October 23, 2018

Composting Your Spent Grain

Somewhere inside my body dwells the homebrewer I previously could afford (in degrees of mental attention) to be. The brewer inside has had wedding plans budge into my queue for prime brain activity.

The small details amaze me: like at which art store to buy the guestbook, or how whipping the cake topping will raise us $100 into the next tier of finance di grandiose. During my mid-morning hours such details now squat on the once fertile territory that beer recipes used to claim.

For what it's worth, I'm featuring Surly Furious at our reception (though our free cocktail hour will also include Summit). I intend to pull groom's privilege and let a 22 oz. bottle of Flat Earth's Belgian ale fall under the courtesy bar category. Time will tell if I prevail. Why no homebrew? Answer: ask a Minnesota brewer. Yup, a public place, insured property, distributors' contracts. Ultimately, we should've started site searching years before we considered being betrothed and paid particular attention to the beverages.

So, what am I getting at with these rants? Before I was so thigh-high in nuptial plans, I spent one Sunday afternoon hauling months' worth of spent grain & sundry yard waste from my garage to Saint Paul's Midway compost site. With four car windows cranked down & mouth-breathing in full effect for the two mile drive, I learned a lesson about managing leisure time with compost duties. Though, let it be said that each bag held rancid history...

Oddly, procrastination of the most reeking grade also held a last glimpse of a spring season's worth of great pints. Opening the hatch of my VW, donning the winter Thinsulates that would have to suffice for garden gloves... I grabbed each heavy compost grade bag and with strength typically reserved for hauling orders at NB, delivered bales of dextrin-drained barley to its place of reutilization. While other utility vehicles or family station wagons dispensed bagged grass clippings still smelling fresh from capitol city lawns, I stood draining bags of light colored mush that smelled of carnival nether regions. Tunnel-visioned, I emptied bag after bag onto what I perceived as the nook of yard/barley waste that was least likely to avalanche onto my shoes. Though nearly ten pounds of barley per bag took long enough to dump that I could remember which was a tasty porter, an early-season wheat ale, or a compendium of light house ales. Differences in grain conditioning levels told stories of my homebrewing career, early 2010.


First, compost your grain as soon as possible. Letting post-sparge grain sleep in your lauter tun overnight may seem friendly to your schedule after the rigors of a brewday, but your equipment, let alone your senses, won't forgive you for it. Dump the grain into your compost setup or bag it up post-haste after mashing. Enjoy the steamy beer smell before it turns to a thick rancid smell. Pile on the compost or send the bag to the local heap on your next available afternoon.

Also, consider your compost setup. Being a serious all-grain brewer, you're into possibly hundreds of pounds of grain each year. Managing the recycling of that grain is particular to you individual situation. Brewing with a garden/farm to lay one's grain upon is many bonuses within itself! Hardware stores often sell enclosed, top-loading compost bins that control where in your yard the good, stinky work of the soil goes on.

Alternately, having a local compost heap within driving distance and having an adequately proportioned vehicle to transport spent grain, is another solution. City/county compost sites are a great way to give back to one's community landscapes. Just double check their seasonal hours. I took it for granted that their weekday 7pm closing time would carry onto Saturday. Some time after seeing "5pm" on the sign explains why it was on a Sunday my initial story transpired.

The second photo shows an alternative setup: we had a tree removed from our backyard this past spring, and ended up with a hole of dirt & mulch. Burying spent grain at a foot deep will make for future super garden soil with happy earthworms, bugs & all.

Brewery leavings among yard waste   See the grain amidst the yard waste?

Brewery leavings among yard waste - see the grain?