A fan of beer would never consider leaving an unfinished beer in a glass to be dumped. Producers of beer feel that way about their ingredients.
Once the sugars and flavors from grain to make beer are extracted for brewing, the grain — now a thick, warm, wet mass — still has use.
“We were literally throwing it in the garbage,” said Austin Jevne, founder of Rochester's Forager Brewing Co. “Which is a bummer because it’s a usable product.”
After more than a year of tossing theirs, Forager Brewing has found a taker. This year, Forager began sending spent grain for cattle feed to Cannon Valley Ranch near Goodhue.
Now you can enjoy a burger and beer from beef that fed on grain used to brew the beer.
“It’s a good circle relationship,” Jevne said. “Reducing waste is something we’ve wanted to do at Forager.”
That’s not to say Forager hasn’t tried. The brewery had arrangements with some farmers, but Jevne admitted the brew schedule was often unpredictable, and the grain, warm and wet from the brewing process, would need to be picked up quickly, especially in the summer, before it spoiled.
“We wouldn’t have that much, and we wouldn’t have it consistently,” he said, adding that will change now that the brewery has switched to a new brew system.
Until fall 2019, the brewery had Waste Management pick up the grain for compost — a service the company no longer provides.
That was a problem Kinney Creek Brewery ran into early in its operation. However, that brewery has had consistent takers for its spent grain for more than five years, said Kinney Creek owner Donovan Seitz.
“It helps that we brew consistently throughout the week,” he said. “The consistency of pickup is key.”
Kinney Creek sets aside most of the spent grain for an area farmer who uses it for cattle and chicken feed. The rest goes to Barking Dozen, a pet-treat producer, and to Krohnies Crackers, which makes high-protein crackers from the grain.
Seitz said they put the grain for those two businesses in a cooler to help accommodate their pickup schedule.
Processing spent grain into food for people isn’t unheard of, but it does require extra effort.
LTS Brewing Co. has made holiday bread kits using some of their spent grain. However, the grain for this year’s holiday kits didn’t quite fill a 5-gallon bucket. Each batch of beer produces 4 to 5 32-gallon bins of spent grain, said Brandon Schulz, head brewer.
“It’s nice to incorporate into our food, but it’s not a really viable way to dispose of it,” he said. “But nobody wants to put it in a landfill.”
Most of the rest of the brewery’s grain goes to an area cattle farmer for feed, he said.
Finding a farmer who is accommodating and quick to pick up can be a coveted commodity in the craft beer world, said Steve Finnie, co-owner of Little Thistle.
“Some of the brews are done not last minute, but not always with a lot of notice," he said. "If you don’t get rid of it quick — especially in the summer — you’ve got a big, steaming pile of sugary waste that attracts insects. And starts to stink in a short while.”
Baking with spent grain
Turning spent grain into usable flour for food is easier in small batches. The grain used can be dried in an oven on warm. Spread the grain on a cookie sheet and leave it in the oven until it's dry, which usually takes one to two hours, depending on the amount of grain.
The dried grain can then be milled into flour using a coffee grinder set to its finest setting.
The grain is darker, coarser and heavier than regular baking flour. Substituting flour for the grain results in heavy, dense baked goods, which sometimes aren't fun to eat. The best use of spent grain flour is to add a portion of it to regular baking flour or as a substitute for an ingredient.
With this recipe, I took a simple, three-ingredient peanut butter cookie recipe, and replaced half the peanut butter with a spent grain and vegetable oil combination.
Depending on how coarse your flour is, the 1:1 ratio of flour to oil may not always be accurate. The goal is to have a final combination that has the consistency of peanut butter to add to the batter.
Spent Grain Peanut Butter Cookies
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup spent grain flour
Combine ingredients. Line a baking sheet with wax parchment paper. Place spoonfuls of the dough evenly spaced on the paper. Bake at 350 degrees for 6 to 7 minutes until slightly brown on the bottom.