What To Do With Your Spent Brewing Grains
Ah, the rich smell of grain as it’s being crushed and mixed in with hot water for the mash. It’s definitely one of the many joys of homebrewing that makes the seemingly tedious method of all-grain brewing so pleasant. Whether you love it or find the method all too complex, there’s no denying the fact that working with grains is one of the defining factors of brewing beer, regardless of brew size, beer style, and other factors. There’s definitely something primordial about it, the very process of crushing and mashing the grains being as old as the human civilization itself, and it definitely has a certain archaic flair to it.
Yet when it comes to taking out the spent grains after the mash and lauter, this process rapidly becomes not so exciting and romantic. Add to that the question of where to put the spent grains, and this can turn into a real headache. After all, even a standard 5 gallon batch usually delivers at least several pounds of spent grains that will deteriorate rapidly and start to smell not too nice even within a couple of hours after taking them out.
If you’re a fan of all-grain brewing but find dealing with spent grain all too stressful for your liking, the following ideas on how to use it might save your day and make homebrewing even more enjoyable and exciting:
Make a fertilizer
If you have a garden near your home, or at least a little lawn, the idea of using the spent grain as a fertilizer sure sounds quite appealing. Take care, however, since using the spent grains as they are without composing them first can lead to very negative results, as the grains tend to absorb the nitrogen from the soil, which is essential for proper plant growth. That’s why it’s strongly recommended to throw the spent grain into a compost bin first, preferably layering it with carbon-rich waste such as dry leaves or branches. With time it will produce high quality compost that you will be able to use for a variety of gardening purposes. Alternatively, the spent malt can be used in worm bins, but this also calls for moderate amounts of grain and mix with other types of waste for the best results.
Use in baking
Unless you happen to have a state-of-the-art brewing system that allows you to extract all the sugars and moisture from the grains, there will be a fair amount of both in the spent grains after you get your wort. These sugars alongside numerous flavour components can be incorporated into a variety of grain-based foods, such as bread, granola bars, cookies, and many others. In fact, several USA-based start-ups are already exploring the possibility of using spent grains from commercial craft breweries for making nutritional supplements, sports snack bars, and other products.
However, there are two important aspects to this use of spent grain: freshness and moderation. For best results in cooking, the spent grains have to be as fresh as they get, otherwise you may end up with a half-spoiled ingredient on your hands. This means that you have to start cooking as fast as the grains come out of the mash tun, and that’s not an exaggeration. And don’t expect anything good to come out of using only spent grains in a cookie or bread recipe. Moderate amounts will serve as a nice touch and enhance the texture, while excessive use of spent grains will make the food taste… well, like spent grains. And you certainly don’t want that.
Feed the livestock
Brewing grains can make an excellent addition to the diet of livestock and fish, and it’s quite often that farmers team up with local breweries to get spent grains from them. If you happen to live on a farm, or know someone who owns livestock, it’s always a good idea to mix some spent grains into their food, as the residual sugars and nutrients will make a nice addition to the animal's’ diet. Cattle, pigs, and chickens seem to enjoy spent brewing grain the most, but you can certainly try feeding it to other animals as well. And it should definitely go without saying, that the grains should be relatively fresh. You don’t want to poison the livestock with rotten grains, right?
Do any of you make anything with your spent grains? I would be interested in seeing the recipe and some photos if you do (don't be shy – you can always send me a sample too!).