Photos by Conal Thomas

In the 27 years that William Harvey was a brewer with Guinness, he saw tonne after tonne of spent grain sold off to be recycled as animal feed or compost.

“Seemed a shame to waste it,” he says.

Now that he is master brewer with Five Lamps Brewery in the Liberties, he has continued that tradition of reusing leftovers.

Each time he brews a large batch of beer, he ends up with roughly 250 kilos of spent grain, which he takes out of the mash tuns and pours into the malt bags, ready to be picked up by a farmer he knows.

“I eventually made contact with a chap who comes and takes it away after every brew,” he says.

While most brewers seem to still donate their spent grain for livestock feed, others are coming up with more novel uses for the industrial byproduct.

Baker and doughnut maker Hilary Quinn has an altogether different use.

Grain Of Sense

“Instead of it going to compost or waste, I said I’d bake with it,” said Quinn on Friday afternoon.

As with all her new recipes and ingredients, her spent-grain baking has been trial and error. She has tested spent-grain malt brownies, and spent-grain digestive biscuits, and spent-grain cookies.

“It started as a pastime more than anything, to see how it would turn out,” she says. “But it’s a really nice alternative additional ingredient.”

Quinn has teamed up with Brewtonic, the brewing branch of the Bodytonic pub chain, to perfect her recipes – she gets the grain from them.

On Sunday, she will also showcase her cooking at the Bernard Shaw, as part of the Brewtonic Beer Festival.

Baking with spent grain is straightforward, she says. She first dries the wet spent grain in the oven on a low heat and grinds it up.

Though it can be used as a substitute for flour, Quinn adds the grain to her recipes as an extra ingredient. “It gives a really tasty, crunchy texture,” she says.

It’s free and packs a punch of flavour, she says. “The difference with it would be between a normal white flour and a wholewheat flour. It’s definitely more malted. It has that nice, fermented flavour to it.”

The philosophy behind its use is simple, says Quinn. “These byproducts can become products themselves. When you make butter you get buttermilk. We wouldn’t consider that a byproduct.”

Spent, mainly malted barley and wheat, grain has the potential to be a more widely used addition to alternative or low-gluten products, she says.

Others have looked at how spent grain can be used to make breadsticks and what that does to texture and crispiness.

“There is currently a strong argument for its use for human consumption, as it is rich in dietary fibre and has high protein content,” wrote a group of DIT and Teagasc researchers in a 2012 study.

At James’s Gate

It doesn’t look as if there will be spent-grain baking on an industrial scale in the city any time soon. The brewing behemoth at James’s Gate has yet to explore routes beyond the traditional.

“Most of our spent grains, which are a byproduct of the brewing process at St James’s Gate, are sold for use as animal feed,” said a Guinness spokesperson

Some of the roasted grains used to brew Guinness that are not as palatable to livestock are reprocessed at an offsite-composting site and sold as gardening compost, said the spokesperson.

Anecdotally, though, brewer Harvey thinks that more Dubliners are experimenting with leftover ingredients, due in no small part to the surge in craft beers and home brewing.

“I supply a girl with [leftover] yeast and she’s trying to develop a line of Marmites from it,” he says. He met a guy at a beer fair who was making energy bars out of spent grain, too.

Those toying with spent grain, however, must dry it properly first, says Harvey. Lest it “go skanky”.

He is thankful he has his farmer. “If you don’t have someone to come and take it away you’re snookered,” says Harvey. “It means putting it into the bin and that’s a sin. Jesus, that’s a shame.”

At the Brewtonic Beer Festival this weekend, there’ll be a brewing demo to show the stages of working with grain: the fresh grain before it’s brewed, the brewing process, and finally spent-grain baking.

You can bake with most grains used in malt to pilsner beers, says Conor Dunne, senior manager at Bodytonic.

“We do little mini batches of brew up above the Shaw so we had grain leftover. We were thinking to ourselves about how to reduce waste and reuse stuff,” he says. “Hopefully we can spark a bit of an interest.”

Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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