How Maine Farmers Benefit from Maine Breweries
When one thinks of the benefits that Maine breweries provide to the Pine Tree State, a handful of things stand out: money pumped into the economy, a positive reputation that attracts visitors to the state, and of course, delicious beer and a cool hangout spot for locals and out-of-staters alike.
Another benefit? Maine breweries help keep Maine farmers’ livestock well-fed. In fact, one could argue that the more you drink, the more you’re helping local farmers, in turn.
At Saco River Brewing Company in Fryeburg, about 1,000 pounds of dry malt on average are used throughout the week in their 7.5-barrel system brewhouse, said co-owner, co-founder and brewer Mason Irish. Some weeks Irish uses about 3,000 pounds.
Since they opened in July 2016, every pound of malt has been repurposed after its use to feed local farm animals. The spent malt either goes to Irish’s friend, Brad Littlefield in Fryeburg or, if there’s too much for Littlefield, to Jeff Hatch, owner of Sherman Farm in East Conway, New Hampshire – just five minutes from the brewery.
Though he has a small number of cows, Littlefield predominantly uses the grain to feed his pigs. Hatch, on the other hand, only picks it up a few times a month, getting most his grain instead from Moat Brewing Co. in North Conway, New Hampshire to feed his 130 cows. He chiefly looks to Moat for grain since they brew in greater volume than Saco River.
Both the farmers agreed that the used grain Saco River Brewing provides aids them by curtailing their spending on feed. “It’s certainly better than paying $1,100 for three tons of grain,” Littlefield said. “It really helps out the bottom line.”
Hatch said the grain is so high in protein that it helps his cattle put on weight more rapidly and gets them to market quicker. Using grain from breweries also helps him cut his grain costs by about a third, which he said is “very significant.”
“It works for the brewery, and it works for me,” he said. “The grain is still fairly sweet and the cows really like it.”
Through the Maine Brewers Guild, Irish said he heard that some brewery owners in Maine are looking for ways to dispose of their used grain.
“It seems like an easy problem to fix,” he said, adding that as long as breweries are producing enough grain to make it worthwhile for farmers to pick up, finding a farmer in need shouldn’t be problematic.
Willis Stinson, owner and brewer at the three-barrel nano-brewery Pour Farm in Union, hasn’t come across this issue; in fact, he said every brewery he’s spoken to donates their spent grains to farmers. His brewery, open since June of last year, also donates spent grain (about 400 pounds or 200-250 pounds of dry grain) each week, rotating between a multitude of farmers who own cows or pigs, or both.
When he’s done with each brew, Stinson simply places the used grain outside the brewery.“The grain is normally out there by 2:00 p.m.,” he said. “Then, I send a picture [to the farmer] and say ‘Lunch is served.’”
The perks for Stinson? The farmers do him favors from time to time. “They bring me meat back every now and then, like sausage or bacon,” he said, noting he appreciates the process going full circle since the meat was once fed with the grain from his brews. “It’s more like a thank you. Then, we fry it up for breakfast the next morning.”
At Gritty McDuff’s Brew Pub in Portland, about 1,000 pounds of grain is used each week, according to brewer Larry Hudson. All of the used grain Gritty’s produces ends up in the hands of Roger Bean, who owns a small farm in Buxton with his wife. They host eight heads of cattle, around 100 chickens and some geese. He’s been the beneficiary of Gritty’s used grain since June of last year, and also has a neighbor who receives a lot of grain from Sebago Brewing Company.
When Hudson is brewing, he alerts Bean. On the day of the brew, Bean pulls his truck up to the back of the brewery on Wharf Street, tosses the heavy bags onto his truck and brings them back to his small farm.
After almost a year of taking the grain from Gritty’s, Bean said the impact on his farm animals has been significant.
“It cuts the amount of hay [the cows] eat by almost half,” Bean said, noting that he believes the grain also improved the flavor of the meat, particularly the liver, something he’s not typically the biggest fan of. “It’s quite a combination,” he said.
Hudson said donating the spent malt works out well for both parties. “We don’t have to pay to dispose of it, and it’s an environmentally-friendly way to do it because it’s being put to use for feed, which is ideal; it’s great for everybody,” Hudson said.
For many Maine breweries, it’s not just grain-to-glass anymore; these days, it’s malt-to-moo.
— Text & Photos: Garrick Hoffman. Garrick is a freelance photographer and writer living in Portland, Maine. A Media Studies student at USM, Garrick does work for Mainely Media in Biddeford and a variety of other clients.