The Grain Debate
by Bob Montemurro
Did you ever get a chance to watch a professional brewer work? I just
had that opportunity. Once a year my local brewpub invites the public
to come into the brewhouse and be a "helper" for a day. Actually the
day is only a couple of hours and the work is mainly watching (and
sampling). You might think that scores of serious beer people would
show up for this treat but considering his the session is usually on
Saturday at 8 AM it's easy to see why the total has yet to hit a dozen.
People don't know what they're missing; its well worth getting up early
for just about anything to do with beer, especially this.
One of the things I never thought about until I was there helping to
clean out the spent grain is just what happens to them. Spent grain,
as you might know, is the gooy aftermath of the brewing process.
They have been heated up to extract sugars, proteins and other
nutrients that go on to make beer. The process is called mashing. The
spent grains are a byproduct — with no real usefulness purpose left for
I always just assumed that the professionals throw it out just as a
home brewer would. Well, that's not the case. I was surprised to
learn that for years, smaller craft brewers and places like my
neighborhood brewpub have donated – or sold on the cheap – their
spent grain to farmers. It's a neat idea. Rather than sending it to
landfills, the handshake transaction between brewers and farmers is
mutually beneficial. To the brewer it's an efficient way to get rid of
something with no real value while to the farmer the spent grains are a
valuable dietary supplement for their livestock. It’s common for
breweries to reach out to local farms to offer up their spent grains.
Most often, farmers are happy to oblige, picking up the spent grains
themselves a few times per week.
It's not an insignificant amount either. Spent grain accounts for as
much as 85 percent of a brewery's total byproducts. A small regional
commercial brewery might create over 10,000 pounds each day. Last
year U.S. brewers produced nearly 2.7 million total tons of spent grain.
I was reminded of all this when I read that this productive relationship
between farmer and brewer is now being threatened by the
government. The Food and Drug Administration is proposing a rule
that would make the transaction of spent grain so burdensome that it
could effectively end the entire process.
Specifically, brewers would need to purchase expensive equipment and
devote more time to properly packaging their spent grain before
farmers could legally serve their animals. Most small and medium-
sized brewers wouldn’t be able to follow these rules because of the
costs involved. Additional expenses would hit the farmers who would in
turn would have to dry, package and analyze the grains, all without it
touching human hands. The total costs would be prohibitive.
The Brewers Association has taken a strong position on the issue.
They just released a statement that says in part: "The current rule
proposal represents an unwarranted burden for all brewers. Many of
the more than 2,700 small and independent craft breweries that
operate throughout the United States provide spent grain to local
farms for use as animal feed. The proposed could lead to..... the
sending of spent grain to landfills, wasting a reliable food source for
farm animals and triggering a significant economic and environmental
It's a convincing point especially since there is little if any evidence
that breweries’ spent grains as currently handled cause any hazards to
animals or humans.
In defense of its proposal the FDA says the rule is aimed at “ensuring
the safety of animal food for animals consuming the food and ensuring
the safety of animal food for humans handling the food, particularly
As of now the proposal is still in the public discussion phase but that will
end soon and the final decision will be made. I'm going with the
brewers on this one. After all, they make beer.
I invite everyone to send me their own columns about beer just as Liv
did. I'll select the best ones and publish them here. So join in and get
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