on using the stove itself to dry the grain so all the heat and humidity will stay in the house and smell mmm mmm good. I also have a shreader that cuts letters into book match sized strips that i also mix with the pellets. i use a few handfulls per 40# sack of pellets. Theory is if it burns -it is putting heat into my house that would normally just been pitched out in the trash. I actually find that using the paper shreads helps eliminate the clinckers that ocure in the fire pot that are bad for the efficient burning. If anyone out there has tried used grain in their pellet stoves give me a shout back and let me know your results. Is summer now but i will try this when the weather changes and have a homebrew watching the grain turn to heat. I have also taken used motor oil and soaked pellets with it and added a few scoups to an all sawdust brun and never had any problems other than a bit of garage like smell when i open the lid, but other than that it burned smokeless and pretty much oderless. Please note too that my stove – a summer’s heat brand is not self ignighting. A buddy of mine has an auto lighting more expensive unit and with just pure 100% pellet burning the unit was very supprizingly smokey foe a few minutes until they pelleys actually had flame ignition.

    thanx

    richie z……….

    • Claudio says:

      HI Richie. Did you ever get an answer to this or find a solution? I’m studying the possibility and have the option of buying a new one.

      Also this post is six years old. How are you doing on all grain? I’ve been having fun with it and am planning to start growing grains this spring so the stove would be great.

      Please share what you’ve learned!

      Claudio

  13. can we dry it by mechanical press and add salt to increase the keeping quality
    can we radiate to increase its keeping quality in bulk

  14. Ted says:

    We are in our second year of a small organic farm in SW Colorado. All of our local mico brewers have offered there waste to our project for compost. Can anyone out there help us know how to use the different waste produces to make the best compost.

  15. al says:

    Large operations should be using anaerobic digestion to ween themselves off of grid power. Cost effective, sustainable. You would also be eligible for tax incentives and capital cost grants from the new administration.

  16. [...] with care or give proper storage instruction to avoid these kinds of tragedies. Also, check out Chris O’Brien’s blog for more environmentally friendly ways to process and use spent grain. [...]

  17. blb says:

    Dog biscuits with spent grain?!? I don’t know, but I’ve heard that spent grain is toxic to dogs!

  18. Bryant says:

    Hell my name is Bryant and iam writing this for the Montrose brewers call me at 2816428861 and I would like to talk to you for disposal

  19. Simon says:

    I changed my residence recently, and I’m now living in a community that brews a local brew from molasses for consumption. The problem comes in the disposal of the resulting waste which is poured into the neighbouring river thus polluting it. We have been trying to stop this brewing but, its a battle we can’t win. How can this waste be recycled instead of being poured into the river system?

  20. adetunji adejare t. says:

    is it possible to cultivate fungal isolate from spent grain?

  21. adetunji adejare t. says:

    please if you know anything on how to cultivate fungal isolate on brewer’s spent grain, send it to my mail early. thank’s

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  23. [...] essentially malted barley husks.  Many breweries have relationships with farmers who will use the spent grain as either feed or fertilizer or both, and we intend to do likewise.   In our case, we’d like to see it get funneled through an [...]

  24. Jacko says:

    I need info on anything I can do with a daily load of 6ton Beerwaste. Theres no ruminant animals to feed and theres no need for compost. Maybe bread recipe and dog biscuit recipe? Anything to turn it to fishfeed? or what to mix with to produce chicken feed? I can start a fish and chicken farm. Im in tropical Africa.

  25. [...] the Good People Brewing Company and the Continental Bakery called “Spent Grain Bread.” Some say that 92% of the grain used in beer brewing is wasted, though it is still full of nutrients, so what [...]

  26. [...] Grains of Possibility: Ways to Use Spent Brewer’s Grain [...]

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  32. Adekanmi Jonathan says:

    Good evening, how was your day. Please what do you think can be an effective way or the best equipment for drying spent grain? Good work, keep it up!

  33. Adekanmi Jonathan says:

    Good day. I am Jonathan from Nigeria. I have tried different ways to dry the spent grain, but none has been so effective. Please what are the ways that you think will be effective?

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  35. Wini Kovacik says:

    I just had lunch at a local brewery in Corvallis, Oregon – and quite typically, Oregonian style, the “veggie burger” I had was made with spent grain. I knew the burger was quite different than I’m used to buying such as “Morningstar” products using soy but didn’t realize until I went to the computer what I had actually eaten. I don’t see this use in any of what I’m reading.

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  37. [...] the Beer Activist writes, “According to the International Soil Conservation Organization, 65% of the world’s [...]

  38. [...] Brewery in Michigan uses it to make bread bowls for their chili (mmm, delicious). But an estimated 92% of beer ingredients are still wasted. Given the size of Anheuser-Busch’s operation, this [...]

  39. [...] Brewery in Michigan uses it to make bread bowls for their chili (mmm, delicious). But an estimated 92% of beer ingredients are still wasted. Given the size of Anheuser-Busch’s operation, this [...]

  40. [...] The beer grain we get is the end result of the brew process. Once the brewer is finished brewing, he has no further use for the grain. Enter the farmer (in this case, that’s us). There are so many ways to use beer grain, and we have only tried a few of the many uses.  [...]

  41. [...] option is to touch on another kingdom, kingdom animalia.  The spent grain can feed cattle, pigs, goats, [...]

  42. Pete Wilenta says:

    What does it cost to purchase spent brewers grain in mid-state Pennsylvania?

  43. [...] series of mouth-watering treats, ranging from beer-battered onion rings to hamburger buns made from spent grain. We also were impressed with the whole ethos of the Sierra Nevada company (emphasis on [...]

  44. [...] can pump Coors ethanol into your tank in Denver. And other breweries turn used grain into bread, dog biscuits, biodegradable plastics, and [...]

  45. [...] can pump Coors ethanol into your tank in Denver. And other breweries turn used grain into bread, dog biscuits, biodegradable plastics, and [...]

  46. [...] can pump Coors ethanol into your tank in Denver. And other breweries turn used grain into bread, dog biscuits, biodegradable plastics, and [...]

  47. [...] grow mushrooms, make dog biscuits or in a myriad of other uses. Take a look at some options here on Beer Activist. We will recommend not eating it right out of the pot, as it tastes more like cardboard than [...]

  48. [...] anyone asks why i didn’t quote The Beer Activist article on this topic that is the first result if you google the topic of ‘spent [...]

  49. Armando says:

    Hi. We are starting the process of installing a animal feed unit (cattle, pork and chicken) in west Africa and would like to know more about the process of manufacturing it from beer waste. Thanks in advance. Armando.

  50. [...] beef for their restaurant. Do they have other options? sure, but not too many. According to the Beer Activist, there are a handful, like compost, animal feed, mushroom soil, and bioplastics. Will all of these [...]

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