The Value in Spent Grain

by | 11/29/2022

A big part of our jobs as brewers involves efficiency. We receive malt on 2000 lb pallets, grind it up to the perfect consistency in our mill, steep it in hot water so that enzymes can break down it’s complex starches into fermentable sugars, and extract those sugars to create wort, a sweet liquid that will become beer. The efficiency in which we perform this process determines the amount of malt we need to use. Despite our efforts, the spent grain left over after brewing accounts for 85% of all brewery waste. Luckily, we have made some allies in the field of agriculture to help us deal with these issues.

The number one use for spent grain is feed. Having 13 location spread across four states, it would be difficult to find a single, local farm willing to take all our grain. Luckily, we don’t have to. The idea of “foam to farm” has certainly caught on with farmers as the number of breweries in the United States continue to increase. Our spent grain has been used to feed cows, pigs, goats, and even bison. Why is our spent grain so popular among farmers? First of all, as I stated before, it’s our waste, so they’re essentially taking it for free. We’re not in the business of selling feed, we’re brewers. They’re doing us a huge favor by offering to take it off our hands. More importantly, it makes a great supplement to the diet of livestock. Because we removed all the good that goes into making beer, sugars and starches, we’re left with high concentrations of fiber and protein.

Now for the big question, what do the animals think? Luckily, they don’t have Yelp accounts, but I have received some feedback from our farmers. “What did you put in that last batch!?” exclaimed Farmer Brian one day after returning from giving his goats the spent grain from our Pumpkin Ale. “They loved it!” I guess we’re not so different from animals after all. Now if we can just get them to enjoy juicy, hoppy IPAs then they will fit right in.

There are some other alternatives to using it for feed. Our spent grain is rich in both nitrogen and organic material making it great for composting. What about baking? If beer is liquid bread than isn’t the inverse also true? Well, of course it is and you may have seen it before. If you ever wondered where those little croutons on you Caeser Salad come from just take a peek into one of our breweries.

So, maybe our spent grain isn’t “waste” after all. We would love to discover more uses so if you discovered an inventive way to utilize this brewing by product, please contact us. Also, I would love to hear a use for spent hops, because that one has me stumped.

With 13 locations in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and South Carolina, there’s an Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant near you. Each brewpub has their own craft kitchen and scratch brewery, allowing individual chefs and brewers the creativity to pair the freshest ingredients with the highest quality grains and hops. Monthly releases vary by location, so scout out our beers on tap and visit us soon.

This article was contributed by Doug Marchakitus. Doug is the Head Brewer at Iron Hill Chestnut Hill.