Vt. brewers, farmers join forces in brew-to-moo partnerships

Published: Sep. 17, 2019 at 3:03 PM EDT
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Dairy cows have been a staple of Vermont culture and agriculture for decades but in recent years, craft beer has become a growing part of the state's identity. As our Ike Bendavid found out, the two industries are working side by side to make each other more sustainable.

As the sun starts to set in Winooski, locals are enjoying the last drops of summer at Four Quarters Brewing which makes for a happy brewmaster.

"I wanted to get a product out, something I was passionate about," owner Brian Eckert said.

Eckert is passionate about his beer and the low-volume brewery he opened up a few years ago. The beer at Four Quarters may be low volume, but there's still plenty of waste. And they're just a drop in the pond compared to other local operations.

At Four Quarters, they have about 2,000-3,000 lbs. of spent grain a week. At a larger brewery, like Lawson's Finest Liquids, they go through 7,000-20,000 lbs. per week. And at Long Trail Brewery, they go through 14 tons every week.

But these breweries have a way to keep all of that spent grain out of landfills.

"My responsibility as a brewer is to make sure it goes to the proper place," Eckert said.

For years, the grains that brewed the beers were thrown away after the brewing process. Now, that grain goes down the road to Colchester to feed cows.

On the Robert & Normand Thibault Farm, it's feeding time.

Normand Thibault: Like I said, they will go crazy for it.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: Why do you think they like it so much?

Normand Thibault: I don't know, just like candy.

Thibault scoops up the brew grain for his dairy cows to feast on.

Ike Bendavid: It's some brews to moos action.

Normand Thibault: Yep, it's a benefit for them a benefit for me... I'm kind of doing him a favor and he is doing me a favor because I feed it to the animals.

Thibault says he mixes the grain with their normal feed. He says in moderation, the brew grain is a great option.

"Yeah, it's a grain. It's high in protein," Thibault said.

Ike Bendavid: It doesn't affect the milk in a negative way at all?

Normand Thibault: No.

It's not just on Thibault's farm in Colchester. The Vermont Brewers Association says almost every brewery in Vermont has a farm they connect with to recycle their brew grain, which has owners like Eckert happy to keep brewing.

"Couldn't be a better situation," Eckert said.

A way to keep the cows happy while the beers keep flowing.