The truth about using Spent Beer Grain in your Garden

Marietta, GA(Zone 7b)

For years now I have heard many Daves Gardeners speak of how great spent beer grain is for gardens and how it is a great ingredient for lasagna gardening. I've always been intrigued and thought that it would make a fine addition to the large organic quantities of horse manure and leaf mold I already use to feed my soil.

My first attempt to locate spent beer grain failed after a local large scale Atlanta brewery wanted to set up a formal interview to speak to me about taking their spent grain and I passed. Most recently, my supply of leaf mold had ended for the season and I renewed my spent beer grain search.

I called a friend of a relative who is very involved in the local farming movement and asked her where I might score some spent beer grain. I called and was welcomed to come and get it this morning. After a 30 minute wait for the person, I started to leave as I didn't know how much longer he was to be in his meeting... oh, sometimes our angels speak to us and we just don't listen and this was one of those times!! ... I should have ran!! He stopped me outside and told me where to back up my truck and I did so.

For those of you that don't know better and have any desire to ever use beer grain in your garden... here is the God's honest truth.....

It is the most rancid, vile, gross, vomit inducing pile of flytrap stench sludge I have ever had occasion to smell.


I make it a habit not to roll around in piles of manure after stepping in them, but so long as I've already been up to my knees shoveling out horse manure, I would much rather roll around in a pile of horse hockey that have to shovel out this stuff from the tuck. I had to roll up the windows and put the air on recycle as I drove home. I watched the contorting faces of those poor unsuspecting drivers that had only wanted to enjoy the fresh air and nice weather with their windows rolled down. As I pulled up to red lights I saw them search the for the source of the bio-hazard toxic waste smell.

After parking the truck.. all I could manage to do was pull the tarp off the top in hopes that the sun will miraculously sterilize the stench before I go out and have to shovel it out. I have not had my stomach turn quite as much since a terrible bout with food poisoning.

I have ripped off my shirt and pants, but the smell is attached to the fibers of my lungs and I just can't get it out of my system.

I called my husband at work to tell him of my delima and he suggested that I might want to hire someone to spread it.. That would be cruel and unusual punishment. It would be like asking someone to shovel cooked vomit from my truck. He jokingly said not to use the truck and take my minivan next time and I told him it would have to be crushed and turned to scrap metal afterwards...

I don't care how good this stuff is supposed to be for my garden.. I'll stick to manure and leaf mold. I am dreading the spreading of this wet rotting grain and I just needed to make sure that not a single one of you thinks this is a good idea. Ever... Unless of course you have no sense of smell.


Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

soulgardenlove - That's the brewery's fault. They had that grain sitting around for a long time and let it rot.

I'm a homebrewer, I owned a big homebrew shop for 15 years, and I've brewed large batches of beer in commercial breweries. Spent grain is great stuff in a compost pile. It even has a good sweet flavor when it's fresh - I like to chew it!

In brewing, barley seeds are wet down with water and made to sprout. That's called malting, and as the little shoot emerges from the seed a lot of starch is produced to feed the new plant. Then they toast the grain to kill it and stop the growth process.

Then the grains are crushed and immersed in warm water at a controlled temperature. That's called "mashing", and it causes natural enzymes to break the starch molecules down into sugar - malt sugar, which is very sweet.

The crushed grain is then rinsed with hot water, and the sugary liquid that rinses out is what makes beer. The rinsing process is called "sparging", and you try to rinse all the sugar out of the grain but some is always left behind.

The leftover spent grain has a real nice smell and tastes like granola. There's quite a bit of sweetness left from the malt sugar that didn't get rinsed out. Because of that sugar, bacteria really get after it in a compost pile and spent grain breaks down quickly.

I'm sorry you had such a bad experience. The brewery let that batch of spent grain sit around and get thoroughly rotten before they gave it to you.

If you call the brewery, find out what day they're brewing, and arrange to get a batch of spent grain right after they're done sparging - you'll like it a lot.

Marietta, GA(Zone 7b)

I really appreciate your post Ozark.. Okay then, if I ever do this again now that I know this, I will never ever accept rotten grain again, but to be honest, it will take me some time to get over this..

I know it wasn't the brightest idea.. but I had to do something and I hosed it down in the truck and am letting it drip out the bottom as it is on an incline. I had to do something about the smell. It's truly awful. I have attracted every fly in the area to my spent grain. I'm not going to cook it by compost.. I can't deal with the thought of it heating up. I'm going to just top dress and mulch with it and let it go to the worms that will break it down and deal with it for me. I've got my sons cub scout meeting tonight and I just can't deal with it, so I'll let it sit out overnight and hope for the best when I try to spread it tomorrow.

It was in large gray bins on wheels and your right.. it had to have sat in there and possibly outside for the stinking to happen.... and probably over a long time.

I may need to contact another source if what your telling me is that it is sweeter than this when fresh.. Now, I'll be a better spent grain connoisseur.



Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

soulgardenlove - Fresh spent grain isn't just sweeter than what you've got, it's downright good. I knew one brewer who'd grind spent barley grain into a fine flour and bake bread from it. The bread was real heavy, but it had a great flavor.

With that rotten batch of grain you've got, decomposition has already started. I sure wouldn't spread it and use it for mulch - you'll have to deal with the flies and the stink for awhile if you do.

I'd cover it with dirt, grass clippings, or something so the air and flies can't get to it. It's already got a good start, and it'll make good odor-free compost all on its own if you cover it and leave it alone.

Marietta, GA(Zone 7b)

Okay then.. it will actually be easier to pull the tarp and dump it in a pile and walk away instead of spread! :)

North Hills, CA

Try getting in touch with a local homebrew beer and winemaking shop.

Most have brewing clubs that brew beer at their meetings in the shop.
I'm sure you can pick up their fresh/unspoiled grain after they make wort.
Depending on how much you need at a time it may be an easier way to get spent grain.
An added plus, if you drink beer, is they usually have a beer tasting sesion of brews the members made at home to bring to the during the meeting.
You could stay for the whole meeting.........Hick up........Burrrrrrp. LOL

I brew 5-15 gal. batches and that only uses a few lbs. of malt per batch-no where near a truckload.

Clubs usually do larger amounts-still not truckloads.

If you find a bar or resturaunt that microbrews their beer that would be where you could get your truckload.
Resturaunts and bars usually brew on a schedule so you could pick the grain up when they brew.Plan ahead and have everything ready to pickup and spread.

Marietta, GA(Zone 7b)

I bit the bullet and shoveled it out of the truck. I have to say it is the grossest thing I've ever done. I think the smell stuck to me even though I wore gloves and showered after. It's in my backyard.. and I just can't get over the smell.. I think I am psychologically scarred from ever doing this again! I have a 1 acre lot and it permeates all over the place.. Pulling into my driveway, I can smell the stench. I saw my kids bus driver wrinkle his nose when he opened the door!

It's really sad cause now we are having the nicest outdoor weather.. I seem to think it's decreasing in stench by the day, but then I'll get a morning whiff and realize I'm getting accustomed by the end of the day. I'm praying for it to end soon. I think I'm going to try to find alternative sources of organic material for now.. I just can't take this chance again. Something like leaves that I can find in abundance and wont smell to high heaven. I told my husband I didn't know If I could ever even sip a beer again and he said that would be like saying you couldn't eat at a restaurant for the smell of their dumpster.. So I guess he has a point.. But it sure doesn't have the greatest association for me now :( !


(Sheryl) Gainesboro, TN(Zone 6b)

Do you have anything you can cover it with quickly? Like grass clippings, leaves, newspapers, compost? Even spraying it down with the hose should help - until, of course, the sun warms it up again... I doubt you could bring yourself to turn it and aerate, but that would also get it cooking and get rid of the stench.

Good luck, it sounds horrible!

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

Like I said, I worked in commercial brewing for years. The most important thing about breweries and the brewing process is SANITATION. Breweries are operating-room clean - they have to be.

I'd have grave reservations about any brewery that lets used grain sit around and spoil like that. It's breeding a gazillion micro-organisms on the premises, and even though it may be outdoors, any of those bugs can spoil a whole batch of beer and contaminate all their brewing equipment for future batches.

That's extremely poor practice around a brewery, as bad as it can get. If that's the way they run the place, I bet their beer's no good.

Marietta, GA(Zone 7b)

Pagan.. I can cover it.. Maybe I'll do that soon.

Ozark, I hear ya.. I hadn't thought to ever go back and do a taste test! I most likely wont!And trust me, they were creating billions of organism in their spent grain.. ewwwww

Savannah, TN(Zone 7a)

I'd never considered it for composting...but I did watch a "How It's Made" segment on beer making the other night and they actually took their spent grain to a local dairy farm and were feeding it to the cows.

Marietta, GA(Zone 7b)

The smell is still here but funny story.. last night while I was hand watering with a hose from my well in the front yard, a woman and her daughter walked up the street and I greeted them. When they walked back down the street I noticed they started to cross to the other side as the walked back down until they passed the downwind stink part and got a whiff of some extremely fragrant brugs in full bloom right now... And she says to me.. "it smells good HERE" in her mind she was saying "as opposed to over there on the other side of your yard!! :)

Yes.. I really learned my lesson on that one and no wonder he chased me down in the parking lot as I was leaving.. he knew that stuff was rotten and no one in their right mind would take it.. If he had put it in his own dumpster, he would have driven away business for the stench.. What a sucker I was!! Oh well, live and learn.

ohhhh and Ozark.. about the sanitaition.. I haven't got a clue about how beer is made.. However, while waiting for the guy in his meeting, I sat at the bar and had a good look around and I'm stickler for clean details in public places and I notice things like that. I looked through the glass at the huge beer maker thingy and saw how the equipment was starting to turn color and noticed dust piles on top of the pipes and such at the top.. hmmmm


This message was edited Sep 25, 2007 7:43 AM

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

"I'm stickler for clean details in public places and I notice things like that. I looked through the glass at the huge beer maker thingy and saw how the equipment was starting to turn color and noticed dust piles on top of the pipes and such at the top.. hmmmm" - soulgardenlove

That's a bad, bad thing to see in a brewery.

Like I said, to make good beer a brewery has to be operating-room clean at all times.

Unfermented beer (called "wort") is a rich broth of sugars and nutrients. Many kinds of bacteria and wild yeast will thrive in it - and if they do the beer is spoiled and has a terrible taste and aroma. It's the brewer's job to make sure that only his pure strain of introduced beer yeast gets to "eat" that broth.

The most common bacteria that feed on beer wort are acetobacter (which makes vinegar), lactobacillus (which also sours milk), and e. coli (sewage bacteria). Since your spoiled grain smells like, well, you know - I'd say it's full of e. coli.

Marietta, GA(Zone 7b)


I"VE BEEN SHOVELING E.COLI??? ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh .. oh my.......It just gets better and better!

I'm so surprised they don't make vinegar knowing that. Now I'm tempted to go back and take pictures to post!


This message was edited Sep 26, 2007 7:37 AM

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)


Yep, but the bad smell will go away once the nutrients in the grain are used up.

It's no different from composting animal manure - the same bacteria is at work.

West Pottsgrove, PA(Zone 6b)

E. coli is everywhere...
soulgardenlove, if you remove a few W's from the eeewwww, this thread will go back to normal size

Marietta, GA(Zone 7b)

ohhhh Okay.. I feel much better now.. I shovel horsey poo al the time :)..

Done Claypa!! :)

North Hills, CA

What happens if your garden grows better than any other you've ever planted?

Seeds jump out of the package and plant themselves-between hick ups.
Your place looks like the Botanical Gardens overnight.

Will the grain still smell as bad or will it start smelling like ---- Roses? LOL

Missouri City, TX

Shared your story with a local brewery. Owner got a good laugh, too.

His spent grain is harvested by a local dairyman every cycle, so rarely is there any odor, but he did agree that it can get really rank quickly - especially with the temperatures and humidity we have here in TX and I'm sure in GA as well.

Even grass clippings will take on the familiar "through the cow" odor when confined to a plastic bag in the sun for a few days.

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

"E. coli is everywhere... "
That's the truth.

When I started brewing beer, I was shocked to find out the normal government standard for good drinking water is "no more than 1.1 COLONIES of e. coli per liter".

That's why unfermented beer wort is given a good rolling boil for at least an hour, then cooled in sanitary conditions, and then live lager or ale yeast is introduced in an airtight fermenter vessel.

We're all eating and drinking e. coli every day.

Marietta, GA(Zone 7b)

Smokemaster.. What if my garden already does grow better than any I've ever planted as it is without that stink? What if it does look like the botanical gardens overnight with plain old horse manure? :) It will always have smelled that bad and I will never forget it! There is no point in planting roses if you use rotted beer grain as you will never smell your roses for it. I started this garden last night....

Bubba.. I'm certainly glad someone had a good laugh.. I would have loved a through the cow odor.. It was more like the inside of a very dead cow

Ozark.. I remember reading about that too now that I think about it.. it's just that one particular strain that puts a hurt on us and thats not so common.



Fountaintown, IN(Zone 5b)

POOR Soulgarden,

Talk about LOL!!! I mean, belly laughs, and each post brought on more. Thanks for brightening my Midwest thunderstorm so no electricity til a few minutes ago day! Your powers of description are A+++!


Marietta, GA(Zone 7b)

Gee thanks Carol :) I know smells are hard to get online.. so I had to be very very descriptive!! :)

Lawrenceville, GA(Zone 7b)

Oh Jeez:

The closest I'm going to get to your experience SoulGarden is cracking open a nice cold Heiny and rereading this thread and laughing out loud.



Marietta, GA(Zone 7b)

Lovely!!! Have one on me! :)

Central, VA(Zone 7b)

Soul, So now that almost six months have passed, how did you fair with your beer compost?

Marietta, GA(Zone 7b)

HA.. what a memory! I did spread it out over a large area and the smell of course eventually subsided :) The worms loved it and my garden is all the better for it :) I'll just have to see how hard up I am for organic matter next winter as to whether or not I ever go for another try!



Ijamsville, MD(Zone 6b)

Happy Birthday Susan! I am sure you will have a beer to celebrate:))

Marietta, GA(Zone 7b)

HAHAHA!! :) Thanks.. I willl be digging some for sure.. Maybe some wine!! :) Thanks :)


Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

I'm glad the spent barley worked out OK for you in the long run.

Like I said last year, spent grain is a great ingredient for a compost pile. You might want to get some more from that brewery - but I'd make sure they haven't let it get rotten before you have to handle it.

That grain is good stuff - it's just food, and it's the basis for beer, bread, cereal, etc. Like any other food, it smells good when it's fresh and real bad when it's rotting.

Central, VA(Zone 7b)

Ozark, Would spent grain be considered a brown or a green. Previously my compost was too green. Right now it's too brown.

Susan, I didn't know it was your birthday. Happy Happy and enjoy your day. I used to like to celebrate DH"s and my BD for the entire month. If you are going to get older, you might as well have a great time doing it! God bless.

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

"Ozark, Would spent grain be considered a brown or a green."
A brown, for sure - but a rich one. The original barley kernel is a live seed - it's full of starch surrounded by a husk made of cellulose. The mashing process converts most of the starch to sugars - and then the brewery rinses as much of the sugar as possible out of the husks.

The process isn't perfect, and both starch and sugar are left in the spent husks. That's why spent grain rots quickly and smells bad - bacteria really go to town on those sugars and starch.

That's also why (fresh) spent grain is so good in a compost pile. There are a lot of nutrients in it that support microbe cultures to break down the cellulose husks and get everything else in the pile working too. The end result is good, rich compost.

Marietta, GA(Zone 7b)

Thanks Pam :) It was a great day in the garden shoveling manure and creating new beds... much better than shoveling rotten beer grain! :)

Central, VA(Zone 7b)

Susan, Love it. "great day shoveling manure". You'd only hear that from a true gardener.

Ozark, Would there be any benefit to putting actual beer on the garden? Or has all the sugar been consumed in the brewing process? DH and I used to make beer on a small scale, but we left our carboys and bottles behind when we moved. There is a new micro brewry near us. We better go check it out, don't you think?

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

"Ozark, Would there be any benefit to putting actual beer on the garden?"

No, the beer goes in the gardener. LOL

Really, beer wouldn't add much to a garden. The alcohol would evaporate, the sugars are gone, there are some unfermentable starches called dextrins in beer, and there's water - but that's about it.

Sugary drinks like soda pop are much better for getting a compost pile going, but I wouldn't spray that on a garden either. Big bacteria populations are great for working compost, but probably not so good for growing plants.

Central, VA(Zone 7b)

Thanks Ozark, This is just why I come here--to learn. I'll keep the beer and soda for me not my garden.

(Sheryl) Gainesboro, TN(Zone 6b)

Ha- beer is for the gardener, but comes out as a nitrogenous liquid after it is .....uh.... processed....that is beneficial as a green!

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

Yep - As they say, you don't buy beer, you just rent it. lol

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

I have not laughed so long or so hard as this since our posts last year on the Cast Iron Skillet thread in the Recipes forum...

I'll be laughing and visiting this thread whenever I need a good laugh!

Marietta, GA(Zone 7b)

Okay... I need a good laugh right about now... I'm going to reread it :)

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