In 2015, the Brewers Association reported national craft beer production in the United States to be in excess of 24.5 million barrels. A barrel of beer, which contains 31 gallons, carries a grain bill of between 75 and 125 pounds of malt. The sugar extraction and conversion to alcohol — in other words, cooking and fermentation — that goes into any ale, lager, porter etc., produces significant amounts of leftovers.
So, where do those tons of spent grain go?
Traditionally, brewers have sold or donated their mash (basically, their crushed and boiled barley) to farmers to be reused as animal feed. This practice isn’t simply a matter of economics. Since spent grain has been put through a process in which most of its starch content has been leached out for the formation of wort—AKA “sugar water” or “pre-beer”—it contains much more protein and fiber than it does carbohydrates. In other words, spent grain is very nutritious stuff indeed. Therefore, eating spent grain could maybe be considered part of a healthy diet.
With the boom in craft brewing and growing interest in sustainable farming, entrepreneurs are looking for new opportunities to recycle this spent grain into human consumables. If you’re interested in eating beer, there’s quite a market out there eager to serve you.
ReGrained “Eat Beer” bars
This San Francisco start-up has formed partnerships with a handful of area brewers, including Magnolia and 21st Amendment, to collect and convert spent grain into granola bars. Currently available in two varieties — a light Honey Almond IPA and a dark Chocolate Coffee Stout, both of which can now be pre-ordered in pairs or packs of 12 — these bars feature up to 50 percent actual spent grain alongside more traditional granola ingredients such as honey, nuts and oats.
If you live in or are visiting Chicago, visit this bakery for a spent grain loaf and a beer bread that relies on local brewery by-products for its flavor profile. DIYers should also check out the American Homebrewers Association website, as it features good general advice on cooking with spent grains as well as a recipe for “brewers bread.” The first ingredient on the list? “Three cups spent grain (wet, straight from the mash tun),” which can probably be had for free if there’s a local brewer nearby.
Known for unique specialty beers such as its Horchata Stout and American Saison, this Raleigh, N.C., outfit proudly pairs them with award-winning pizza. Spent grain lends both a savory quality and structure to the dough on which these pies are built. The Brooklyn BrewShop website, which sells all sorts of hobbyist brewing kits and supplies, also hosts a regular column called “The Spent Grain Chef.” You can find more information there on how to assemble your own spent grain pizza dough at home.
OK, so this pitch-black, epically sticky spread is not made from spent grains and is among the most acquired tastes in the world. Nevertheless, Marmite, which is the brand name for concentrated brewer’s yeast (yeast that has had its fill of grain sugars and has fermented the wort to the desired degree), can be found in the International Foods aisle of many American supermarkets. Very salty and distinctively umami in character, Marmite is an essential source of B vitamins and folic acid in many Commonwealth breakfasts and snacks.
Malt for your mutt, Brew Bones are a natural, nutritious and fiber-rich treat for your four-legged best friend. Available in a chicken-flavored Pale Tail variety and soon in a pint glass-shaped Snout Lickin’s Stout, these dog biscuits — like all the products mentioned in this article — smack of beer but are non-alcoholic and hops-free (a potential canine allergen). Based in Colorado, Brew Bones products are available nationwide via direct mail order.
Have a prize beer recipe you’d like to share? Know of a bakery, bagelry, donut shop or other vendor in your area doing some cool work with spent grains? Share your favorite method of eating spent grain with the Beerknurd community in the comments below and at your local Flying Saucer.