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Where the leftover grain goes
America’s brewing industry generates a significant heap of byproducts, with spent grain being the most common by far. Because much of the waste is agricultural, however, it can be readily reused — which means brewing tends to be a more environmentally friendly industry compared with others.
Barley, along with wheat, corn and rice, is among the most important cereal grains. It has two main uses: animal feed and beer. For brewing, barley is cleaned, steeped and dried during the malting process, which selects only those nutrients needed for brewing. Afterward, the grain usually remains rich in protein and fiber (depending on the type of beer being produced) as well as minerals, vitamins and amino acids.
Spent grain hasn’t seen lots of exposure as a marketable commodity, but it has been mentioned for use in:
• Animal feed: Currently its main application, mostly for cattle.
• Human food: When crushed into flour, spent grain has been successfully added to baked goods (though not much can be said about its flavor).
• Energy production: As a biofuel or charcoal.
• Manufacturing: To make bricks or paper, for instance.
What do local breweries do?
They have interesting ways of recycling the spent grain — some by feeding the livestock that may end up as meat at their brewpubs.
brews 23,000-plus barrels of beer a month, using 1.8 million pounds of grain. The massive amount of spent grain is taken by a commodities group and sold to local farms and ranches.
brews roughly 720 barrels of beer a month, using 40,000 pounds of grain. All of the spent grain is picked up by two Central Oregon ranchers, who use the spent grain as cattle feed.
brews 3,500 barrels of beer a month, using 250,000 pounds of grain. The spent grain gets picked up by a local rancher.
What happens to hops, etc.?
Along with spent grain, local breweries also produce a large amount of spent hops (pictured above) as well as spent yeast, trub (sediment that remains after fermentation), barley dust and excess brewery wort (the brewing liquid before fermentation). All of it can be used for agricultural purposes. Local farmer Jim Fields (pictured) has been using these products for more than 25 years as compost and goose feed on his Bend farm.
Sources: Local breweries, Journal of Cereal Science, Bulletin research. Grain photos from Thinkstock. Megan Kehoe and David Wray / The Bulletin
Number estimates are based on yearly, monthly and weekly figures provided by the breweries.