The Spent Grain Trade
Brewers and farmers react to FDA's proposed changes to their spent-grain exchanges
Heavy Seas Beer's spent-grain trailer (Tristan Gilbert / June 24, 2014)
Daneker has been hauling away bags of spent grain from Oliver Breweries for approximately 20 years-longer than head brewer Stephen Jones has been there. "They get it-it comes shipped in, most of the grain [Jones] gets comes from either England, some from France, and some from Germany, some from Canada," Daneker says. "He brews these craft beers, and [the malt] comes in plastic bags, and he uses it. Then, after they brew the beer, they have to shovel it out of the tanks and they put it back in the bags, seal 'em up and put 'em out for me. And I pick 'em up a couple times a week."
After brewers filter the wort out of their mash (a soupy, oatmeal-like combination of hot water and malted barley), they're left with wet, hot, fermented grain, which is good for spent-grain bread and cookies and pizza dough and all sorts of things-but in the quantities produced by a brewery on the scale of a production brewery like Union Craft Brewing or even Oliver's current 7-barrel brewhouse, the amount of spent grain exceeds that which could be used for cooking.
Thus, small breweries and farmers have long had an agreement: The brewery sets aside spent grain, and the farmer takes it off their hands. Occasionally the farmer will pay a small amount for it or frequently (as in Daneker's case) the spent grain comes free. Recently, the FDA proposed changes to grain regulations that would disrupt this exchange, forcing small breweries to comply with animal-food manufacturers' standards-a financially prohibitive investment for a craft brewer. Last Thursday, however, New York Senator Charles Schumer, who protested the changes, announced that the regulations would be modified to exempt breweries and distilleries.
"The FDA didn't even realize that it would affect the industry all that much," says Christopher Schultz, a brewer at Heavy Seas Beer. "It wasn't targeted at the brewing industry, it was targeted at other manufacturers." Schumer received word from FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg that the proposed changes would be revised, and that the "FDA now realized the rule had very negative unintended consequences for both brewers and farmers."
It's a good thing for farmers like Daneker and Littlestown, Pa. farmer Fred Schisler, who's "been getting that stuff my entire life almost" from breweries. Schisler used to take Baltimore Brewing Company's spent grain and currently picks up the Brewer's Art's and Union's, among others. "That's one of the things that makes the farmer exist," he says. "It's high in fiber, and it helps the animals digest the other food better. You take it away from them and the consumption of the other food will go up not 5 percent but 25 percent. It's valuable for that reason."
Schultz explains that the spent grain is a "much higher protein load than what cattle are used to eating. We've gotten most of the starch out of it." He compares it with the starchy foods cattle usually consume: "cornmeal, hay, grass. Farmers blend in our high-protein waste with their normal [feed], let it sit, let it get ripe."
"We just mix it with the other feed," Schisler says, "we don't feed it straight, to give them a balanced diet. Any time a product has been cooked, it's got more digestible protein in it for the animals." He's never had any problems with the grain, nor has Daneker. "Sometimes in the summertime, it'll ferment a little bit more than it's fermented in the brewery. If it fermented to the point where it wasn't good for them, the cows wouldn't eat it," Daneker says. "The cows aren't stupid. They don't eat food that's no good."
Daneker says he would probably have had to scale down the size of his operation without the free spent grain from Oliver. If the FDA makes the requisite changes, though, his cows will stay happy: "They love it. When I come with the truck, they come running. They can smell it and they know it's coming."