By Kris Thompson
Brew day is over. You eye up the spoils of your hard work. A carboy filled perhaps with a dry stout or a hop heavy IPA. Yeast is pitched. You feel accomplished. You survey the area once more and spy the mash tun, full of spent grain, and a sudden, crushing realization hits you: I have to throw away all this grain. Don’t do that. Let’s focus on the spent grain and what we can do with it.
You may ask what exactly is spent grain? Spent grain is simply the grain you’ve extracted the sugars from by mashing. An average of 12 pounds of grain in a 5-gallon batch of beer will ultimately end up spent. Most homebrewers and commercial breweries create more spent grain than they know what to do with. There are numerous way you can use these grains to your advantage. I’ll cover a few ways here to help you achieve a more sustainable brewing process.
The first and most obvious use for spent grains is compost material. Take the grain and either add it to an existing compost area or till it into your soil. The grain has little sugar left in it from mashing so it’ll begin to breakdown organically and enrich any soil it is added to. The grains can also be (and most certainly are) used to feed livestock. Many smaller breweries set up pick-up times with local farmers to use the grains as they see fit. The grain is still considered a good source of calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, selenium and zinc. These minerals provide animals with a lean energy source that is easy on the environment as it can be mixed up to 50/50 with un-malted dry grains. This reduces the demand for new product and the spent grain is usually donated making it a win-win for the brewer and farm as well as the environment.
Within the realm of composting and animal feed you can continue the spent grain’s cycle back into your own homebrew by planting your own hops in compost made from previous batches. Since the grains break down so easily and contribute great organic material into the soil, your hop rhizomes will grow beautifully. A simple hop pole or trellis will eventually yield fresh hops for use in a wide array of styles. Once these hops, which were grown with spent grains, are used the whole cycle can repeat, minimizing the strain on the environment.
The second way spent grains can be used is as a food base. With all the minerals left in the grain and the fact that it’s a great dietary fiber since it’s been broken down by mashing, spent grain is a very beneficial cooking ingredient. Many rising brewpubs take their grain and incorporate it into the pub food they serve to their customers. Almost every brew pub this writer has dined in has used their grains in at least one recipe, and I almost always choose it to see what flavors they bring to the dish.
Many homebrewers take the grains and use them in bread-based recipes. Popular end destinations for spent grains can range anywhere from focaccia to bread bowls. Another very popular way to cook with spent grains is to include them in a veggie burger. The following recipe comes courtesy of The Brooklyn Beer Shop.
SPENT GRAIN BBQ BURGERS
1 cup spent grain, wet (or Dried Spent Grain re-hydrated with 1/2 cup hot water)
1 cup cooked quinoa
5 tablespoons barbeque sauce
3/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup bread crumbs
In a bowl combine spent grain, quinoa, eggs, salt, and barbeque sauce with a fork until eggs are broken up and mixture becomes cohesive. Stir in breadcrumbs.
Heat a cast-iron or heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat and add a few tablespoons of olive oil. Because the consistency is so moist, it’s helpful to scoop the mixture into the hot skillet, and use a spatula to form into rounds.
3 Let cook undisturbed for 5-8 minutes on one side, until bottom is golden brown and the burger can be easily moved. Flip and repeat on the other side. Makes about 8 sliders.
There are many more uses for spent grains and other homebrewing by-products. You can grow mushrooms off of properly prepared spent grains. Remember that batch of beer that just didn’t turn out? Take it and turn it into some homemade malt vinegar. The yeast from one batch can be used to ferment the next or even harvested and used in baking or turned into nutritional yeast found in your local natural food store. Those are topics for another time and another article, but you’ll get there someday.
I hope that this article has shown you the value of the biggest brewing by-product. From breads to new batches of beer, spent grain can be reincorporated into almost every stage of your brew process. Look for new ways to use them. Create a new recipe that uses them. Just please don’t look at them as a useless by-product. Bring that homebrewing ingenuity one step further and find a use for them, both for you and the planet.
Cheers! (or Skal! as a proper Norwegian should say)