Farm Horizons, Oct. 2018
A second life for beer byproduct
By Gabe Licht
Grain, typically barley, is a key ingredient in brewing beer, but brewers have no use for it after the sweet water known as wort is extracted from it.
Matt Schiller, co-founder and head brewer at Lupulin Brewing in Big Lake, explained the process.
“In order to make beer, we do a mash,” Schiller said. “To make a mash, we take barley that’s been run through a mill we have on site . . . We add hot water to that. That’s what we call a mash. What that does is, basically, at around 150 degrees Fahrenheit, the certain enzymes in the barley start activating . . . It takes starch in the barley and converts it over to sugar. At 150 degrees, it does it really fast: 20 minutes up to an hour. That sugar water is what we make beer out of.
“ . . . When that’s all done, we don’t need the actual plant material, because we’ve collected that sweet wort,” Schiller continued. “That plant material is basically a waste material for us.”
So what happens to these wet brewer’s grains, also known as spent grain after it is processed in what is called a mash tun?
In many cases, it ends up in the bellies of hungry farm animals.
“Our cattle get it every morning and evening,” said Carla Mertz, who owns Iron Shoe Farm in Princeton with her husband, David. “If they don’t get it, they’ll bellow (like they’re saying) ‘We want our grain; we want it now.’ They’re dependent on it. They’re addicted to it.”
The Mertzes get their grain from Lupulin Brewing Company in Big Lake.
They feed it to all the animals on their farm: chickens, Hereford cattle, Heritage and Mangalitza hogs, Muscovy ducks, turkeys, and even their dog.
“My husband laughed and said in candid conversation that you can actually make pretzels out of it,” Mertz said. “We researched it a little bit. There’s a whole other market for this . . . I might ask if we can bag it up separately and give it a trial run. There are dog treats made out of it. There is a huge market for other products. I’m interested to see what else can be done with it.”
No matter who is eating the spent grain, it helps them stay healthy.
“They’re getting all the vitamins and minerals they need,” Mertz said.
In fact, according to the Commodity Specialists Company, the grains include 39 vitamins and minerals.
Those vitamins and minerals lead to a number of benefits.
“You can see more muscle definition,” Mertz said. “It’s actually helped when breeding heifers because it gives higher lactation and supports extra growth. It helps prepare those mothers for calving their babies. Calves get more nutrients during the lactation period. They’re packing all those nutrients on.”
It helps their moods, as well.
“For us, we can definitely see a change in having happy cows,” Mertz said. “They’re very energetic when we bring it to them.”
Dan Moonen, who receives spent grain from Lupine Brewing in Delano, has seen similar results with his Heritage hogs.
“I know, after eating it for a while, it takes the edge off of them,” Moonen said. “If you haven’t brought it around for a while, they’re looking for it. They act like a lot like people going to the bar.”
Variety is important for his pigs.
“They like a good mix of food,” Moonen said. “They’re happy eating thistles, apples, and the mash . . . They definitely clean it up. They don’t leave any sitting around; that’s for sure.”
In addition to benefiting farms and their livestock, getting rid of spent grain in a sustainable way also benefits breweries.
For example, Lupulin is on track to produce 3,500 to 4,000 barrels of beer in 2018. Doing so creates about 250,000 pounds of spent grain, or 5,000 a week. That has to go somewhere for breweries to operate efficiently.
“If I can’t get rid of grain, I can’t brew,” Schiller said. “Most large breweries sell spent grain because, clearly, it has value to it. I need to get rid of it. We were fortunate to get hooked up with Iron Shoe Farm.”
Lupine head brewer Grant Aldrich agreed.
“If it wasn’t for Dan or another farmer picking it up, we’d just be throwing it in the dumpster and paying for them to pick it up,” Aldrich said.
“It’s good for us,” Lupine assistant brewer Andrew Anderle agreed. “A lot of brewers in the cities have to pay to ship it out or to have someone come get it.”
Schiller said he “wouldn’t even dream” of taking spent grain to a landfill.
He did say he’s heard of some breweries burning it and converting it into fuel.
“I’ve never actually seen that firsthand or know anything about it, but I’ve heard of it,” Schiller said.
For Lupulin, a barter system with Iron Shoe Farm works well for both parties.
“Basically, we said, ‘We’ll trade you this feed, however many pounds every week. Bring us some meat on occasion.’” Schiller said. “We like to grill on Friday afternoons for our team . . . Outside of that, we don’t have a hard agreement. I know some breweries do. Some straight-up sell it. We don’t want to do that. We’d rather help out a small community farm than worry about squeezing every dime out of it.”
The system in place is cyclical in a way.
“People could sit down and have a beer with dinner, and the beer was made with the same grain fed to the chicken on your plate,” Schiller said. “It goes full circle. It will be a cool partnership with them. They’re putting a banquet facility on their farm. Our beer will be available out there . . . For us, it’s a pretty symbiotic relationship.”
To keep up with demand, Iron Shoe Farm staff are at Lupulin every day or two.
“We don’t let it sit around here, especially in the summer,” Schiller said. “It can start to get sour and spoil.”
Both Lupulin and Lupine store the spent grain in large bins, while some bigger breweries have silos on site for storing it. Even breweries like Heineken and Budweiser have been working with farmers to repurpose the byproduct for many years, with some European breweries doing so for hundreds of years, Mertz said,.
The local brewers are happy to get rid of it, and the farmers are happy to receive it.
“The brewery doesn’t want to throw that stuff out,” Moonen said. “Lupine wants to do something sustainable and keep it local. They’re really happy. It makes everyone feel good when you can take something like that and do something good with it.”