brewery waste

anyone who has been reading this blog for any amount of time will be well aware of my love of most things fermented, and certainly beer ranks pretty high on my list of favorite ferments.  not far from work is one of detroit’s fine breweries, atwater.  a couple of weeks ago i wrote about picking up bags of hops, but my intent when i wrote that post was to pick up the spent grain from making beer.  this week the stars aligned, and i was able to accompany the delicata on her daily trip to pick up grain.

i had been trying to convince the staff and brewers at atwater for years to allow me to pick up their spent brew waste.  i’d had little luck getting them to go for it.  they had not said no – they just didn’t really say yes.  when my coworker who happens to be a young woman approached them they said, “of course” and gave her their number and told them we could start next week.  it wasn’t as easy as that, but in a matter of weeks we were picking up compost every week.

we have been able to pick up brew waste most weeks at least 4 days a week.  the brewery is only about a mile from work and we talk with the brewer at the beginning of the week to make sure he is brewing each day.  then we just show up when they are emptying out the spent grain.

hazen driving the forklift

the brewer -hazen unloads all the grain into this big rolling rubbermaid bin that he can fit half of the brew waste in.  then he uses the folk lift to lift it and move it and dump it into the back of the truck.  for years they had been dumping this stuff into the dumpster, so when we came along it as just a matter of dumping it into the back of the truck.

while hazen is no hippie crunchy type he does love that we are picking up brew waste – i think he really likes that it’s not just getting dumped in the landfill, and his boss is starting to like the fact that our picking up of the waste saves him money

the delicata unloading brew waste into the truck

once it’s lifted up to the hight of the pick up, the bin gets tipped over using a steel bar (this is the process that caused me to sprain my wrist last fall), and the brew waste come tumbling in.  then we just have to guide it out, this only takes a couple of minutes.

the pick-up bed full of brew waste

because the rubbermade bin can only hold about half of the brew waste from one batch and because the whole batch wouldn’t really fit in the back of the pick up, we do it in two loads.  while we are moving the first batch hazen is filling up the rubbermade bin and by the time we get back he is ready to dump again.

the delicata unloading the pickup

if you get the impression the delicata does all the work you would be right.  you can see the steam coming off the brew waste – and this is one of the main reasons that i am so excited about picking up brew waste – it’s hot.  most of the time our compost piles have come to a screeching halt during the winter since all we had building them with was frozen leaves and frozen kitchen scraps.  but with this steaming hot brew waste that has just come out of the kettle we are able to add a significant amount of heat, and make an enviroment in which the bacteria and other critters can really get to work.  even on the coldest of days in the winter our temperature readings of the compost pile have all stayed above 115 degrees.

one of the main issues with using brew waste is that it gets extremely putrid extremely fast.  within 24 hours left by itself it smells about a bad as anything you have experienced.  for this reason it is crucial that you mix it with a high carbon source.  in our case a generous helping of leaves in between each layer of brew waste and covering the whole thing.  this also help to insulate it and keep the heat in so the bacteria can get to work.

in addition to building a huge amount of compost for our gardens, the other thing that really excites me is how much waste we are diverting from the landfill, at current rate it will be over 250,000 pounds of spend grain we add to our gardn and not the landfill.  pretty cool huh.


10 responses to “brewery waste

  1. Nice, we’re just about to start composting the local brewery waste for the new Nursery we are establishing. Other than the smell if not covered quickly, have you found any problems? Or is it still too new for you to work out if there are problems?

    Great idea, nice blog. Thanks

  2. well since composting it for a while i’ve learned a couple of things. 1. it’s not enough to just cover it with leaves, we now make sure that as we shovel it out into the pile we mix leaves or straw or some other carbon source in with it and then cover it well with a layer of carbon. otherwise it ends up matting down and not breaking down . 2. while it is very wet it does need some additional moisture when well mixed with the leaves. it seems plenty wet for the first couple of weeks but we do find we need to water the pile after that. 3. the worms love the brew waste, after the initial hot composting we are introducing worms to the pile from older pile we are sifting out, to help finish everything. you might think about using large scale vermicomposting to deal with the brew waste as i have heard of others having good results, we may move in that direction.

    • Thanks, things to consider certainly. We have woodchip readily available, the workcrew do pruning and removal, and that goes through the chipper, we have plenty of chicken manure available.

      We’re working on 4 cu.m at least per week , the result goes through a smaller shredder to make potting mix for the nursery. Or for bagged sales to the local gardeners. I’m here at the moment, trying to establish a nursery. The blog is more about living here, and all the little things, than a straight nursery description.

  3. Dear Folks, Have composted spent barley malt from a local brewery for sometime. Until today, only mixed with chaff from air-roasted coffee. (It is light and fluffy like sawdust. (Note: Caffenic acid in the chaff makes it a natural herbicide. So no seed starting in that compost for a year.) Indeed, the combination putrifies overnight, so must be turned daily.
    The question: how has your brewery-waste composting been doing, and what have you learned that you might pass on to a rookie composter?
    Many thanks.

  4. Pingback: creating an epic stench | little house on the urban prairie

  5. I believe this is one of the so much significant information for me. And i am glad studying your article. However should commentary on some normal things, The site style is perfect, the articles is actually nice : D. Just right process, cheers

  6. Is there an up-date on brewery composting? What else have you learned since starting this journey?

    • we still struggle with composting spent grain. we have switched to using wood chips because they are able to absorb moisture from the grain, mix well, balance nitrogen, and keep grain from matting down. some issues with the wood chips, after some time they suck too much moisture out of pile and you need to stay on top of watering. also the chips don’t seem to like to break down all that well, very quickly. turning often, adding water, and sifting out larger wood chips has helps, but is still far from perfect. we have had better results when we are able to use a skid steerer to flip all the piles and get lots of oxygen into the piles, but it’s rare that we have access to such equipment.

  7. thanks alot for this articlle because i really needed help in my project work on brewey waste management.needed suggestions on better handling and disposal of brew waste.thanks alot.

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