‘Spent’ Grains Get a Second Wind

By Chris Breitenberg, Photography by Amber Breitenberg

With the help of local farmers and chefs, brewers are turning a waste problem—the spent grains left over from making a batch—into a protein-rich feed for livestock and new products for the local food community. 

And it turns out, cows like beer (or at least the byproduct of making it) as much as we do.  

Spent grain amounts to 85% of the byproduct from the brewing process. In 2012, US brewers produced approximately 2.7 million tons of so-called spent grain. 

To make beer, brewers steep, dry and then kiln a variety of grains to produce malt. The malt is milled and mashed, leaving behind leftovers—grain husks and a cereal mash—that are often thrown away. But though it’s no longer useful to the brewing process, the grain isn’t totally spent.  

In the hands of farmers, spent grain becomes a desirable foodstuff for cows, pigs and other farm animals. Rich in protein, the brewing byproduct provides a nutritional boost, reducing the need for supplements like soy or fishmeal. Barley, the most common spent grain, hardens animal fat, leading to richer cuts of pork and beef. 

The symbiosis extends beyond animal nutrition to the bottom lines of both businesses. Many brewers give it away, which allows them to eliminate grain disposal costs while providing substantial cuts to the feed bill on the farm. 

 Kip Kell of Full Cellar Farm and Justin Cox at Atlas Brewery are in on the act. Like many spent grain relationships, farmer and brewer met informally, in this case, at the H Street NE Farmers Market run by FRESHFARM Markets. Now Kelley picks up 1,200 to 1,800 pounds of spent grain from Atlas each week. 

 “As a farmer aising animals, feed is your biggest expense,” explains Kelley. “If you can find a way to decrease that cost without giving yourself additional work, it is a big win.” 

 “It makes a lot of sense to partner with Kip to remove our spent grain,” Cox adds. “He gets free animal feed, the grain is recycled rather than thrown out, and I get to help out a great farmer who provides me and my neighbors with fresh produce.” 

 Home brewers have long supplied home bakers with grains for bread, and now local chefs are seizing the opportunity as well. Spent grains are showing up on dinner plates across DC in the form of hamburger buns, coffee cakes and granola.  Bluejacket, a brewery in Navy Yard, sends some spent grains to the in-house restaurant, The Arsenal, for pasta-making. The rest goes out to farmers who supply pork to area restaurants.  

The grains are working their way into local dough, too. We The Pizza’s menu has featured spent-grain crusts. Pizza Paradiso and DC Brau have partnered for the past five years on a spent-grain fundraiser that supports the nonprofit Bread for the City. 

 Who’s next in this space? Distillers have long been part of this ecosystem and their growing number in the DC area makes them a more common source. Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville, Virginia, supplies farmers on the east side of the Blue Ridge Mountains with its signature smoked and spent barley. The recently opened distillery Republic Restoratives in Ivy City is exploring outlets as well. 

 Though trending recently, the spent grain exchange dates to prehistoric times. According to the Beer Institute, a national trade association for American brewing, archaeological findings suggest that the practice of farmers feeding their animals spent grains supplied by brewers dates back to the Neolithic Era. 

 The association believes the 2014 Food and Drug Administration ruling on the Food Safety Modernization Act, which ushers in new rules for animal feed, will maintain the light regulation needed to keep this age-old relationship humming. 

Waredaca Brewing Company Doesn’t Horse Around

New Farm Brewery Taps Into History, Horses and Hops

By Katie Borazzo and Susan Able, Photography by Hannah Hudson

Situated amid a 230-acre farm in Laytonsville, MD—a 40-minute drive from Bethesda—Waredaca Brewing Company is the newest addition to a family-owned and -operated horse farm. Jessica Snyder, brewing manager and a third-generation member of the Butts family, the original owners, calls Waredaca “a very unique agri-tourism destination brewery experience.” 

Unique it is. Waredaca may be the only craft brewery that holds a nationally sanctioned equestrian competition for Eventing, a three-part Olympic sport that includes dressage, show jumping and endurance cross-country components, which will take place this fall. In addition to being a sanctioned eventing center, it’s a full-service equine operation with summer riding camps, lessons, boarding and training. And now beer.  

Quite naturally, the local hunt club—who ride through the farm—often stop by, enjoying a cold draft and giving their hounds and horses a break before continuing their chase.  

Waredaca takes its name from the Washington Recreational Day Camp, founded by R. Beecher Butts in 1932. While the summer camp ended some time ago, the farm and eventing center’s family-friendly focus remains: Pony rides, scenic picnicking spots and homemade sodas are just a few things that round out the Waredaca experience.   

Now in the hands of the third Butts generation, the family was determined to keep the land as a farm rather than turn it over to commercial use. After considering various options, they opened Waredaca Brewing Company in 2015. It seemed a predestined opportunity with the chance to repurpose an old barn, the ability to grow hops right on the farm and—not insignificant to the mix—the fact that there was an experienced craft brewer in the family. All of these factors, combined with a passion for the idea and state regulations that made farm brewery operations possible, made starting a farm brewery the obvious choice. 

As the family set about building the brewery, they kept environmental considerations in mind. In converting the underused farm building into the brewery operations center, they upcycled reclaimed lumber from the original structure to become tasting trays, tables and the bar. In addition, the wastewater generated from the brewing process irrigates the hops yard and pastures. Similarly, spent grain is provided to local farms for use as feed, and can also be composted.  

 Keith Kohr, the brewer in the family by marriage, worked for Flying Dog—Maryland’s largest brewery—before joining Waredaca. However, Waredaca operates at a much smaller scale, using a 10-barrel brewing system. Kohr keeps a strong focus on using local ingredients at Waredaca. The hops used to flavor the brews are grown onsite, the wheat comes from a neighboring farm and, this summer, two of the beers incorporated produce from nearby Butler’s Orchard and Larriland Farm.  

 The names of the brews have personal significance to the farm, melding history and heart, a nod to the farm’s past. There are always seven beers on tap, some of which are permanent fixtures and others which change seasonally. A few of their year-round offerings include the Beecher—named for the founding patriarch—an IPA flavored with lemon verbena grown on the farm. The Bunkhouse, named for one of the summer camp’s buildings, uses farm-grown hops, and the Reveille, named for the morning bugle wake-up call to the hunt, is a coffee stout. 

What does Snyder envision for Waredaca’s future? She would love for it to continue to grow as a destination brewery—a “country getaway close to the city”—sharing the family’s passion with an ever-widening audience.  

Get your country getaway this fall and you can do your best Mr. Ed impression while visiting the tasting room at Waredaca in the afternoons, Thursday to Sunday. Check the hours on their website, where upcoming events are also listed. Small plates and snacks are available for purchase in the tasting room and outside food is welcome; there is a patio for picnicking and beer tasting. Currently glass 64-ounce growlers are available as well as “Crowlers,” which are 32-ounce cans filled by tap and sealed closed right behind the bar. Trail rides and horseback riding lessons are also available, although they probably prefer you drink the beer after the lesson.

Contact the farm for more information at info@waredaca.com.  Waredaca Brewing Company, 4017 Damascus Rd., Gaithersburg, MD. waredacabrewing.com