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Why Craft Breweries Need Cows


Even if you listen to NPR, you might not think craft beer and farming have much in common, but they can actually have a symbiotic relationship, like BJ Leiderman and our theme music, where farm animals eat the spent grain that's produced during the brewing process. Claire Trageser reports from member station KPBS in San Diego where more than 150 breweries have to find someplace to dump big, wet, sopping piles of grain.

CLAIRE TRAGESER, BYLINE: The beer brewing process kicks off at around 5 a.m. at Mike Hess Brewing. They're creating Hess' craft beers, from an IPA to a darker stout or porter, but brewing also produces waste and a lot of it. It's called spent grain, and founder Mike Hess says they make about 20,000 pounds a week.

MIKE HESS: Certainly, finding an elegant solution to getting rid of the grain is like the Holy Grail. If you're brewing, you've got waste every single time you brew in the form of a large, wet mass.

TRAGESER: When Hess first started brewing a decade ago, his batches were so small that he could give a few buckets of grain to a friend who would feed it to her chickens. But as his operation grew, he needed something bigger.

HESS: It became more and more tedious to get rid of the grain. When we got here, we knew that we would need to come up with a different solution.

TRAGESER: At Frank Konyn Dairy in northern San Diego County, Hess Brewings' spent grain has become a regular part of all 800 cows' daily diet.

FRANK KONYN: We're part of a dying breed. There's not a whole lot of dairies or animal agriculture left in San Diego County.

TRAGESER: Konyn's dairy is one of just three in the county and one of the few places that takes grain from the large breweries.

KONYN: So that's one of the ways that we've worked to help mitigate rising feed cost and make ourselves a little bit more economical but also to be socially responsible, to be part of the community and helping to be part of the solution of recycling.

TRAGESER: Almost every day, Konyn's trucks head out to pick up grain bins from 13 local breweries. They bring it back to the farm where it's mixed with leftover bread from local bakeries, fruit pulp from local juice companies and alfalfa. The brewery grain is high in protein, he says, which helps his cows become the Olympic athletes he's looking for.

KONYN: I am asking them to optimize their performance, and the only way I'm going to optimize their performance is by giving them the best diet possible.

TRAGESER: Konyn says as far as he can tell, the cows don't have a preference for IPAs or stouts. For NPR News, I'm Claire Trageser in San Diego. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Claire Trageser
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