BANGOR — America’s booming brewing industry and farmers alike are bothered and befuddled by a proposed U.S. Food and Drug Administration rule change that could alter a partnership that dates back to Neolithic times.
In Maine and across the country, brewers and farmers have formed handshake agreements: Brewers brew beer, producing barrels or truckloads full of heavy, wet spent grains. These grains have been heated up to extract sugars, proteins and other nutrients that go on to make beer. The process is called mashing. The spent grains are a byproduct — with no real usefulness purpose left for the brewer.
To the farmer, spent grains are a valuable dietary supplement for their livestock. It’s common for breweries to reach out to local farms to offer up their spent grains as animal feed. Most often, farmers are happy to oblige, picking up the spent grains themselves a few times per week. Little or no money exchanges hands during these deals. Brewers are glad to get rid of the grain, and farmers are glad to take it off their hands.
Andrew Geaghan of Geaghan Brothers Brewing Co. in Bangor, a company that brewed more than 15,000 gallons of beer in 2013, said each batch of beer uses about 350-500 pounds of grain per batch. At the end of the mashing process, it comes out even heavier because it’s saturated with water.