Every day, Kentucky cattle farmers drive massive tanker trucks to Bardstown Bourbon Co. to pick up some 107,000 gallons of spent grains. A byproduct of the distilling process, these sticky, wet grains are highly nutritious feed for cattle and, aside from the cost to drive to and from the distillery, free.\r\n\r\nThe 20 or so farmers who work with the distillery provide a valuable service by taking this spent grain, called \u201cthick stillage,\u201d off its hands.\r\n\r\nThough essential to spirits, once grains make their way through mash, fermentation and distillation, they\u2019re a cumbersome waste product. Many distillers and brewers forge partnerships with local businesses and farmers to put it back into the food supply. The grains are nutritious for hogs, poultry, fish and, when baked into a loaf of bread, people.\r\n\r\n\u201cIn thick stillage, there's protein, it's a great energy source, there's lots of minerals in it, it's high in fat and has minimal fiber. It's great for cattle,\u201d says John Hargrove, chief operating officer of Bardstown. The producer has worked with area farmers since 2014, when it began operations as both a brand and contract distillery.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt takes about 15 minutes to fill a 6,000-gallon truck up,\u201d says Hargrove. \u201cWe designed it so the farmers could get in and out and get back to their farms, or come back as necessary. It's a very user-friendly system.\u201d\r\n\r\nHow to navigate spent grain removal was not so easy.\r\n\r\n\u201cWhen we first got into business, learning how to deal with the waste was a major learning curve,\u201d says David Grasse, director of operations at Tamworth Distilling in Tamworth, New Hampshire. \u201cYou would think that it being an organic material, like corn, that it couldn't hurt anybody, but because it's very acidic and has high chemical oxygen demand and bio-oxygen demand, you just can't run it into a septic system.\u201d\r\n\u201cWe want to be able to tell a good story to our customers\u2026having the ability to say that it's helping a local farmer and that we're working with a local bakery is a great story. And it's a great use of a waste product.\u201d \u2013David Grasse, director of operations. Tamworth Distilling\r\nEven in cities with significant wastewater treatment infrastructure, the explosion of craft distilleries has shown that even those facilities can\u2019t process the material, says Grasse. \u201cFarmers and breweries have to find ways to get rid of it, and it can pile up quickly when you're making new 300-gallon batches every day.\u201d\r\n\r\nBruce Joseph, head distiller at Hotaling & Co. is also familiar with these challenges. Formerly known as Anchor Distilling, Hotaling makes Old Potrero Rye Whiskey and Junipero Gin. Its location in the heart of San Francisco has created another unique hurdle.\r\n\r\n\u201cSpent grains have value, but when you\u2019re a brewery or distillery in an urban area, you have to get it to someone who can use it,\u201d says Joseph. \u201cIn the past year or two, the FDA was making noise about starting to regulate the spent grains, and the brewing industry raised hell. If you can\u2019t get someone to take the spent grain, it kind of shuts down your operation.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nHotaling has plans to relocate its operations following Anchor Brewing's acquisition by Sapporo in 2017. When that happens, Joseph says it has to devise a new disposal system. Currently, the distillery\u2019s spent grains are lumped in with those from Anchor Brewing, which has a contract with Vieira Dairy Farm in Atwater, California.\r\n\r\nJoseph says the farm helped fund a silo that holds eight brews worth of grain. A driver stops by the warehouse six times a week to deliver grain back to hungry dairy cows.\r\n\r\n\r\nCreating Hyper-Local Systems\r\nSuch partnerships between distiller and farmer can be more beneficial than just waste removal.\r\n\r\n\u201cRather than going into landfill, the grains are sent to the neighboring farm where they are used as cattle feed, while the liquids coming out of the [spent grain] go back into the farm\u2019s irrigation system to balance the pH of the soil,\u201d says Colby Frey, of Frey Ranch Estate Distillery in Fallon, Nevada. \u201cIn exchange for these spent grains, the farm next door provides Frey Ranch with manure\u2014nature's fertilizer\u2014supporting a hyper-local ecosystem between the two properties.\u201d\r\n\r\nSimilarly, Tamworth has found plenty of ways to ensure its community benefits. Most of its grain byproduct goes to White Gates Farm, which raises cattle, hogs and chickens, and also grows a variety of vegetables.\r\n\r\n\u201cWhat doesn't get used by the cattle for feed can also be used to make a really good compost,\u201d says Grasse.\r\n\r\nWhen the distillery opened in 2015, it pursued a partnership with Sunnyfield Brick Oven Bakery.\r\n\u201cI don't think that I'm making a huge difference\u2026because I'm a very small bakery. But I imagine if Wonder Bread or Dave\u2019s Killer Bread started putting mash in their bread, it would make a huge difference.\u201d \u2013Peg Loughran, owner, Sunnyfield Brick Oven Bakery\r\n\u201cWe want to be able to tell a good story to our customers about our spirits, and having the ability to say that it's helping a local farmer and that we're working with a local bakery is a great story,\u201d says Grasse. \u201cAnd it's a great use of a waste product.\u201d\r\n\r\nBakery owner Peg Loughran opened Sunnyfield in 2007. She sought grains from a nearby brewery to bake into her breads, but it didn\u2019t work out.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe trouble with it was that it had too much fiber that we can't digest,\u201d says Loughran. \u201cIt really depends which grain it is. Some grains have a softer hull than others.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nShe found success with Tamworth\u2019s corn-based Bourbon mash. It\u2019s now the key ingredient in her sourdough-like Distillers Bread, which she says helps give it structure. She\u2019s also put it to work in her French loaf and pizza dough.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe distillers loaf, in particular, has a lower percentage of sourdough starter because the mash is giving it that extra acidic kick,\u201d says Loughran. \u201cBut the taste is similar because the mash is sort of providing that sour taste.\u201d\r\n\r\nHer Distillers Bread is available at the bakery and farmers markets in town, and also at the shops and caf\u00e9s run by Tamworth.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\u201cI don't think that I'm making a huge difference in [Tamworth\u2019s] waste problem because I'm a very small bakery,\u201d says Loughran. \u201cBut I imagine if Wonder Bread or Dave\u2019s Killer Bread started putting mash in their bread, it would make a huge difference.\u201d\r\n\r\nMoon Under Water Brewery & Pub in Victoria, British Columbia, also found a clever way to utilize its spent grains. Co-owner Anne Farmer\u2019s sister-in-law uses it to make Bark Side of the Moon dog biscuits.\r\n\r\n\u201cWhen we purchased the business, we had our famous brewdog, Brew, and he was a huge fan,\u201d says Farmer. \u201cIt's not too difficult to do, but choosing the right mixture is important. Some brews\u2019 spent grains won't work, taste-wise, and harvesting them at the right stage of the brew is important. We find that the Creepy Uncle Dunkel brew and the IPA are the most popular, since they are on the sweeter side without being acidic or sour.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\nFinding Bigger Solutions\r\nBeyond industrial agriculture and small-scale exchanges, many companies now dedicate themselves to the business of grain byproducts.\r\n\r\nToronto\u2019s The Spent Goods Company ensures those grains are repurposed by bakeries into food items like crackers, pretzels and muffins, sold in grocery stores, farmers markets, schools and restaurants.\r\n\r\nReGrained, a California-based company founded in 2012, upcycles spent grains from breweries (called ReGrained SuperGrain+) into food like its snack puffs and bars. In 2018, Italian pasta maker Barilla invested in the company\u2019s efforts to scale up, which may hint that more impactful solutions may lie ahead.\r\n\r\nRise Products, based in Brooklyn, New York, collects spent grains from breweries both in the borough and neighboring Queens to create light or dark barley flour. Founder Bertha Jimenez hopes it demonstrates a solution to waste removal challenges in urban areas.\r\n\r\nThe New York Times reports that companies like Kellogg\u2019s and Whole Foods have requested samples of the flour, as well as contract manufacturers for Nestl\u00e9 and frozen pizza brand DiGiorno. Many New York City restaurants also use her flour in pasta granola, brownies and brownie mix.\r\n\r\nThough these companies may just be the beginning of a growing movement, they\u2019re creating a blueprint from which others can make the most of waste.