Pursuing females’ fancy: the beer industry’s quest to win over women

Michigan Beer Guide featured this article in their January/February 2012 issue, as part of a series I’m writing on Women & Craft Beer. This is the longer version of the article; you may read the published version at the Beer Guide website. It is reprinted with permission.

As any craft beer enthusiast or MBG reader can tell you, women – classy, intelligent women – do indeed enjoy drinking beer. Couple this fact with the statistic that, depending on who’s compiling the calculations, women make or influence 80 to 90 percent of all purchasing decisions, and it seems you have a no-brainer, all-win situation: market beer directly to women! And yet, beer marketing and advertising has traditionally focused on men, ignoring or objectifying women (or both). However, marketing gurus do, from time to time, get the bright idea to target women in their campaigns, with decidedly different outcomes.

Marketing beer directly to women may be somewhat of an anomaly, but it’s not a new idea. The history of beer and its promotion is long and fascinating, but let’s approach this scene after the end of Prohibition. Even then, a few savvy admen saw women as an untapped market. Exploiting the female trend to strive for slimness, Acme launched a campaign in the 1930s touting their beer as “dietetically non-fattening.” Although the ads featured illustrations of slim, pretty women that would be attractive to men, the message was aimed squarely at women.

During and after World War II, beer-marketing efforts directed at women really took off, with two different and quite opposing dynamics at play. First, as men left to fight during the War, more women were obliged to work outside of the home. Second, after the War, the mythical American family – featuring the hard-working husband, doting home-making wife and charming kids – was conceived and promoted. Both the confident, self-reliant persona attached to the first scenario and the compliant housewives connected with the later were featured in various campaigns.

A Miller High Life ad from 1952 depicts a poised female golfer who clearly makes her own decisions about how she spends her time and what she quaffs. However, ads featuring women as consummate wife and hostess are in far greater abundance. A 1950s series from Schlitz, united by the slogan, “If you like beer you’ll love Schliltz,” features beautiful, smiling ladies cheerfully carrying out their wifely duties, from fetching a tray of Pilsner glasses to hosting the perfect party to offering a cold one to a fly-fishing husband.

Bud also tapped into the ultimate hostess idea in 1956, with two women not necessarily enjoying beer themselves, but enviously gossiping about how their excellent hostess only serves Bud. A different, prolific campaign from Budweiser straddled both realms. The “Where there’s Life … there’s Bud” series prominently featured women; sometimes enjoying beer alongside a man, but also often having a beer poured for her by a man just outside the frame.

Let’s fast-forward through the next few decades, shall we? There’s no need to discuss (or display) here all the big-breasted, scantily-clad, suggestively-posed women who have decorated the ads for fizzy yellow fermented beverages over the years. Our common knowledge of this spectacle is the very thing that makes “marketing beer to women” noteworthy.

Recently, a few companies have seemingly “seen the light” once again, and so have devoted tremendous energy to capturing the female market. However, a glimpse at two specific endeavors may make female beer lovers cringe.

First up we have Animée from Molson Coors, launched in the UK in the fall of 2011 and available in three variants, including crisp rosé and zesty lemon. As the press release explains, this “lightly sparkling and finely filtered beer” aims to “make beer a real choice for women.” The result of input from over 30,000 women and two years of concentrated industry research, Animée beer and its brand plan are designed to be “feminine and sophisticated without being patronizing.” As a woman who enjoys beer and knows scores of others who do the same, this concept baffles me. Is another alco-pop really the answer to wooing women over to beer? I agree with Molson Coors that they, along with all brewers large and small, “need to repair the reputation of beer among women.” But is this the way to do it?

Next we have Chick Beer, “a beer just for women,” brewed and available in and around Maryland but hoping to take female drinkers across the country by storm. Because women certainly don’t want to carry a six-pack that looks like a six-pack, this beer comes in a hot-pink carrier disguised as a clutch, rimmed with faux bling. The font is sassy and full of curlicues, and the labels depict a little black dress, “just to be absolutely certain that no one could mistake it for dude beer,” as their website explains. Because all women hate calories, this beer has less than 100, but still tastes “soft, smooth and full-bodied.”

This type of marketing comes across to me as basic condescension, narrowly defining women as “chicks” who are predominantly concerned with appearances – just as ads with bikini-clad women pigeon-hole men. The notion of including women in the marketing of beer is a splendid one, but recent efforts such as these seem to only reinforce stereotypes and propagate the segregation that already exists.

Of course, these products and promotions aren’t geared toward women who already like beer; they’re trying to capture female attention. If a brew dreamed up exclusively for women serves as a “gateway” to real, craft beer, than I’m all for it. But honestly, I just don’t believe that products and advertising pandering directly to a woman’s “girlie side” will spark a revolution in female beer-drinking. And as Charlie Papazian put it in a HuffPost Denver article on Chick Beer in September 2011, “It seems quite contrary that if you want to attract anyone to beer – you offer them something that tastes less like beer.”

Women by and large may indeed be repelled by beer, due to its image and the way it’s been marketed; there is certainly room for growth in the “female beer drinker” market. The concepts that beer is a masculine drink and that all beer tastes the same are presumptions that it will certainly benefit marketers to dispel. However, flamboyant attempts to attract an isolated segment of the market seem like a backwards way to approach the situation.

The focus should be on integrating women, not singling them out. Exclusionary advertising might create a buzz in the short-term, but perhaps advertising should just be geared toward promoting a superior product to the entire community. Let’s have less sexism and gimmicky advertising, not more. We need campaigns that respect women simply by not objectifying them or ignoring them, and by offering true great taste to everyone.

Happy Fifth Anniversary, Hideout Brewing Company!

In honor of one of my favorite brewery’s fifth anniversaries, I’m posting the piece I wrote for the Michigan Beer Guide when the Hideout first emerged. This was originally published in the May 2005 issue of MBG as “Discover Grand Rapids’ Newest Hideout,” by me, Brenda Cooke. Some details may be out of date, but most everything still rings true! Reprinted with permission of MBG.

If you live in or ever visit West Michigan, you may get the sense that you’re still stuck in the days of prohibition, due to the conservative climate and curious laws dealing with the sale of alcohol. Fortunately, West Michigan beer lovers can now tip back a few pints at the new Hideout Brewing Company, a prohibition-themed microbrewery where the delicious beer flows freely.

Approaching Hideout BC, you may get a sense of an exclusive speakeasy due to the off-the-beaten-path setting and the drooping pines that silently guard the entranceway. Once inside, the brewery has an expansive feel, with the lounge and bar area downstairs and the second floor loft located just above the bar. Former patrons of the Hair of the Frog Brewery, which used to operate in this building, may remember the location. However, owner and brewer Ken McPhail has worked hard to change up the look and the feel of the new brewery. The comfy, homemade chairs and poured-concrete bar remain the same, but now there are rich red and orange walls set off by massive photographs of gangsters and bootleggers; the new décor promotes a laid-back and cozy feeling.

But of course, the beer is what I’m here for. I was quite happy to be living in these post-prohibition times as I sampled Ken’s six beers, and found each one to be satisfying and true to style. The 5.5% ABV Smuggler’s Hazelnut Stout is a dark, opaque brew with a strong hazelnut flavor accentuated by coffee and cream that finishes clean. Ken believes in keeping things local: this stout is brewed with Hazelnut Crème coffee beans from the Schuil Coffee Company in Grand Rapids. Ken’s second stout offering is the 5.6% ABV Cement Shoe Stout, dark as the bottom of Lake Michigan, featuring a good balance of hops and malts; full-bodied, yet clean and refreshing. The clear, deep brown 5.6% Nitro Stout is the Cement Shoe on nitrogen: it has a lasting, creamy head and boasts roasty notes with a hint coffee. In the traditional Pilsner style, the golden 5.2% Purple Gang Pilsner is hoppy and slightly sweet with a crisp finish. Hop lovers will want to try the 6.6% ABV amber-hued Bootleg IPA, and are sure to enjoy the classic, faintly oaky flavor complimented by a touch of creaminess and a long finish. Slightly cloudy, the Crusaders’ Weisen weighs in at 5% ABV and is crisp and bright with a hint of lemon. The beers are offered at the bar in pitchers, pints, 12 oz. glasses, or in a sampler of five; get them to go in growlers or kegs.

If by chance you’re looking for something other than beer, Hideout tenders a variety of different homemade libations. Sauvignon Blanc, White Zinfandel and Shiraz are all available on draught. A hearty ~13% ABV mead is not too sweet, and is made from honey gathered in nearby Hudsonville, MI. The lightly carbonated cider owes its crisp flavor to locally grown apples from Robinette’s in Grand Rapids. These selections are a real treat for West Michiganders; as Ken observes, “no one else in town offers homemade wines, ciders, and meads.”

The drinks served at Hideout Brewing Company are so tasty for good reason. Each one is hand crafted by Ken McPhail, who has a long and rich history in the world of brewing. Ken homebrewed for 10 years before getting into the business, and then worked his way from the bottom up, beginning in the packaging and cellaring area of the Kalamazoo Brewing Company. He worked for Bell’s in Kalamazoo in the mid-1990s, and remembers back when it was just “a hole in the wall.” At West Side Brewing, NY, where he got to meet with top representatives from Anheuser-Busch, he gained a perspective of the “other side” of the brewing scene. From 2000 to 2003, he brewed for Big Buck Brewery in Grand Rapids.

Ken explains that he’s “been tracking the industry for a long time” (so it’s not surprising that he has “read the Michigan Beer Guide since it first came out”). Over the years, he’s been able to form a good “sense of how breweries start out and grow.” Now the proud owner of his own brewery, Ken describes his business as a “throw-back, grassroots brewing company [that is] more comparable to a home-brewery than to a commercial brewery, or even a microbrewery.” Ken brews his beers in an old-fashioned system with a homemade, tilt mash tun and a 5-barrel kettle. The open top fermentation offers “a nice way to brew that supplies more flavor.” Ken comments, “it’s a nice thing that Grand Rapids actually has a brewing community. I want to carry on that grassroots brewing tradition.”

This brewery is Ken’s baby: he runs the show, from brewing beers to tending bar to dealing with vendors. “It began as a one-person operation,” remarks Ken, but is quick to add, “My wife’s been helping me a ton.” [Writer’s note: Boss Lady Laura McPhail is certainly an indispensible part of the business!] But Hideout BC isn’t Ken’s only baby…his 2-year-old daughter will be joined by a brand new bundle of joy by the release of this publication. Ken worked furiously to get the brewery up and running, and his hard work certainly paid off when Hideout celebrated its grand opening on June 11, 2005 with food, live music, and beer specials.

Visitors to Hideout Brewing Company can relax in the non-smoking bar area downstairs, or play darts and foosball and perhaps enjoy some live music in the loft upstairs (which is smoker-friendly). Available munchies include soft pretzels and free popcorn. Hideout Brewing Company is located at 3113 Plaza Dr. NE in Grand Rapids, just north of the intersection of Plainfield Ave. and I-96. From Plainfield, turn east onto Lamberton Lake Dr. (look for Hansen Collision on the corner), and then make the first right onto Plaza Dr. After the few bends in the road, the brewery (which shares the building with Blue Spa, formerly Hubba Tubba) will be on your right. For more information, give Ken a call at 616-361-9658, or visit the web site: www.hideoutbrewing.com.

Drink local (and choose your container carefully)

Here’s the third installment in my Michigan Beer Guide series focusing on great beer and living sustainably. This piece is reprinted with the permission of the Michigan Beer Guide. Cheers!

By now, we’ve all heard the call to “eat local.” But what about making the choice to “drink local?” As with the choices we make about the foods eat, the decisions we reach concerning which beer to drink can have an immense effect on the health of our planet.

The “eat local” call to action is based on the ideas that locally-sourced food is fresher, and it promotes better air quality by eliminating the need for long-distance air or ground transportation. Although it’s a hotly debated topic, eating local may even be better for air quality and reducing pollution than eating organic. Also, choosing local foods strengthens local economies by keeping money in the community.

We reap similar benefits when we make the choice to drink local. But, this may be easier said than done. Most beers, whether microbrewed or mass-produced, are not made with ingredients grown on the brewery’s doorstep. Grains are usually transported in, and although local hops are catching on, the majority must still be sourced from the Pacific Northwest or European countries such as Germany or England. There are exceptions in the world of brewing; for example, many German beers are made with relatively local ingredients. That’s great for Germans, but this local advantage is lost when German beers are shipped over the ocean.

Clearly, there are several aspects to consider in the quest to drink local. Ingredients are one of these, and transportation is another. With trucks and vehicles spewing greenhouse gasses as they bring us food and drink, transportation is a major environmental concern, and the container holding your beer is one part of this puzzle.

Glass, the material preferred by many fine breweries to hold their wares, is heavy. The heavier the cargo load, the more fuel is required for transport, resulting in more greenhouse gas emissions. A May 2009 article on Treehugger.com, “Eat Local, Drink Local Beer,” shares the following numbers: A 0.5 liter of German Hefeweizen from Munich in a glass bottle weighs roughly 0.75 kg. Trucking this beer from Munich to Hamburg, then shipping it to New York, results in 82 grams of greenhouse gas emissions per bottle. Transporting the beer to the center of the country could add up to 28 grams of gas emissions per bottle.

While an empty glass bottle tips the scale at about 6 ounces, an empty beer can weighs less than an ounce, which amounts to a great weight difference when considering a whole shipment of beer. From this perspective, if you choose to purchase a beer that was created any significant distance from where you eventually consume it, aluminum is the preferable container.

To evaluate the greater environmental picture, step back from the local issue and the weight question to judge the materials themselves.

As a raw material, glass wins out over aluminum. Glass is made from silica, which is relatively accessible, while the bauxite required to make aluminum is mined at high environmental costs.

But that’s not the end of the story, or at least it shouldn’t be. Recycling is a crucial part of “drinking green,” so please recycle, regardless of whether or not a 10-cent deposit was involved. In the aluminum versus glass debate, the former gains a clear advantage in the recycling arena.

Overall, Americans recycled over 54 percent of their aluminum cans in 2008, according to the Aluminum Association. In states like Michigan, where a deposit is required on bottles and cans, up to 97 percent of empties are returned.

As a result, most beer cans contain 40 percent recycled aluminum, which is great news considering the fact that a can made from recycled aluminum requires 95 percent less energy to manufacture than one made from virgin materials.

American beer bottles, on the other hand, typically contain only 20 to 30 percent recycled glass, and the energy savings for creating a bottle from recycled glass as compared to a bottle from virgin materials are only about 26 percent. But recycling glass still has enormous merit. According to the Glass Packaging Institute, over a ton of natural resources are conserved for every ton of glass that’s recycled, and for every six tons of recycled container glass used, a ton of carbon dioxide is reduced.

Taking weight and material production into account, aluminum is the better container choice for non-local beers. The problem is, only a small percentage of craft beers are available in cans. In Michigan, Keweenaw Brewing Company currently bucks the bottle trend. But to enjoy most craft brews, glass is the sole option lining the shelves. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Americans got our act together and rediscovered reusable glass bottle programs? For now, that may be wishful thinking. The best choice for minimal environmental consequence, then, is to just drink beer locally.

Drinking beer at the location it’s actually made is ideal. This eliminates the transportation dilemma, and of course ensures you the freshest beer possible.

But if you’re thirsting for craft brews from across the state or halfway around the world, you can enjoy these with less environmental impact by making a few easy choices.

First, frequent a pub that’s nearby. You can completely negate any environmental benefits of drinking local if you drive a significant distance to enjoy a particular brew. A bar within walking or biking distance is best, but even if you have the drive, the closer, the better.

Second, sample those coveted beers on draught. Although kegs are indeed heavy, a 15.5-gallon keg actually averages out to about 3 ounces of packaging per 12-ounce serving, about half the weight of one glass bottle. And, filling reusable glasses from a keg precludes the use of dozens of bottles or cans. Kegs are also reusable and refillable, lasting up to 20 years. When it’s time to return home, simply fill up a reusable growler.

One useful, though potentially difficult, way to determine your beverage’s eco-friendly status (or lack thereof) is to consider its life cycle, or all the environmental impacts produced by or required for its existence. A March 2008 article in the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment focused the life cycle of an Italian lager. According to this assessment, drinking beer on draught instead of from a bottle lowers the environmental impact by 68 percent.

Of course, for the ultimate in local brew, brew your own. Purchase ingredients locally if possible, keg your beer or reuse your glass bottles, and enjoy great beer without ever leaving home.

Homebrew is likely the best “drink local” option, with draught beer brewed onsite at a local brewery coming in a close second. Locally-brewed draught beer at a nearby pub ranks next, followed by any draught choice enjoyed at a neighborhood establishment. Beer from afar in aluminum cans places after that, and sadly, non-local beer in glass bottles finishes off the list as the least environmentally friendly choice.

You may not be ready to swear off all Belgian beers, but you can make a commitment to make a difference in the New Year by making more choices to drink local. You’ll support your local economy, support creative local brewmasters, and enjoy a uniquely local experience.

Down the drain: the crucial connection between brewing and water conservation

This is the second installment in a series that I’m writing for the Michigan Beer Guide, focusing on great beer and living sustainably. For the Beer Guide, I write under my pen name, Brenda Cooke. This piece is reprinted with the permission of the Michigan Beer Guide. Cheers!

To make excellent beer, you’ve got to start with pure, great-tasting water. Any good brewer, from the head of brewing operations at a national corporation to an occasional dabbler in the kitchen, understands and honors this tenet. In the Great Lakes region, it may seem like we’re blessed with an unlimited supply of this essential ingredient. Yet although the Great Lakes represent over 20 percent of the world’s fresh water, the supply is not boundless. As brewers and craft beer lovers, in order to safeguard this resource for the future, we must view our fortunate location as a responsibility and a privilege rather than a license to waste.

In the process of brewing beer, the leading area of waste is water use. Depending on your source, the industry standard is around six to 12 gallons of water consumed for each gallon of beer produced, with some estimates coming in much higher. “One consulting firm estimated the real water footprint of brewing beer to be 20 gallons of water to yield one gallon of beer, when the water used in malting barley is factored into the equation,” shares Lucy Saunders, beer and food writer and developer of the Web site beercook.com.

Undoubtedly, the most water-intensive component of the brewing process is washing and sanitizing. From brew kettles to utensils to hoses to fermenters, everything that comes in contact with the ingredients must be sanitized, and that demands water. Water is also lost in the long boiling process, released in the form of steam. Finally, cooling the wort with a heat exchanger is a favorite method of many brewers. In a heat exchanger, cold water runs through tubing to cool the hot wort. Depending on how the resulting hot water is handled, this method has great potential for either water reuse or for waste.

Although the brewing process inevitably demands significant quantities of water, it’s vital that the brewing industry is at the forefront of efforts to preserve water quality. Since beer itself is over 90 percent water, we must conserve the main ingredient if we’d like to continue to enjoy our favorite beverage.

There are environmental benefits to conserving water, but there is also a financial incentive. A recent article in the Virginia Gazette, entitled “Is brewery water next big issue?,” focused on the subject from an economic standpoint. This article dealt with Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Williamsburg brewery, which uses more than three million gallons of water a day and well over one billion gallons of water each year. Struggling with utility costs, the brewery underwent a consumption analysis. As a result, the Williamsburg brewery implemented new procedures for reclaiming water in brewing and packaging processes, decreasing total water consumption by 20 percent in a just few months.

Sauders further illustrates the economic angle, stating that water rates in Milwaukee County in her home state of Wisconsin will go up by 28 to 36 percent next year. “If some simple operational changes will let brewers save 15 percent, then those costs can be minimized with just a little effort.” Saunders stresses that the cost benefits will quickly make up for any initial investments.

Much to their credit, many craft breweries across the world are already built upon standards of sustainability. Of course, all craft brewers are not automatically staunch environmentalists. However, they are often independent, open-minded and intimately tied to their own regions and communities, three factors that are likely to lead to questioning outdated, wasteful industry models and developing new values and methods.

For example, Long Trail Brewing Co. of Vermont employs unique processes that allow them to use only two gallons of water to make a gallon of beer. At New Belgium in Colorado, the methane produced by process water treatment fuels a combined heat and power engine. Odell Brewing Company in Colorado hopes to use only 2.9 gallons of water for each gallon of beer in 2010.

Although breweries of all sizes are striving to use water efficiently, there will always be room for improvement. “I think it’s too easy to waste water through inattention; using water as a broom instead of using a floor squeegee, for example,” says Saunders. If breweries are going to attain the water efficiency rate recommended by the United Nations of five gallons of water to make a gallon of beer, efficient water use must be a cornerstone of all brewing practices.

Water conservation is an international concern, but recent events focused a spotlight on this issue in states surrounding the Great Lakes. Specifically, about a year ago, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact successfully established new water conservation and environmental protection standards for water use within this region.

“The Great Lakes is the perfect place to showcase the need for water efficiency,” observes Thomas E. Pape, technical advisor to the Alliance for Water Efficiency. “In the past, everyone considered water conservation as an issue only affecting the ‘Wild Wild West.’ Yet the Great Lakes represents the greatest fresh water reserves in the world, and now it is known that even this massive resource is under dire threats,” continues Pape, who is not only a national expert on water conservation, but is also a certified beer judge and an avid homebrewer. “The Great Lakes issues bring forth the shocking truth that every area of the United States needs to be concerned with water efficiency. If the Great Lakes Region has a problem, it proves that our country can no longer assume that a safe and reliable water supply is a constant.”

“We live on a thirsty planet, and there are water wars already raging in other parts of the world,” confirms Saunders. “Local breweries need to be aware of water conservation techniques that can save water and save money.” To that end, Saunders is organizing the Great Lakes Craft Brewers & Water Conservation Conference, scheduled for late October 2009 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“The Great Lakes Compact requires that all businesses in the basin begin conserving water,” explains Saunders. “I’ve been worried about the costs of water, combined with the costs of raw materials and potentially increasing taxes, creating a real financial burden for small craft brewers.  The state of emergency drought we experienced in Wisconsin this year was so severe, it seemed like a good time to reach out.” The conference will focus on the legal and economic impacts of the Great Lakes Compact for craft brewers, with sessions on water conservation, retrofits for water efficiency in small brewhouses, best practices and designs for cost savings and reuse of water.

Craft brewers aren’t the only ones who must be concerned with conserving water. Homebrewers can also respect this precious resource with a few simple changes. Making prudent use of washing and sanitizing water is an easy way to start. For example, spray down the inside of a pot or bucket using a spray bottle filled with sanitizing solution rather than filling the vessel with sanitizing solution. Saunders recommends investing in a pressurized nozzle for your kitchen sink and using burst rinsing for cleaning and sanitation.

If you use a wort chiller, collect the resulting hot, clean water in carboys or camping jugs. You can use this water for cleaning, or allow it to cool and then use it for watering your lawn or gardens. Pape adds that all beer lovers, brewers or not, can also play a huge part in water conservation: consider the hidden water waste in the later cycle of the beer, the disposal. To put it bluntly, with an average disposal rate of 17 pints of water to dispose of one pint of beer, think before you flush.

“The Great Lakes region has many, many, many important issues regarding water, and brewing is one of them,” concludes Pape. “A reliable, pure and safe water supply is vital to beer production. Sustainable brewing practices must include efficient water use. The means of creating the beer and the beer’s total impact on the environment is as important as the taste of the beer itself.”

Spent grains, spent wisely

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For about five years, I’ve enjoyed the privilege of contributing to the Michigan Beer Guide. Recently, the publisher allowed me to unite two of my passions, great beer and living sustainably, in a series of columns. What follows is the first installment of this series, reprinted with the permission of the Michigan Beer Guide. Cheers!

In nature, everything that’s produced is eventually utilized; there is no “waste.” Yet depending on the methods employed and the handling of the by-products, the brewing process can be very wasteful. A large portion of the waste produced by brewing is spent grain, but spent grain is actually not garbage: it’s a resource.

After mashing and lautering, that grain may be “spent,” but it’s certainly not useless. This soggy mass, consisting mostly of the celluloid grain husks and unconverted compounds, can benefit commercial breweries, homebrewers, and every one in between.

Hopefully, if the brewing process is successful, most of the starch in the original malted grains is broken down into sugars. However, the spent grains retain valuable protein and fiber, making them a useful addition to livestock feed.

On a large scale, breweries may give away, trade or sell their grain for use as feed. Whether or not the brewery makes a profit, it’s better than paying for it to be hauled away and dumped into a landfill. Across Michigan, many breweries enjoy agreements with local farmers who raise livestock such as cattle, pigs, chickens and goats.

For example, Frankenmuth Brewery gives away their spent grain to a local dairy and sheep farmer. The farmer reports that his herds are fat and happy, and that they literally run along the fence after the truck as it pulls up, laden with spent grain. Grizzly Peak BC in Ann Arbor works with a farmer in Dundee who feeds it to his livestock.

“Zero spent grain goes to the dump at Schmohz,” explains Chas Thompson, brewer at Schmohz Brewery in Grand Rapids. “We have a relationship with a dairy farmer with a large herd. They come pick up the spent grain and bring back the barrels clean. For me, that’s enough.” This is just a small sampling of the numerous Michigan breweries that make use of their spent grains in this way.

On a smaller scale, homebrewers and homebrew clubs can employ this method of spent grain recycling. Various Michigan homebrew clubs dedicate their spent grains throughout the year to feeding one specific pig; the animal is later the main attraction at a club barbeque.

However, there are other uses of spent grain that are more efficient, both economically and ecologically. Of course, if your goal is to live as sustainably as possible, beef and pork won’t factor into your everyday diet, since it takes anywhere between five and 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of animal flesh. But the case for making frequent vegetarian choices is another topic for another day (or another publication), so I’ll step off that soapbox for the moment and focus on the nutritional value of spent grain.

Spent grains can be difficult for animals to digest, resulting in indigestion and flatulence, which adds methane gas to the atmosphere. Yet spent grain remains a valuable feed additive. A nutritional evaluation of spent grains used for animal feed, published in the journal “Plant Foods for Human Nutrition,” found that assorted spent grains contained roughly 20 percent crude protein and 50 percent dietary fiber. The grain contains essential amino acids, and some minerals such as magnesium, calcium, zinc and iron. However, a diet consisting solely of spent grains was not recommended; the study found that a diet of up to 25 percent spent grains is ideal for livestock.

So, outside of animal feed, how else to use all that spent grain? One way is to create delicious baked goods. Although recipes often call for only a fraction of the spent grain you’ll have on hand after brewing a batch of beer, there are recipes out there for everything from bread to crackers to pizza dough. Many recipes are available online.

This is an option for both homebrewers and commercial brewers. Look for spent grain as an ingredient next time you’re dining at a Michigan brewpub: The chefs at Frankenmuth are currently experimenting with a spent grain pizza crust, and the HopCat in Grand Rapids offers a house made spent grain flat bread.

Spent grain can be a key ingredient in great homemade treats for dogs and horses. One word of caution: do not use grain that came in contact with hops, as hops may be fatal to dogs.

Although it doesn’t have quite the mouth-watering allure of livestock feed or a baking ingredient, composting spent grain is an excellent option. Composting spent grain not only prevents organic solid waste from entering landfills, it also creates a product that helps restore depleted soil. If you have a compost pile, throw in your spent grain and your garden will love it! If you don’t have a compost heap, you can amend your garden’s soil directly with small amounts of spent grain. However, be prepared in this case for some strong aromatics.

How about some ‘shrooms? Spent grain may be used as a medium for growing organic shiitake and oyster mushrooms. One brewery already taking advantage of this fact is Great Lakes Brewing Company in our neighboring state of Ohio. They send spent grains to a local mushroom farm, and the resulting mushrooms feature in entrees at Great Lakes’ restaurant. You can find directions for cultivating your own mushrooms with spent grains at vermontmushrooms.com. As an added bonus, growing mushrooms on spent grains makes the grains more digestible to livestock and increases their protein content.

Worms also love spent grains. Thompson says a local vermiculturist loves giving Schmohz’s spent grains to his worms. Great Lakes is also on the forefront of this movement: their vermiculture compost bins produce natural fertilizer that’s used to nourish herbs and vegetables found on their menu.

In the commercial brewing world, putting spent grains to good use represents a bold move towards sustainable energy and self-sufficiency. The Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives (ZERI) put forth an innovate approach for commercial breweries. ZERI confirms the potential uses for spent grains in livestock feed, baked goods and growing mushrooms, then takes it a few steps further.

Waste from the spent grain-fed livestock may be mixed in a digester with brewery wastewater to generate biogas and a nutrient solution. The biogas can be used in the brewery or sold, and the nutrient solution feeds algae that in turn feed fish. The result is the utilization of all the nutrients, protein and fiber from the spent grains. If this sounds farfetched, consider the fact that a brewery in Tsumeb, Namibia already functions this way.

Breweries in the UK are also making strides toward sustainability. Scottish & Newcastle (S&N UK), the UK’s largest beer and cider company, is installing biomass plants in two of their breweries that will burn spent grain and locally-sourced woodchips. The steam and electricity generated by these combined heat and power (CHP) plants will be used for the breweries’ processes.

One of these CHP plants is at S&N UK’s Royal Brewery in Manchester, which produces many internationally known beers, including Foster’s Lager and Kronenbourg 1664. According to a Greenpeace UK case study, burning the 42,000 tons of spent grain this brewery produces each year will supply 60 percent of the site’s steam and almost all of their electricity. The result is an 87 percent reduction in fossil fuel emissions. S&N UK reports that the plant could reduce Foster’s entire carbon footprint by as much as 15 percent.

Homebrewing and choosing local craft brews are two very eco-conscious ways of enjoying your favorite beverage. And using spent grains is one more step toward living more sustainably. If you’re into social media, there’s an “I Use Spent Grain” group on Facebook where you can connect with others, share recipes and more. If you don’t homebrew, any local brewery will likely be happy to supply you with spent grain for your own endeavors. Drink local beer, use spent grains wisely, and be kind to the planet.