The truth about using Spent Beer Grain in your Garden

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

johnjohnc - I don't think you have anything to worry about. Barley and wheat aren't nitrogen-fixing plants. Unlike legumes, they don't pull nitrogen out of the air and concentrate it in plant tissues. That means they couldn't contain more nitrogen than the soil in which they were grown.

In fact, like all dead plant material, spent brewing grains should consume nitrogen out of the soil as they decompose.

Argyle, TX(Zone 7b)

WOW! This threads been going a while. Haven't read it all.
Soulgarden, does/did it smell like than soured grain for catfish chum? That is probably the worst thing I ever smelled.
Ozark "I'm a homebrewer, I owned a big homebrew shop", my uncles called that a still back in the day.

Lawrenceville, GA(Zone 7b)


This story always cracks me up.

Sorry Susan, I know it's bad karma to laugh at the misfortune of others.


Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

"Ozark "I'm a homebrewer, I owned a big homebrew shop", my uncles called that a still back in the day."

excelrealty - Ha. No, stills are for whiskey, brandy, and rum. Our stores sold supplies and equipment to people who make their own wine or beer as a hobby. That's a popular (and legal) hobby by the way, and we didn't sell any alcohol.

We sold out in 1999 and I'm retired, but 15 years in that business gave me a lot of experience with the brewing process (and knowing about spent grain).

Argyle, TX(Zone 7b)

Sounds interesting. I'm not the G-man searching for white lightning, but did'nt really think you were doing something illegal anyway. lol, Mike

Marietta, GA(Zone 7b)

XL, I have no idea, fortunately I haven't smelled that yet during the course of my life.... and if by chance I have and didn't remember, then my stuff smelled much much worse. We use plain dog food for catfish.. No bad smell needed.

Bronx, it's always great to laugh.. and it's okay, I can look back and laugh too :) I don't look at it as misfortune. I look at it as a huge educational experience that I wanted to spare others from learning firsthand :)

Did you know that professional car racing in the US started as a result of the moonshine runners getting together to see who was the best of the best?

My husband and I have property in the north GA mountains on the river. Neighbors had told him about remnants of a still down river and he went and searched for it..but never did find it. That stuff can kill ya! I'd just rather pay the taxes on it and get the good stuff!

This message was edited Dec 6, 2008 10:50 PM

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

There's still a lot of moonshine made in the Ozarks. Every so often one feller or another will give me a bottle, but it seems to sit in my workshop until I find someone else who wants it, then I'll give it to them.

Moonshine is just almost pure alcohol, colorless and tasteless. It's not something I'd enjoy drinking straight, but I suppose you could use it like vodka in mixed drinks. I don't care for moonshine and don't mess with it, but I'm the same way with any hard liquor.

Homebrewed beer, now - that's a different story.

In looking for that Georgia still - look down in the "hollers". The old timers always put them by a spring or creek that had good drinking water so they didn't have to haul water uphill to a still. My grandpa used to laugh about how the government "revenuers" in the 1930's were too dumb to figure that out, so they'd walk the ridge tops.

They eventually got smarter, though - and they'd just watch the grocery stores for people buying sugar in 100-lb. bags. lol

Marietta, GA(Zone 7b)

They watch for "gardeners" buying too many grow lights I've heard :)

I'm a wine drinker myself...and the mixed stuff too :) Beer on occasion.. after a hot day in the garden and salty snacks.

Johnson City, TN(Zone 6b)

My goodness! I can't believe all the things I've learned, [and might have to unlearn,] reading this entire thread. Unlike the days of my youth I am now to content to proffit from others' experiences. Soulgarden and all, thanks for the fun and informative read on a cold, windy day. D in TN

Kannapolis, NC

Okay. I feel for Soulgardenlove and her miserable experience with spent beer grain that had gone bad, but I have a question. We bought several gallons of apple cider in the fall and DH stored it in the garage, thinking it would be cold enough there. Well, thanks to the last couple of weeks of warm weather, it has turned to vinegar. He wants to pour it on the compost pile and I'm thinking it should be great. Any thoughts? Yea? Nay?

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Well, its now somewhat acidic. . It used to be full of sugar, so whatever's in there now is made of that. Would the acid hurt? i'd guess it depends on how much vinegar you're putting on how big a pile. my thought would be yea although you might want to test with one jug first.

Kannapolis, NC

SallyG: Thank you. I think that might be a good idea. Hadn't thought about the acid.

Canyon Lake, TX(Zone 8b)

it has turned to vinegar

Doesn't vinegar kill certain bacteria and isn't bacteria beneficial to compost piles? Just asking.

Is home brew hard to make and is it costly to get started?

I have never done this and now that I am retired with a little time on my hands i thought I might give it a whirl. I will certainly be here to keep a eye on the process.

Albuquerque, NM(Zone 7b)

In addition to the microorganism inhibition, I don't think there is much left to burn for energy in the vinegar. Its oxidized alcohol.

Getting equipment to homebrew can be had for less than $200. A reasonable "homebrew kit" sells for about $100. There are less expensive ones, but I recommend a little nicer one as you will have better results and will spend less money upgrading it if you continue. The $100 price tag should get you a 6+ gallon glass carboy for brewing 5 gallon batches, which is the homebrew industry standard size. The rest of the money goes to getting a brew kettle and possibly a burner. One of the most economical brew kettles is one of the turkey fryers that are on the market this time of year. They even come with propane burners which are also advantageous to have. They downside is they don't have a drain spout at the bottom, but you can add one to the kettle. Note a 7+ gallon pot is best for a 5 gallon batch. You'll need 1 extra gallon because of evaporation during a 1 hour boil time and 1 extra gallon to allow for the dynamics of boiling liquids. Of the recipe "kits" that are available, I do NOT recommend the pre-made cans. You get much better beer if you buy just pre-made malt extract and add hops and small amounts of grain that you steep for flavor. If you really enjoy it then you can consider the step of going "all grain" but I don't recommend this to start. You can look at the following sites for supplies.

As to your question on difficulty, the answer is yes and no. In general brewing is like gardening: it involves some work. If you enjoy the process then it is play. The other side of difficult comes down to understanding what you are doing. If you don't know what you are doing, then problems encountered can be difficult. If you do know what you are doing then you have many fewer problems. Try
for a good reference.

Kannapolis, NC

Okay, no apple cider in the compost. I'll use it elsewhere on the acid-loving plants instead!

Indianapolis, IN(Zone 4b)

I've seen on HGTV's "Gardening By The Yard" show that Paul James uses vinegar as a non-selective herbicide by spraying it on foliage. You might want to dilute your vinegar first, & then pour it on the soil rather than letting any get directly on your plants.

Albuquerque, NM(Zone 7b)

You do want to keep the microorganism population in your soil alive and healty.

Kannapolis, NC

I agree. Thanks for the advice, everyone! Merry Christmas.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

I stand by my 2 cents being worth what it cost ya LOL And I'm making a note to test some of these questions.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Here's Wikipedia about acetic acid.
This says household vinegar pH is about 2.4-ouch! does sound harsh

This message was edited Dec 23, 2008 10:46 PM

Bardstown, KY(Zone 6a)

I think the turkey fryer pots are aluminum which is a no-no when brewing. It needs to be stainless steel.


Albuquerque, NM(Zone 7b)

I've seen the aluminum vs steel argument before. I don't agree. SS is preferrable but aluminum works fine. Not for long term storage.

Bardstown, KY(Zone 6a)

Well everything I've read says not to use it due to chemical reactions with the wort. Says to use only SS or enameled pots.

Albuquerque, NM(Zone 7b)

Do you have a reference, and one based on actual testing not just opinion? Not to be confrontational - I just want to know.

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

The acids in hops have a weak reaction with aluminum in a brewpot. Aluminum ions dissolved into the brew may produce slight metallic off-flavors, especially in beer styles that are strongly hopped (pale ales, India pale ales, etc.).

Whether or not to use an aluminum pot for brewing is a minor point. Any flavor difference that might be caused would be small - and if you can cook tomatoes in an aluminum pot, you can cook beer in one. There is no health hazard involved.

It's better to use a stainless steel pot, though.

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