Beer barley and hops

Cattle are benefiting from the craft beer trend by making a tasty meal out of a brewing by-product.

Spent grain – the leftover malt and superfluities after the mash made when barley steeps in hot water, activating the malt enzymes and converting grain starches into fermentable sugars – make up as much as 85 percent of a brewery’s total by-product.

Several local craft breweries have different methods of dealing with their spent grain once most of the sugars, proteins and essential nutrients have made their way into the sweet wort that soon will be their next pint.

Agriculture is an obvious, but venerable application. Many brewhouses give the bulk of their spent grain to the local agribusiness community.

Kros Strain Brewing Co. in La Vista, Nebraska gets its grains from out-of-state and international sources. The wheat comes from Rahr Malting Co., of Shakopee, Minn., and the rye is from Weyermann Malzfabrik in Bamberg, Germany.

After being used to create their Bernstein Bier lager, their Cashmere Weather India pale ale or their Dessert Dreams stout (among others), the spent grain goes on to Des Moines, Iowa.

“We have a farmer, Daren Lauritsen from Des Moines, who picks up our spent grain,” said Jeff Hardy, self-described head beer pusher from Kros Strain. “He shows up to the brewery once per week during the summer. The spent grain goes to feed beef cattle in lieu of corn silage.”

Infusion Brewing Co., of Benson, Nebraska purchases its wheat from Country Malt Group in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. They use it to brew such things as their Blueberry Rhubarb kettle sour, their Dominican brown ale and their Graham Cracker amber ale. Afterwards, it goes to local farmers, said Dave Link, lead brewer for Infusion.

The owners of Patriarch Distillers and Soldier Valley Spirits of La Vista prefer to keep everything close to home. They make Soldier Valley True American 6 bourbon, 10 Year Signature Rye whiskey, Soldier Valley Proudly American vodka and Amber rum with ingredients from local producers.

“We get our grains as local as possible; the corn we use comes from Gretna, Nebraska,” said Tony Chickinelli, head distiller and manager of Patriarch. “Patriarch Distillers donates our spent grains to cattle farmers in Atlantic, Iowa.”

While using spent grain for cattle feed predominates – it can be used in other agricultural applications.

Larry Chase of Standing Stone Brewing Co., in Ashland, Ore., feeds more than five dozen chickens of various heritage on the grain from the brewery. Arvada Beer Co., and the Fort Collins Brewery, both in Colorado, use their grain to bake dog biscuits.

Many craft breweries re-use their spent grain in their own kitchens. Gravity 1020, the tavern of Fort Collins Brewery, bakes bread using leftover 1900 Amber Lager and Chocolate Stout grain. Meanwhile, Standing Stone’s restaurant uses the eggs their spent grain-fed chickens lay in desserts, quiches and breakfast dishes.

Composted, spent grain can be used to fertilize fields, gardens and greenhouses, thus providing people with nutritious, natural foods. Apparently spent grain is rich in nitrates and sulfates that allow fungi to flourish.

Several research papers, including one from the Journal of Cereal Science and one from the University of Bucharest, have investigated the nutritional value of spent grain. What they’ve found may surprise you. Keep in mind that the nutritional value will change some depending on the grain used and the brewhouse efficiency.

In general, it was found that spent grain consisted of:

• Protein: 20 to 30 percent

• Fiber: 20 to 70 percent

• A notable amount of free fatty acids.

• Decreased total carbohydrates.

• Good levels of iron, magnesium, manganese, selenium and phosphorus (below 5 percent).

“Sustainability is a hallmark of the craft beer industry and every brewery is doing its part in its own way,” said Kay Witkiewicz, head brewer at Twisted Pine Brewing Company in Boulder, Colo.

Jon Burleson can be reached at

Sign up for our Weekly newsletter

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.