For decades, scientists have been analyzing brewers' spent grain, but until the past decade, few companies had stepped up to the plate to create products with it. Enter Regrained, which in 2010 began making energy bars with beer leftovers.
Co-founder Daniel Kurzrock said when he started Regrained, he expected processing to be the biggest challenge, but actually it's been much more difficult to build the market. Now, even Anheuser-Busch is investing in companies like Zea10, which makes protein isolate, and Canvas, which makes fiber-protein shakes. "Consumers give a shit now and want products that are better for them and better for the planet," Kurzrock said.
I'm happy to report that my decision to buy Rise's flours was a good one: It tastes nothing like the grub you'd feed to dogs or eccentric food writers. "The process of making beer removes starch, but there's still a ton of flavor left," said Kathryn Gordon, a faculty member at the Institute of Culinary Education and the author of Les Petits Macarons: Colorful French Confections to Make at Home. Gordon holds my dream job of playing with pastries all day and actually knowing what she's doing, and she described Rise's dark barley flour as akin to pumpernickel rye bread, noting that "it absorbs wet ingredients much differently than wheat flour." While consulting for Rise and working with it on a series of events, she's created yeast bread, brownies, blondies and Irish-style brown-bread ice cream.
"This whole notion of throwing things away -- landfills -- is taboo."
The mirror-image company of Rise, which uses leftovers from beer-making to create flour, is Toast Ale, which uses leftover bread to make beer. "Throughout history brewers and bakers have always been in the same sort of space and used the same ingredients," said Toast's James King. The UK-based company plays matchmaker in countries as close as the Netherlands and as far-flung as Japan, connecting a local bakery, microbrewery and nonprofit. The bakery donates heels and crusts of bread -- a highly wasted food staple -- and the microbrewery and Toast create a "bespoke beer" with it. Everyone donates the profits to a local charity or Toast's partner nonprofit, Feedback.
I acquired the company's New York offerings, created by Captain Lawrence Brewing using upstate favorite Bread Alone, and immediately cooled down on an unexpectedly sweltering May day in New York City. After I used the can of American Pale Ale to chill my forehead with its frosty condensation, I popped it open and took a long, refreshing swig, then another. I wouldn't have been able to tell that it was made any differently from a "regular" beer, and it didn't taste particularly, um, toasty. But it was a solid choice that would edge out quite a bit of competition.
Delicious? Check. On to the next value-add: It must be nutritious. Beer is hardly a health food, but I'd argue that by using fresh, local ingredients and making the brews in small batches, Toast's beverages are much more natural than their industrial counterparts.
Rise Flour turns out to be a nutritional powerhouse. One ounce of its barley flour has 110 calories and a whopping 12 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein; meanwhile, one ounce of white flour contains 103 calories, 0.8 grams of fiber and 3 grams of protein. Then again, Rise's barley flour, its cheapest product, costs $1 per ounce. Compared to the seven cents per ounce that Gold Medal's all-purpose flour costs or even the nine cents per ounce that a nice flour like King Arthur all-purpose costs, that's basically a fortune.