A sustainable business is one in which the waste from one product provides the foodstock for another. The Spent Grain Baking Company (SGBC) of Seattle has found this approach to be not only environmentally sensible but downright tasty. This new family-owned company uses spent grain from four local micro breweries to make nutritious, delicious loaves of bread. The source of the grain is a source of pride for the company.
"Until we used the spent grain in our bread, no one considered the nutritional value for humans," says Lorraine Brown, SGBC’s human resource director.
Spent is a misnomer, she says. In the brewing process, malted grains are coarsely milled and then steeped in hot water in the mash tun where most of the carbohydrates convert to sugar. After draining off the sweet extract, the remaining grain contains a higher ratio of protein, natural dietary fiber, and flavor.
"We take the grain from the mash tun when its freshest, cool it immediately, and add it to our dough," she says.
It all started when Bruce Brown, Lorraine’s husband and the marketing director of SGBC, mentioned to a friend that he was home-brewing beer. His friend told him to bring over the used grains so he could make bread. That loaf sparked an idea that swept the Brown family into the bread baking business.
Their son, Aaron Brown, a recent Western Culinary Institute graduate, is the SGBC master baker. He developed the recipes for four loaves of bread. Just as beer brew masters roast their grains to achieve unique flavors, so too Aaron has sought to match the tastes and textures of the grain to the proper loaf of bread. Dark roasted grains go into denser, heftier bread.
SGBC uses about 6 percent of the grains from a mash tun, or about 1 percent of a week’s production, says Peter William Jones, assistant brew master of the Thomas Kemper Brewery. The rest goes to local farmers for animal feed. In exchange for the free grain, SGBC includes packaging in each loaf indicating the brewery from which the grains originated.
The percentage of spent grain to dough varies from 17 percent to 25 percent. Each loaf is hand formed, so their bread making process is part manufacturing, part art, says Lorraine Brown. "Each loaf is a little different because our bakers are not machines."
Their breads are a bit more expensive than factory processed bread, but that has not hurt business. In fact, to mix culinary metaphors, business has mushroomed. The Brown family founded SGBC in December 1993. Within several months their growth rate was averaging 35 percent a week and their breads were in 35 retail grocery stores in the Seattle area. By March 1994, they incorporated to raise money to continue growing.
"We don’t have competition because no one else is working with spent grain," Lorraine Brown says. The company has plans for several non-bread food products that will use spent grain, although they declined to say what products.
"There are a lot of uses for spent grain, it just requires imagination," says Lorraine Brown.