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Organic Food Waste in Brooklyn Part 2: Beer

I went to a microbrewery hoping to learn about their strategy to properly dispose of organic waste, but I only found that there was none!

Photo of Ashwin Goutham Gopi
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Inspired by Jessica's post about beer spent grain, I decided to visit a brewery in Brooklyn. There are 36 breweries in NYC, out of which 14 are in Brooklyn. I decided to visit the Greenpoint beer and ale company (another unimaginatively named establishment) in its namesake neighborhood. Established in January of 2014, they make small batch ales, lagers, and beers five barrels at a time. They also experiment quite regularly and are always interested in trying out new and strange ingredients to give their product an edge in a competitive and almost saturated local market.

Cooling bath for brewing

I called them and they asked me to stop by on a Tuesday morning since that's when they start brewing new batches. Their 6000 square foot establishment serves as their brewery, bar, restaurant, and warehouse. I met with Mark, a brewer who gave me a tour of their brewery. There were three people at work, brewing a fresh batch of peach saison. After the tour, we sat down and had a conversation about the waste created in the brewing process.

Me: So this is perhaps an obvious question, but what would you say is your major source of waste?

Mark: Definitely the boiler mash.

Me: And that is the grain?

Mark: It's mostly grain, there's also a lot of water in it. We try to extract as much of it as possible since that's what turns into beer, but there's always some water left.

Me: So it's a hot and soft mush of barley and water?

Mark: Not a lot of the barley grain, all of that dissolves. It's the husk that's left behind.

Warehouse

Me: And how much of it do you produce?

Mark: We've never really measured it. We should, though.

Me: Could we calculate it? Maybe we can estimate it?

We pull out our smartphones and look up some figures. We then do some math on a napkin.

Mark: So let's see, it says here that for every 100 liters of beer produced, there's 20 kg of beer spent grain that's produced.

Me: Ok, that's good. So much beer do you produce?

Mark: Well I have no idea how many liters, but we make 6 beers at 5 barrels a week.

Me: Ok, so that's 30 a week, that's like 1600 a year?

Mark: That's close. Last year we make around 1500, but this year we're ramping up operations.

Me: You don't keep track of the amounts?

Mark: Not really, we're really flexible here. When we run out of beer we just close the shop and go to another bar.

Empty barels

Me: Ok, fair enough. So let's say 1600?

Mark: Yep.

Me: So each barrel is 31 gallons. And each gallon is 3.8 liters. So that's about 190,000 liters of beer each year.

Mark: You make it sound like a lot.

Me: That's a lot. That means you create 38 tons of beer spent grain.

Mark: 3 tons a month? Sounds about right.

Me: So what do you do with it? What happens to the grain?

Mark: It goes straight from the boiler to the trash.

Me: Do you put it in bags?

Mark: No, it goes into a large bin. We get it picked up thrice a week.

Me: And you have to pay for that?

Mark:Yep, we get charged per pick up, and it's almost a $200 per pick up.

Me: That's a lot. That's like 600 a week. 2400 a month.

Mark: Yep. We just put it in the warehouse. The truck drives straight in and we dump the waste with a forklift. It's the same way the grain arrives. In a truck. We use the same forklift.

Forklift

Me: Do you think that something can be done with all this grain? I've read about how it can be turned into animal feed, or even into food for humans.

Mark: Actually, back in 2014, there was a farmer who used to come around every week to pick up the grain. He used to drive over from Long Island in a pick up truck and take a few barrels worth of grain to feed cattle. But then he stopped coming.

Me: Do you know why?

Mark: I guess the distance? It's quite a way off. Also, there are a lot of breweries in Long Island too, so maybe it's easier for the farmers to pick it up from there? 

Me: That's the problem with being in the city.

Mark: Yes. Especially now with the new law, we have to clearly mark and separate our organic waste. We also have a restaurant here, which means that we have to make sure that we separate our food waste from the used plastic forks and knives.

Me: How do you do that?

Mark: Honestly, it's easier just to clear the tables ourselves and separate the trash. We used to do separate trash bags but people don't follow the rules.

Me: So let me ask you. Imagine if someone could come by and pick up your grain for free each week. Would you be willing to give it away?

Mark: Definitely, it would save us a lot of money. We're also really interested in discovering new uses for the grain, and so we would love to work with people on that.

Me: Let me do my part. Could you fill this with grain for me?

Mark: Haha, totally, and let me know what you do with it.

4 liters of beer spent grain

I'll update this post with my experiments. Anyone interested in baking?

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

A tiny microbrewery produces 38 tons of beer spent grain each year. Since its located in a city, all of it is dumped in a landfill instead of utilized by farmers as animal feed. Beer spent grain is a nutritious and rich material that has multiple applications, even for human consumption. Why are we letting it go to waste? What if we can expand our definition of food waste to industrial byproducts?

Tell us about your work experience:

I'm working with a group of NYU students and alumni who are fascinated with industrial symbiosis: turning the byproduct of one industry into the raw material of another.

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Photo of Bertha Jimenez

Hi Ashwin,

Great contribution! I really like your idea, because it could have a lot of impact of how we consume n manufacture things..I've been following your stories, and I am wondering what you did with the spent grain... I started reading about what to do with the bsg, but it seems that only a little bit of spent grain can be replaced to be flour.  I have a friend who is a baker, and I asked him, and he told me that only 10% could be used instead of flour... What is your take on that?  Also, did you have a chance to experiment with it? Will it be a product accessible to everyone or just to a few? Thanks again for this great twist on food waste :)

Photo of Ashwin Goutham Gopi

Thanks Bertha, I agree - if we're able to use all this waste locally, we can turn these businesses into zero waste entities. 

I was thinking of making some bread or pasta out of the grain. Most sources I look at only suggest replacing 10-15% of the flour with bsg. That's because bsg changes the taste, color, and texture of the products. Is your friend a traditional baker? I'm confident that we can use some techniques and additives from molecular gastronomy to break down the bsg and reconstitute it - this will allow us to overcome some of its disadvantages. I'm aiming to replace up to 33% of the flour with bsg. I'm going to experiment with it soon and I'll share the results. I think we can use this as a source of cheap and healthy food. The ideal target user would be a medium sized bakery.