More Cows, Innovation Necessary to Sustain San Diego's Beer Industry

Austin Ray

THE GIST
San Diego, one of the most brewery rich cities in America, is, apparently, also a bit too rich with the wasteful byproducts of the brewing process. According to the Voice of San Diego, farmers—who long have relied on breweries’ spent grains for use as live stock feed—have been turning away donations from newer breweries in the city because there simply aren’t enough animals under their watch to consume anymore malty mush. The issue is of particular import to newer breweries without established relationships with farmers, as spent grain backups aren’t merely inconvenient, but an odorous annoyance to both customers and neighbors, as well as an environmental hazard.

WHY IT MATTERS
We can’t really say how big a problem this is, as the report’s evidence is primarily anecdotal. However, it’s not hard to see where this is headed. Says Tom Gent, owner of Wiseguy Brewing in Carlsbad, “It’s going to be a larger problem on a bigger scale as microbreweries become more and more popular.” And the farmers agree, as Eric Larson, executive director of the San Diego Farm Bureau, adds, “We’re producing a lot of beer here, but not enough animals to eat the spent grain.”

Brewers have been donating spent grains to farmers for centuries now. And both industries have fought hard Stateside in recent years to protect this relationship from the federal government, which has made various attempts to more ardently regulate it under the guise of food safety. Here, though, we have a new wrinkle to the conversation, as the transaction is being presented as another nail that could, theoretically, pop the proverbial bubble: craft beer, done in by a lack of cows. What a time to be alive.

Luckily, though, brewers, entrepreneurs, scientists, educators, and government officials alike are working toward finding new uses for spent grain. In 2014, the Associated Press reported on the trend, citing work done by Devils Backbone, which serves bread made with spent grain out of its pub, and Alaskan Brewing had recently “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.” Never mind the more kitschy items made by entrepreneurs like soap, lip balm, dog treats, and granola bars.

On this note, Voice of San Diego also reports a city councilman has partnered with the Center for Sustainable Energy, an area nonprofit, as well as UC San Diego in an effort to ultimately build an anaerobic digester on the school’s campus, which would use grains to create gas that in turn would power breweries. “We’ll be powering beer with beer,” the councilman, Chris Cate, tells the website.

These types of partnerships and innovative initiatives are only poised to become more important as more beer gets made. Because the alternative—sending all that waste to landfills—is bad for more than just the beer industry.

—Dave Eisenberg

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San Diego Is Awash in Craft Beer – and Its Sticky, Smelly Byproduct [Voice of San Diego]