Back in the 1990s, Sioux Falls, South Dakota got a brewpub. Like a lot of brewpubs at the time, the names of their beers stressed the local angle. For example, their amber ale was called Ringneck Red — after the ringneck pheasant, the state bird of South Dakota. South Dakota is a ranching state, and the brewpub also served burgers (made from both beef and bison). That’s not unusual, but the menu told a story about the burgers that likely resonated with many locals. The spent grains from the brewery went to a local farmer to feed his cattle. The beef for the burgers, in turn, came from those cattle. A neat little story.

Spent grains are a major source of brewing waste. About 85% of the solid waste a brewery produces is spent grains. [i] At the same time, animal feed is a major cost for farmers who raise cattle or other livestock. And brewery spent grain (BSG) can be used to supplement animal feed, especially for cattle. Across North America, breweries are pairing with farmers to help each other out. In a typical craft brewery arrangement, the brewery gives the BSG to the farmer as long as he or she is willing to pick it up and cart it away promptly. In some agricultural areas, the brewery may charge a small fee. This saves the brewery money it would have had to spend on grain disposal. The farmer uses the BSG to supplement his or her feed and this saves money. And for brewpubs that buy or barter some beef from the farmer it supplies, it allows them to tell their customers a Brewery-to-Farm-to-Brewpub-Table story that may resonate with those who enjoy local goods or support better ecological practices.

Other Uses

Many uses for brewery spent grains (BSGs) have been suggested. There have been attempts to combust BSGs and harness the resultant heat for energy production. Alaskan Brewing, for example, dries their BSGs in a boiler fueled by dried BSGs.  Biogas (methane) production and ethanol production via specialized types of fermentation have also been tried. BSGs also contain some valuable compounds — including ferulic acid and p-coumeric acid — and attempts to extract these in an economical fashion have been tried. Composting BSG has been tried, by Bell’s, for one. A small amount of BSG is even pressed into dog treats or cookies for human consumption. Otter Creek Brewing Company, for example, mixed it with other substrates and used it as a growing medium for gourmet mushrooms sold to Vermont restaurants. For now, however, the most common use for brewery spent grains is for use as animal feed. Cattle are the primary consumers of BSG, but BSG can also be used to feed bison, goats, sheep, pigs, chickens, ducks, geese, and carp.

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