When you crack open and drain a craft beer, you probably don’t leave much behind. The same can’t be said for the process of making those brews, which yields a pound or more of leftover grain per six-pack.
But the industry is getting increasingly crafty about how to get rid of the grain and hops left after brewing, turning the byproducts and the beer itself into everything from bread and dog treats to lip balm and soap.
In basic terms, individual breweries may use tractor-trailer loads — or about 50,000 pounds — of grain every day to brew tens of thousands of gallons of beer. That grain is soaked in warm water, which extracts starch that turns into fermentable sugars. Once that’s done, the grain is separated and discarded, and the brewing process continues.
Because of the sheer amount of spent grain in beer-making, the majority of it ends up on farms for animal feed or compost. Federal officials last month backed off proposed livestock feed rules that beer makers feared would cost $13.6 million per brewery if they wanted to sell grain left from making beer to ranchers and dairy farmers.
But there’s no shortage of ways brewers are disposing of the fruits of the fruits of their labor.
In Virginia, Devils Backbone Brewing Co’s pub serves bread made with spent grain and works with other artisans in the state to make sausage and cheese using its beer. The Alaskan Brewing Co. in Juneau last year installed a unique boiler system furnace that burns the company’s spent grain to create steam, which powers the majority of the brewery’s operations. Oskar Blues, which operates breweries in Colorado and North Carolina, has “beer-blessed” lip balm made from the hops and barley in its Old Chub Scotch Ale.
“Innovation has long been a hallmark of craft brewers, where the brewers are always looking for new things they can create that haven’t been made before” said Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association.