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Brewers get crafty using spent grain from beer

David Crane, a home brewer, mixes beer leftovers with eggs, butter, and barley to make dog biscuits.
David Crane, a home brewer, mixes beer leftovers with eggs, butter, and barley to make dog biscuits.Julia Custer Norris via AP/Doggy Beer Bones Company via AP

RICHMOND, Va. — When you crack open and drain a craft beer, you probably don’t leave much behind. The same can’t be said for the process of making those brews, which yields a pound or more of leftover grain per six-pack.

But the industry is getting increasingly crafty about how to get rid of the grain and hops left after brewing, turning the byproducts and the beer itself into everything from bread and dog treats to lip balm and soap.

In basic terms, individual breweries may use tractor trailer loads — or roughly 50,000 pounds — of grain every day to brew tens of thousands of gallons of beer. That grain is soaked in warm water, which extracts starch that turns into fermentable sugars. Once that’s done, the grain is separated and discarded, and the brewing process continues.

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Because of the sheer amount of spent grain in beer-making, the majority of it ends up on farms for animal feed or compost. Federal officials last month backed off proposed livestock feed rules that beer makers feared would cost $13.6 million per brewery if they wanted to sell grain left from making beer to ranchers and dairy farmers.

But there’s no shortage of ways brewers are disposing of the fruits of the fruits of their labor.

In Virginia, Devils Backbone Brewing Co.’s pub serves bread made with spent grain and works with other artisans in the state to make sausage and cheese using its beer. The Alaskan Brewing Co. in Juneau last year installed a unique boiler system furnace that burns the company’s spent grain to create steam which powers the majority of the brewery’s operations.

In brewery-heavy San Diego, Green Flash Brewing Co., Stone Brewing Co., Societe Brewing Co. and others supply their spent grain to David Crane, a home brewer whose small company makes ‘‘Doggie Beer Bones’’ out of the beer leftovers mixed with peanut butter, barley flour, eggs and water. They’re sold in breweries and pet stores nationwide and on the Internet. But don’t worry, Fido, won’t get drunk off of them — they don’t contain alcohol or hops, which are harmful to dogs.

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One of Crane’s suppliers, Green Flash, said most of its spent grain goes to farms for cattle feed, but co-founder Mike Hinkley is glad the byproducts are being used for other creative purposes.

‘‘All of our spent grain goes somewhere, none of it goes in the trash,’’ said Hinkley. ‘‘There’s still nutritional value when we’re through.’’