It seems like new craft breweries spring up every week across Western Canada.
There are about 170 in British Columbia, 125 in Alberta, more than 20 in Saskatchewan and at least a dozen in Manitoba.
Each markets its own tantalizing taste and attributes, but they all have one thing in common: spent grain that was used to make the heady elixirs.
Depending on location, this waste product is sold as livestock feed, composted or taken to the dump.
A Vancouver-based company has a better idea: take this free ingredient, make it into baked goods and sell them back into the source community.
It’s called Susgrainable, a name that reflects the business’s goal of sustainability as well as its reliance on the spent grain from the brewing process.
“We are taking a byproduct that would otherwise be entering into the waste stream from breweries and we’re able to turn that back into a food source instead of just going for animal feed or going to compost,” said Susgrainable co-founder Clinton Bishop.
The company is about one year old and has started small, though it has plans to expand into other large Canadian centres where craft breweries flourish.
“We’re not even close to taking what a single brewery can produce until we start scaling up our production some more,” said Bishop.
“We take small quantities currently.”
Susgrainable has converted more than 1,000 kilograms of spent grain into baked goods and once it has a full production facility in place, it hopes to use about 75,000 kg annually.
Given that about 650,000 kg of spent grain are produced in Canada every day, there is no worry about sustainable supply.
Vancouver was a good place to start, said Bishop, because many food trends are born on the West Coast. Two of the other co-founders, Marc Wandler and Stuart Karol, have business administration degrees from the University of British Columbia. Wandler has worked in the health care and airline fields and Karol in the beer industry. The fourth co-founder, Angela Poole, has a background in the restaurant business.
Bishop, who comes from a farm near Barons, Alta., has health care and government policy experience, plus direct experience with barley production.
The four, plus a baker and an impact co-ordinator, make up the Susgrainable staff. The business functions out of rented kitchen space, has a small stone-ground mill and is working to acquire drying equipment. It has been selling baked goods at farmers markets and small outlets, operating on a shoestring while ramping up its plans.
“We’ve been bootstrapping as much as we can. A lot of it is our own money,” said Bishop.
“We also have some friends and family money in place. We’re going to be going through our pre-seed financing round in the new year.”
Susgrainable has a robust list of products. It sells barley flour in small quantities, as well as baking mixes for cookies, waffles and banana bread. The finished baked goods in the repertoire include five varieties of cookies plus biscotti and banana bread.
It also makes and sells seasonal treats depending on what is locally available, such as blueberries, apples and raspberries that are incorporated into cookies and other goods. All are lower in gluten and fat but higher in fibre and protein than commercial products.
How do they taste? It’s well known that treats that are “good for you” don’t always meet the yummy quotient.
“A lot of healthy treats taste like cardboard or bark so we’ve worked hard to make sure that ours don’t,” said Bishop.
“We’ve spent a lot of time making sure that we have recipes that taste good. One of the hardest things, whenever you’re developing healthy sustainable treats, is that they taste good.”
Consumers have responded.
“The feedback we get a lot from our customers is, it’s nice that a), we’re addressing a food waste issue and b), we’re working with local breweries that they all know and visit already. And then we’re putting that food back into the local community.
“If we’re in Vancouver, we want to use spent grains produced by Vancouver brewers and then put that food back into the local community. If we move to Calgary, then we’d be partnering with Calgary breweries and selling that flour back into the local community, and so on from there.”
Bishop said there is one other B.C. company doing similar work — Spent Grain Baker based in White Rock. He also knows of a San Francisco company, Regrained, that uses brewery byproducts for protein bars, and one in New York called The Rise that produces flour.
That seems to indicate the field is fairly wide open.
“There’s really not a lot of people in this space and the biggest reason for that is the challenge of drying. Dehydration of spent grain is the biggest hurdle to processing it,” he said.
The material is about 75 percent water so it has to be dried considerably before it can be milled. That also means it’s inefficient to transport very far and often leaves craft breweries, in particular, with a disposal problem.
“We’re trying to help breweries who are stuck in the middle of Vancouver, where it makes no sense for farmers to drive three hours to collect the grain,” said Bishop.
Susgrainable’s plan is to expand westward and operate in other large Canadian cities.
“Each major urban centre has a brewery scene, so the longer-term outlook is to establish ourselves here in Vancouver and then take the approach we have taken in Vancouver and template it in other major centres where breweries exist.”