To brew your own beer is to approach the pure, cathartic act of something-from-nothing creation. Sure, there are packaged ingredients, reams of reference material, and a host of ungodly expensive equipment if you let yourself go nuts. But you still start with raw material and end with something tactile, nuanced, and (hopefully) consumable. For everyone who otherwise spends their day at a desk, moving words or numbers from one sheet to the next, it’s a supremely addictive outlet.
That same spirit of DIY creation drives all the best bakers, cooks, and sausage makers. And as it happens, a lot of them love beer as well. So we brought together these two worlds to give a second life to the spent grain that’s so unloved. Finally, our favorite chemistry-adjacent hobbies come together in supreme harmony.
Crackers for Very Fancy Cheese
The brewery where I work used to turn out a cracker like this using the fresh spent grains from the adjacent brewhouse. As it happens, even one kitchen container of grain is enough to make more crackers than we could ever sell. But it’s the perfect way to make a quick dent in that brew-day grain. If you don’t have a pasta machine, no big deal. An even hand with a rolling pin and some patience will yield the same result.
- 6.7 oz (190 g) rye flour
- 6.7 oz (190 g) bread flour
- 1½ cup spent grain
- 1½ tsp (9 g) salt
- 2¼ tsp (9 g) baking powder
- 1.67 fl oz (3.3 Tbs) olive oil
- 4.5 fl oz (9 Tbs) water
- Olive oil, to brush
- Flaked sea salt, to season
Combine the flours, spent grain, salt, and baking powder in a mixer and incorporate. Add the oil and water and mix until a smooth dough forms. You’ll need to add a bit of water at a time and keep an eye on the dough, owing to the moisture content of the spent grain.
Cover and refrigerate for 10 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C) and line a baking sheet with parchment.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and cut it into quarters. Roll each quarter through a pasta roller, adjusting the setting between each rolling until it’s about 1/16" thick. (That’s #4 on my ancient hand-crank machine and either setting 4 or 5 on the KitchenAid attachment.)
Cut 1½" rounds from the sheets, line them up on the parchment-covered baking sheet, brush with olive oil and season with flaked salt. Bake 10 minutes, until golden brown.
In baking (perhaps too much) bread, I’ve found that a lot of the spent-grain recipes try to hide the character or texture of the grain or generally whistle past the idea of a more rustic and toothsome grain. Not here. If we’re leaning on this key ingredient, why not make the biggest, most flavorful, most confrontational bread there is? So, here’s your grain enveloped into the eldritch maw of the Nordic rye loaf.
Ever see a Scandinavian sandwich? It’s like one slice of cheese, or meat, or a little fish spread because the bread is doing all the heavy lifting. One slice of this bread with some cultured butter or sharp cheese will hold you off until lunch. This recipe is based on one of Magnus Nilsson’s tireless efforts at preserving traditional Nordic cuisine.
- 17.7 oz (500 g) bread flour
- 7.1 oz (200 g) rye flour
- 10.6 oz (300 g) spent grain
- 0.7 oz (20 g) fresh yeast cake
- 23.7 fl oz warm water (about 110°F/43°C)
- 0.9 oz (25 g) caraway seed, cracked
Combine all the ingredients in the bowl of a large stand mixer. Stir to combine, then mix with a dough hook, increasing the speed to high for 7 minutes.
When a dough begins to form, shape it into a ball and coat the outside with bread flour. Place the dough in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for 90 minutes in a warm place, if you want to bake the same day, or overnight in the refrigerator for a slightly deeper flavor.
Half an hour before baking, place a baking sheet (or stone or steel) in the oven and preheat to 550°F (260°C) or as high as your oven will go. Fill a dish with boiling water and place it on the floor of the oven.
Turn the dough ball out onto the ripping-hot sheet as quickly as you can (but safely!) and close the oven door. Bake at ungodly heat for 10 minutes.
After that 10 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 350°F (177°C) and open the oven for a hot second to dissipate the heat.
Bake for another 20–25 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean, the loaf sounds hollow, or whatever boulangerie witchcraft you prefer to gauge doneness. Turn out onto a wire rack.
Let the loaf rest a good 30 minutes before slicing. Store leftover bread at room temperature in a large plastic resealable bag.
For a lot of our shared encased-meats history, the use of cereals in sausage was extremely frowned upon as a sign of a low-quality product reliant on cheap filler. This legacy lives on in the bad hot dog jokes we enjoy today. One notable exception to the no-cereal provision was the British banger, fortified with rusk (very dry bread or cracker used as a binder/filler). We took that rare, grain-embracing spirit and added some European flavor to the seasonings for a sausage that’s equally tasty poached and sliced for a cheese plate or grilled and enjoyed on a bun.
- 5 lb (2.3 kg) pork butt
- 1 lb (454 g) fatty pork belly
- 1 cup dried spent grain
- 2 Tbs kosher salt
- 2 Tbs smoked Hungarian paprika
- 2 tsp black pepper
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 4 tsp ground ginger
- 1½ cup very cold Vienna lager
- 9 feet salt-packed natural hog casings, prepared
Cut the pork butt and pork belly into 1" cubes and place in a single layer on a pair of sheet pans that will fit in your freezer. Par-freeze the meat for 25 minutes (until firm, but not solid) and grind through a meat grinder with a ¼" die plate.
Toast the dried spent grain for 20 minutes at 350°F (177°C). Pulse the toasted grain two to three times in a spice grinder or blender until broken up but not completely pulverized. Set aside 1/3 cup for the sausage and reserve the rest for another use.
Using a stand mixer, mix the ground meat, 1/3 cup spent grain, salt, and seasonings until just incorporated. Then mix in the cold lager until just emulsified and smooth. If the mixture bunches up, continue to add beer a tablespoon or two at a time.
Thread the casings onto a sausage stuffer and knot off one end. Stuff the sausages, twisting the links at 5½" intervals, twisting each sausage the opposite direction from the previous one.
Refrigerate the sausages for 24 hours to let the seasoning distribute. Then smoke over cherry/apple/oak at 220°F (104°C) until they reach 160°F (71°C). Remove and rest or refrigerate before slicing. These are delicious cold, but they are amazing hot off the smoker. Serve with IPA Mustard.
Makes: 3 quarts
- 1 cup IPA
- 1 cup water
- ¾ cup yellow mustard seeds
- ¼ cup brown mustard seeds
- 2 cup whole-grain mustard
- 2 cup Dusseldorf mustard
- 1½ cup cider vinegar
- ¼ cup mustard powder
- ½ cup onion powder
- 2 Tbs agave nectar
- 1 Tbs honey
- 1 Tbs soy sauce
- ½ Tbs ground coriander
Mix the IPA, water, and mustard seeds and soak overnight in a covered container.
In a blender, whirl the mustard-seed mixture well, then mix with the remaining ingredients until smooth and consistent.
Pantry Staple: Spent-Grain Flour
One-off kitchen projects are great, but you can get some long-term life out of your grains by converting them to a more pantry-stable form. Creating a flour out of the grains lets you add a bit to a recipe here and there without, you know, insisting on it.
To work this magic, just cover a 12" 10" half pan in a loose layer of spent grain about a ¼" deep. Set your oven to the lowest cooking temperature (155–175°F/68–79°C, depending on the model) and dry the grain out for about 6½ hours, raking with a fork at the 3-hour mark and every hour after.
Once the grain has dried completely (and I mean completely—any moisture will rot the flour), pulverize it in a food processor or a grain mill, if you’ve got one. It should have a coarse but fairly consistent texture. Work it into your favorite recipes—I’m partial to pancakes and empanadas.