Grain Expectations

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Beer, booze and the circle of life

by A.D. Thompson


Years ago, I had this cool pleather jacket. It garnered many compliments, but aside from its pleasing aesthetics, I rather enjoyed knowing that much of the garment had been made from recycled plastic.

I’m helping, I thought, setting aside the idea that it might have been a toilet seat in its past life. I’m part of the solution.

You, too, can enjoy this same sense of self-satisfaction. And you can do it at happy hour.

How?

Because many of Orlando’s fine purveyors of craft adult beverages are doing their part in making sure that the byproducts of their art don’t go to waste while you’re getting wasted.

In what is often called the “foam to farm” cycle, many brewers’ make use of the spent grains from the beer-making process by donating the refuse to local farmers who use the nutrient-rich barley husks as supplementary feed for their animals.

Pretzel baked with spent grain.

Foam to Feed

Orlando Brewing has been working with local farmers since they opened 11 years ago.

“We had a need,” says operations manager James Elmer. “We were making beer and ending up with 500 to 1,000 pounds of excess barley on our hands every time we brewed.”

Extracting the sugar from the barley is an essential part of the brewing process. Barley is soaked and then rinsed, creating a sugary water that will eventually become beer. The byproduct is barley that’s high in protein, fiber, minerals and—in Orlando Brewing’s case—100 percent organic.

It’s also highly perishable, a fact only exacerbated by the Florida sun.

Elmer removed the tarp—the heavy, wet barley had only been sitting since that morning—and a warm, breakfasty scent washed over us. It was pleasant enough, with a sugar-free hot cereal sort of flavor and texture (yes, I tasted it), but that wouldn’t last.

“It will mold extremely quickly,” he says. “And instead of driving it to the dump, the farmers come to pick it up. We don’t have to spend time or money disposing of the barley, the farmer doesn’t have to spend as much to feed the animals organic food. It’s win-win.”

At Winter Park Distilling, the porridge-like mash they shovel out of the stills is about 90 percent corn, 10 percent barley. It’s 100 percent science, though. In a process similar to beer making, the sugar is coaxed from starchy grains, creating a liquid to be used for fermentation.

In its early days, they only had one still, which didn’t turn out much grain for recycling. These days, their Orange Avenue “brewstillery,” with its five-barrel craft beer production facility, has ample fare for local livestock.

“Studies have shown that the animals get bigger and fatter eating spent grain because they eat more of it,” says vice president Paul Twyford.

Brewmaster Paul Smerge admits he’s not sure what goes into making a steak, but he’ll happy give you a beer to go with it.  “It’s the circle of life!” he laughs.

Indeed, the pigs they help feed could feasibly end up on one of their impressive charcuterie boards.

Foam to Fido

Some story sourcing is kismet.

Up at Sanford Brewing, I was having a Sunday saison with my dog, Finn, when a manager popped outside to say hello. He asked if he could give my pooch a snack.

“You know,” he said, making conversation, “these dog treats are made with spent grains from our brewery.”

“You don’t say….” I replied. And before long I was talking with the baker herself.

Kathe Jackson, wife of co-owner Allan Jackson, told me that while most of their grain goes to livestock farmers, as well, a portion stays behind in the interest of community and good will—in heart- and bone-shaped form.

“Being family- and pet-friendly has been our goal since Sanford Brewing opened,” she says. “Dogs—and even visiting bunnies—seem to really enjoy the treats, which are made with wholesome ingredients like natural peanut butter, carrots and parsley, as well as the spent grain. We believe it’s part of what makes the local brew-pub experience personal and unique.”

Neither Finny nor I could argue.

Cassandra Plas and Mike Wallace

Food to foam … to food

At Ten10 Brewing’s cozy Virginia Drive pub, brewers are always on the lookout for fun ingredients with which to make beer, so when Cassandra Plas walked into their establishment on one of their regular, Tuesday-night Run Club events with her signature stroopwafels, the wheels began turning.

The compact and caramelly Dutch waffle cookies are certainly a pleasant way to carb up.

“Runners love them!” Plas explains.

And their flavor wasn’t lost on Mike Wallace and Horace Andersen.

“We tried them and immediately said, ‘Man! We should put this in a beer…!’” Wallace recounts.

And they had one in mind. The Sundae Best, a limited release and soon-to-be spring seasonal, is themed on Neapolitan ice cream: vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and waffle cone flavors. On its first run, they bought cones at the store and crushed them up, but Plas’ stroopwafels were far superior. They approached her immediately to discuss.

Plas, a native of Canada, grew up eating Dutch cookies courtesy of her grandparents, who emigrated from the Netherlands after World War II. In 2015, after years of practice, she founded Gezellig Cookies here in Orlando. A Dutch word best translated as “cozy,” it’s pronounced huh-ZELL-ick.

“In my own baking, I always like to try different things and if it fails, it fails,” says Plas. “I’ve found that brewers are very much that way, too.”

She happily gave them 15 pounds of cookie pieces and the brewers, that very same night, gave her spent grain to play with in her own kitchen.

Plas’ brother is a certified organic German bread maker back in Toronto, a teacher at a culinary school and, she says, obsessed with milling his own grain. So much so that she’d had a grain mill on her Amazon wish list for ages. With spent grain in hand, Plas finally had a reason to take the plunge.

She’s since done several versions of spent-grain stroopwafels with Ten10’s byproducts. They went over very big at the brewery’s Tweak Fest, an event celebrating the compatibility of what could be the world’s two favorite beverages: coffee and beer. In another Orlando- local partnership, all the beers were brewed using beans from Orlando’s own Lineage Coffee Roasting.

Plas brought her iron and pressed cookies to show guests the process, which was fun.

“All the grains taste different,” says Plas, “and quite a few people enjoy that granola-like flavor and texture. It feels healthful.”

The stroopwafelly spring seasonal was a hit with patrons, as well.

“It gave the beer a really nice, unique mouthfeel,” says Wallace. “You could really taste the cookie. Some people didn’t know what it was at first, but they loved it.”

It’s not surprising. Olde Hearth Bakery is the maker of Ten10’s most popular menu item, a massive soft pretzel baked with the brewery’s own spent grains and served with beer mustard and homemade beer cheese.

“Dealing with the spent grain,” says Wallace, “has given us a great opportunity to work with other local businesses —and we love that.”

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