At Charlotteville Brewing Company, we are always seeking ways to minimize our footprint on the earth. A great way to do so is to repurpose what we use in the brewery, tap house and farm. One thing that we use a lot in the creation of our craft beers is grain. Grain is one of the four main ingredients in beer production- along with water, hops and yeast.

The Grain We Use for Beer Production

Grain well spent - What we do with the spent grainThe grain is a pivotal ingredient in beer. Barley is often used, and sometimes there will be a combination of wheat, oats, rye or corn that goes into the recipe as well. In a full batch of Local 519, our flagship English pale ale, we use 274 kg of barley grain.  The malted barley is mixed with hot water in the mashtun, which converts the starches into a sugary liquid. After the proteins, sugars and additional nutrients have been extracted, the grain is separated out and the liquid that is left over is called the wort. This wort is then transferred to the kettle where it is flavoured with hops and seasonal additions, and then fermented with yeast, transforming it into beer.

The grain that is removed from the liquid is called ‘spent’ grain and holds the same weight that went into the mash; this accounts for about eighty-five percent of the total brewing by-product.

What We Do with Spent Grain

Mr. Stan Gilman of Silverthorne Farm on 45 and Ed Swing of Fiddlehead FarmThis is where the repurposing comes in. With small batches- as in pilot recipes, we compost our spent grain, as it is a healthy additive to the soil and feeds the microorganisms in our hopyard and vegetable garden.  With our large-scale brews, coming in at 500 and 1000L outputs, we give our spent grains to two local cattle farmers: Mr. Stan Gilman of Silverthorne Farm on 45 (named for the creek that runs through it), and Ed Swing of Fiddlehead Farm (named for the fiddleheads that grow in the springtime) just a concession over from us in Walsh. Mr. Gilman found us when we opened just over 2 years ago, and proposed taking the grain off our hands to feed to his herd of cattle. He is from the UK and it was common for farmers to purchase the spent grain from the many local breweries. He splits the wealth with his good friend, Mr. Swing.

We love following the trail of what we grow, produce, transform and indulge in at Charlotteville. We find tons of inspiration in learning how cycles work in nature as well as within our own business.

I had the pleasure of joining Mr. Swing on the big day of delivering the grain to his hungry cows awaiting us at Fiddlehead Farm. With his wife, Dayle Swing, he’s owned the land since 1990, and have been partaking in their cattle business since 2005. In true Norfolk fashion, these two warmly welcomed me to their farm and taught me a thing or two before we parted ways.

They currently have a twenty-five-head herd, of Hereford, Angus and Highland breeds. The cows are pasture grass-fed and free-range. The spent grains that they get treated to each week is very much enjoyed and adds a healthy balance to their diet. As soon as the herd saw us approaching with the barrels of grain, they knew what they were in for. I helped Ed empty a few barrels for them, and let me tell you, they wasted no time digging in. Ed shared a story with me about one day the herd had wandered out of their pasture when the gate was mistakenly left open. They wandered into the woods to the east of the property, almost to the concession line, where they would face danger on the road. Dayle heard them amongst the trees and called Ed to devise a plant to get them home safely. Ed just so happened to have a few barrels of our spent grain on hand. He approached the herd and opened a barrel, so they could see and smell the grain. They were back in no time!!

Mrs Swing has an infectious spirit and gave me the grand tour of their farm, of course, accompanied by Chuckles their dog. “We try and be kind to the animals” is one of the first things she mentioned, which became apparent right away. I got to see the lush vegetable garden which she attends to with her grandson. Chickens, ducks and geese were meandering through, whose eggs they sell to those who stop in at Fiddlehead. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to spot deer or wild turkey roaming the grounds. The Swings grow a lot of their own food and make their own preserves, as many are lucky to do in Norfolk County. We got to see Serenity Pond next, where Magnum and Myrtle the turtles live. There are several kinds of fish that call the pond home, coexisting with many local bird and insect species. Before the Swings moved in, the farm was used for growing tobacco, corn and soy. Bit by bit, they have transformed the space into a natural ecosystem that is now brimming with life. Her words ring true: “I love when people come here because they’re always learning.” Mrs Swing expressed to me that she’d love if the space could be appreciated by more people for its beauty and education about the natural world that it holds.

 

In nature, nothing is wasted. One organism’s waste is another’s source of energy. By observing this pattern that is abundant in nature, we learn how to build and maintain a healthy ecosystem amongst our community. A value inherent to Norfolk is keeping it local; we love to support each other and grow the local community. Ed buys straw and hay from a local farmer named Ben to supplement his herd’s feed in the winter. And when it’s time to use a butcher, he always goes with Townsend.

We truly are lucky to be in a rural setting, especially with everything going on in the world right now. We’re afforded the blessing of having a direct relationship between our producers and consumers.  We value the connection we have with our neighbouring farmers who take our grains and transform them into something new. A new source of energy; a renewal of life.

Ed was kind enough to share some nice cuts of beef with us that came from the cattle he fed our spent grain to. We look forward to sharing these at a family dinner. The trail that led us off the farm has found its way home again.