Beer and Dairy – Synergistic Drinking Buddies

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Who doesn’t love a cold beer after a long day on the farm?

As great as a cold beer is, depending on who you ask, its not the primary relationship between the Dairy and Brewing industries.

I know. Crazy.

The relationship between Dairy and Beer likely extends back to the beginning of dairy and beer. According to, monasteries in Europe fed their animals leftover grains from the process of making beer, so it’s likely that dairy cows have been eating brewers grain from the very beginning of beer. Despite this, the relationship between Dairy and Beer is pretty obscure to anyone who is not part of this incredibly symbiotic relationship.

It goes something like this:

Breweries create a significant amount of spent grain waste as a result of the brewing process. In fact, about 85% of the waste (or by-product) that is created by the brewing process is spent grain, and It adds up to about a pound of brewers grain per 6-pack. More on that in a minute.

Without getting too deep in the weeds on this process, brewers grain is a wet, perishable byproduct that would otherwise be considered waste. While spent brewers grain is now used in several ways including making baked goods, treating waste water, turning it into a biofuel and compost for gardens. This is all super fantastic, BUT for the purposes of this story, we don’t care about any of that!

So in walks a dairy farmer……. 

Many breweries & dairy farmers have embraced this centuries old circular economy in repurposing this “waste” successfully into cattle feed. This is a particularly important economic relationship between craft brewers and smaller dairy farms where the savings on the cost of disposal of the grains on the brewers side, and the cost of feeding a herd on the farmers side creates that wee bit more margin that can add up to a more successful business.

As you can imagine, for dairy farmers who face the constant challenge of providing nutritious and cost-effective feed for their livestock, brewers grain if very often a welcome addition to their feed program. It serves as an excellent source of supplemental nutrition and can reduce their overall feed costs by up to 20%. In return, this helps breweries manage their waste efficiently while supporting dairy farmers in maintaining healthy and productive herds.

Beyond the economic benefits, the reciprocity between breweries and the dairy industry also presents significant environmental advantages. The repurposing of spent grain as cattle feed reduces the volume of waste produced by breweries, diverting a substantial portion away from landfills and composting sites. As an example, Bells Craft Brewery in Michigan produces 16 million pounds of spent grain per year. That is just a single craft brewer. According to Canadian breweries created 1,010,458,099 pounds or 458,336 tonnes of spent grain in 2019. 

The brewing and dairy industries’ collaboration extends beyond spent grain recycling. Many breweries are embracing sustainability by reimagining their waste management strategies and implementing innovative approaches to reduce environmental impact.

For instance, some Dairy Farms have developed partnerships with breweries to handle their organic waste, such as leftover yeast and other brewing byproducts. This waste, when properly treated, can be converted into biogas through anaerobic digestion. Biogas is a renewable energy source that can be utilized to power dairy farm operations, and on a bigger scale add power to the grid.

The relationship between breweries and the dairy industry showcases the power of collaboration and sustainability. Both sectors have found economic advantages and reduced their environmental impact through the symbiotic exchange of waste and resources.

These Synergistic drinking buddies have a partnership that serves as a reminder that sometimes the most unexpected relationships can lead to powerful and positive changes that can benefit both business and environment.

Happy International Beer Day, CHEERS!