Getting the grains

Elm City Brewing Company head brewer Ben Mullett moves malted barley and wheat grain in the grain mill as he and assistant brewer Steve O’Brien, background, start to make a batch of German kolsch Wednesday morning. The used grain will be given to area farmers to feed their livestock.

When Benjamin “Ben” Mullett makes beer, he uses from 350 to 600 pounds of barley for a 217-gallon batch.

By the time he extracts the fermentable sugar from the grain, the head brewer at Elm City Brewing Co. is left with a soggy mass of ground kernels called spent barley.

But those soaked kernels still hold plenty of value — if not for people, then for cows.

“A lot of farmers are interested in it,” Debra Rivest, owner of Elm City Brewing Co. in Keene, said. “We get calls all the time. It can be used to feed livestock; it can be used for compost; it can be used for plants — it’s like Miracle Gro — really nutritious.”

So Rivest gives the grains to her milk supplier, Manning Hill Farm of Winchester, where co-owner Sam J. Canonica uses it to supplement his cow feed. Canonica said he likes this arrangement because it gives his cows extra nutrients and proteins for free. Canonica picks up the mush, which he says resembles wet cement in consistency, once or twice a week.

“It’s basically like an added bonus, and (the cows) really like it,” he said. “They’ll come over to the feeder and wait, if they see you nearby, to see if they’re going to get some or not.”

Elm City Brewing Co. makes beer once or twice a week, providing Canonica with an average of about 1,000 pounds of spent grain per week for his cows.

The arrangement benefits Rivest too. She prefers to recycle or reuse everything that comes her way, but the brewery produces more grain than she can personally use in her home compost pile. And the byproduct is heavy and can be difficult to haul home.

“It benefits us because otherwise I’d be taking it home,” Rivest said. “The inconvenience of me having to take back four to eight containers in the truck and drive it home. It’s just a lot more grain than I can personally use.”

This mutually beneficial relationship of the brewer’s byproduct benefiting a farmer plays itself out in breweries everywhere. The Brewers Association calls it “foam to farm,” a practice they say is the most common way to reuse spent grains. And there’s a lot of spent barley to go around. The barley mush, which includes yeast, water and barley, accounts for 85 percent of a brewery’s total byproduct, according to the Brewers Association.

“Feeding spent grain from the brewing process to the livestock is as old as beer itself,” Charles D. “Chuck” Skypeck, technical brewing projects manager at the Brewers Association, said.

The practice continues to be a popular one. In an informal survey the Brewers Association conducted in 2013, almost 90 percent of members said they give or sell their spent grain to animal farmers.

Though spent grains are a nutritious source of proteins, carbohydrates and fiber, Skypeck said, they can be cumbersome to move around because they are heavy. And it costs money to dispose of spent grain, especially in larger volumes, he said. Breweries can avoid these costs by letting farmers haul these spent grains away for free, he said.

Other farmers buy their spent grains from larger breweries, particularly when there aren’t small breweries around. Sheldon “Tom” Sawyer of Crescent Farm in Walpole gets his spent barley from a distributor that works with the Anheuser-Busch Brewery in Merrimack.

Sawyer’s 200-300 dairy cows consume about 15 pounds of spent barley a day. Even if he has to buy them, spent grains are still cheaper than fresh ones, he said. The water content in the mush also makes the dry feed — which typically has a mixture of hay, corn, soybeans, among other ingredients — more palatable to the cows.

Though the practice of giving away spent grains is economically beneficial, it can also appeal to brewers’ sustainability ethos. Richard Horton, owner of The Outlaw Brewing Co., said environmental considerations play a part in his decision to give away the 100-300 pounds of spent grains he produces a week.

“The attitude of our small brewery is we produce very little garbage. I would say we are about half a bag of garbage a week … ,” the Winchester brewery owner said. “So for us to take the waste grain and turn into food for an animal, that’s fantastic.”

A local livestock farmer at Rocky Knoll Farm in Surry takes the spent barley. In return, Horton gets free meat from time to time.

“There’s just no need to put it in a landfill, if we can feed it to an animal or turn it into another downstream product,” he said.