Valley breweries and ranchers enjoy an unlikely friendship

FRESNO, Calf. (KFSN) —

Valley craft beer makers faced with a big problem after the brewing process have found a palatable solution.

A large stainless steel tank at the House of Pendragon in Sanger can brew 930 gallons of craft beer at a time. But at the end of the process, Tommy Caprelian is left with a large amount of spent grain.

“When we were building the brewery, I said, ‘Hey, I’m going to have all this grain would you be interested in it?’ He says, ‘Heck yeah, I’d love it.’ It’s free for him,” he said.

Caprelian was referring to his friends like Clovis cattle rancher Ryan Person who uses the wet grain as livestock feed. Cows can’t get enough of the sweet grain.

“I think it offers an opportunity for us to utilize it as an additional feed source to substitute in place of say a normal barley or a corn or a wheat,” Person said.

Other Valley beer makers like Riley’s Brewing Company in Madera are faced with the same challenge, so knowing folks with livestock solves the by-product problem.

“Fortunately, in the brewing industry, we’re friends,” Dan Riley with the brewery said. “We don’t consider each other competition. If you do, you’re dead.”

Both sides win in this battle for sustainability. The sweet smell of wet grain had the cows digging in. They line up as if they’re sidling up to a bar and in a sense, they are.

“To be honest, by the time it gets to them there’s probably just a little bit of alcohol in it just because of the wild yeast that is on the grain,” Caprelian explained. “Probably fermented a little bit, so for them, it might be a little bit of a happy hour for them.”

In addition to his tasting room in Clovis, Caprelian’s brew is served around the state. In the brewing process, there’s a steaming hot mess left over. The spent grains are collected in barrels and picked up by Valley ranchers who in turn use it to supplement their cattle feed.

“Oh they love it,” Person said. “I think to them it’s real sweet. They treat it just like they would grain with molasses.”

The Clovis rancher also uses the brewer’s grain for the cattle at Reedley College, where he teaches. But he claims by the time it’s served, it’s just malted mash.

“Don’t get beer, unfortunately,” he said. “This is an alcohol-free campus right?”

In Madera, Riley’s beers and hard sodas have grown in popularity which means he has more spent grain to dispose of mostly barley but also wheat and oats.

“A lot of what we get out of here, it’s kind of like of like oatmeal,” he said. “Essentially, when you’re done and so depending on what we’re putting in to it sometimes it’s really sweet or nice.”

And the smell brings the cows running.

“Whenever they see a truck come in with one of those barrels that I put the grain in they just start chasing the truck,” Caprelian said laughing.

Madera cattle rancher Marty Talley makes regular stops at Riley’s Brewing. He has noticed the feed fattens up his cows.

“A lot of times they won’t put it on as many in the summer but when you’re giving it in the summer they keep growing but they put on weight fast,” he explained.

Cattle ranchers dealing with the drought and high hay prices over the years are thrilled to have friends at breweries giving away feed.

“We’ve got to find ways to utilize by-products of various industries whether it’s the brewers by-product, the distillers grain by-product from the ethanol industry,” Person said.

The cows still need roughage, so hay still must often be mixed in with the wet grain.

“When you compare this with a normal grain on a dry matter basis it’s actually a little bit more nutrient dense so higher in protein, a little bit higher in some of the fats,” Person said.

All of the particles are filtered out during the brewing process when sugars and starches are extracted.

“What’s left behind is the rest of the grain which is still a lot of carbohydrates and nutrients in the grain,” Caprelian said.

Both sides win as they strive for sustainability and without crafty ranchers making regular visits the brewmasters would have a mountain of decomposing grain each month.

“We would have to dispose of it as green waste like lawn and that would be a problem, 20,000 pounds of lawn clippings, if you will,” Riley said.

So, when ranchers say they’re going to “grab a barrel from the brewery,” they’re not talking about a keg. They’re just completing the “Brew to Moo” cycle.

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