When a brewer makes a batch of beer, it requires several tons of grain. At McKinney-based Tupps Brewery, specifically, owner/brewer Keith Lewis needs 2 1/2 tons for just one run of its Full Grown Jack pumpkin stout. After he brews, however, the malted barley is known as "spent grain" -- essentially trash.
"A lot of the flavor and a lot of the sugar has been taken out of it, which is what we use for the beer process, so what's left is what humans would say is sawdust," Lewis says. "The really neat thing about it is cows love it."
For decades, breweries have relied on nearby farmers to help dispose of their beers' byproduct. It's a symbiotic relationship -- brewers get rid of their garbage and farmers use it to feed their livestock, most times at no cost to either business. In North Texas, the practice is not only ubiquitous, it's also essential to both local industries.
Wayne Ostrander is a cattle farmer of five years, based in Milford. Up to three times a week, he and his wife, Stephanie, drive the hour and 30 minutes to Dallas to pick up spent grain from Noble Rey Brewing Co. in the Design District and BrainDead Brewing in Deep Ellum. Depending on the recipes each brewery is making, the Ostranders' average weekly haul hangs near 10,000 pounds of grain, which they use to feed their 40-plus cows and calves.
The livestock don't dine exclusively on spent grains -- each cow can eat about 40 pounds of it per day, so Wayne doesn't even collect enough for them to subsist on. But he prefers feeding them brewery grains because it helps beef up the cattle. Beer brewing extracts sugar from the malted barley, leaving a protein-heavy grain that helps pack on the pounds.
"Because of the breweries' pickiness, the grain quality is really off the charts," Wayne says. "Things like Roundup and glyphosate and other pesticides and sprays, [brewers are] generally so picky on their grains, none of that stuff ever gets in our system."
That's good news for the local residents looking to fill their meat freezers and restaurants -- including BrainDead Brewing -- that purchase a quarter-cow or more from Wayne's Flying O Ranch to butcher and serve. It's also a positive for Wayne, who is able to advertise an all-natural product.
Lewis at Tupps Brewery has a similar relationship with his farmer, Joe Day. Every year, Day gives a spent grain-fed steer or several hogs back to the brewery, which in turn roasts them on a spit to serve at special events. Lewis appreciates the closed-loop nature of the deal because it supports the beer scene's sustainability efforts. Many breweries also reuse water for multiple beer batches, and one company in New York is now using spent grains to make a drink it calls barley milk.
"It's being responsible to where we all live," Lewis says. "If everybody took steps to be responsible to the community and environment, it can sustain and live on."
Chris Rigolout, founder of Noble Rey, points out that partnerships with local farmers also help lower production costs -- and in turn beer prices -- because his company doesn't have to rent a Dumpster and pay for grain disposal.
For the Ostrander family, though, having supplemental spent grain means running a lucrative business. Wayne is able to house more cattle on his land, and the land itself is able to regenerate because it's not constantly being grazed upon. Without brewery grain, he'd be buying hay or cutting animals, he says. It's literally the ingredient that determines his farm's profitability.
As it stands, the grain affords Wayne's farm to pay him a salary -- and that's not common, he says. Without it, his family would have to "make different life choices," he says, and get traditional jobs in the city.