What Is Spent Grain Bread?

Bakers (and brewers) are taking the concept of beer bread to a whole new level

Bread and beer are practically cousins, according to pastry chef and culinary instructor Jenni Field. "They contain the same ingredients: water, grain, yeast—and both have a maverick sensibility in the U.S.," Field says. Unlike in Germany where the law allows for only four ingredients in beer, it's not a crime in the States to play with your brew by adding spices of fruit or whatever else rocks your world. And it's the same with bread. Now, creative brewers and bakers are bringing the two together for something of a family reunion.


Yeast is the catalyst that turns grains into things like bread or beer, and also adds distinctive flavors. Yeast converts carbohydrates in the form of sugar into carbon dioxide for leavening bread and alcohol for beer. But there are many different kinds of yeasts, and they each work differently. Bread is made from baker's yeast or Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Some bakers prefer wild yeast, which forms in sourdough or levain. Brewer's yeast is used to make beer and when deactivated can be used as a nutritional supplement. Can you bake with brewer's yeast? You can, as Field documents on her blog. It turns out, you can also brew beer with bread—a brewing method that dates back thousands of years to ancient Egypt. 

Beer Bread and Bread Beer

Avalon Cafe and Bakery in Detroit and Avalon Cafe and Kitchen in Ann Arbor, Michigan, offer a Jolly Pumpkin Eye of Horus ale brewed with 10 pounds of Avalon bread, dates, honey, coriander and ginger. In turn, partnering with breweries to make bread is nothing new to Avalon International Bread. The bakery partners with Grizzly Peak Brewing Company to make Rockin' Red Ale Beer Bread, a malty, smooth bread made with beer instead of water. Jackie Victor, one of the founders and owners of Avalon, explains that the beer has a leavening effect but also adds complexity of flavor—maltiness and bitterness.

Spent Grains

Another way bakers collaborate with brewers is by using their "spent" grains. The making of each six-pack of beer leaves the brewer with a pound of soaked grains, such as barley, wheat, rye or a combination. When Ellen King of Hewn in Evanston, Illinois, opened her bakery, she became friends with a brewer who offered her beer that came from cans not properly filled. That beer quickly found its way into her bread. Now, she also uses spent grains, explaining that after squeezing out as much liquid as she can, she folds it into the bread and reduces the liquid in the dough. King says it adds chewiness, and Field hypothesizes that because the wet grains are starchy, their gelatinized starch gives the bread a particularly silky texture.

There isn't just one way to use spent grains. While King squeezes them dry, Kathi Genett of Craft Brew Bread in Richmond, Virginia, freezes spent grains to maintain their texture and prevent spoilage before later using them to make bread. Marley Rall of The Brewmaster's Bakery was inspired to use the leftover grains from her future husband's homebrewing to make dog treats and granola. A classically trained baker took Rall under her wing, and from there, she moved on to making breads, including apple crunch loaves and Hawaiian-style sweet butter buns. Rather than using the grains whole, she processes them, drying them and milling them into flour. Rall also uses other beer ingredients like brewer's yeast in cookies for new mothers and hops added to salt to flavor pretzels. She's worked with close to 20 breweries and collaborates with seven on a regular basis.

Sweet on Beer

Emily Peterson, a trained pastry chef and admitted beer geek, befriended a brewer who encouraged her to use beer in her baking and also gave her fruit that had been used in beer. Her focus at Beer Geek Bakery in Tucson, Arizona, is pastries designed to pair with beer. In addition to fruit, she has used serrano chiles, hibiscus and smoked dry whiskey malt left over from the brewing process. She says, "Working with beer has helped me to pay more attention to it and be aware of what I'm tasting. It fine-tuned my palate." She notes it has allowed her to pull back from sugar, as well. Her creations include a sunflower seed baklava cookie that pairs with a honey porter and caramel corn to pair with a sour beer made with kimchi.

What's Next?

ReGrained, a San Francisco-based company whose founders recently made Forbes's 30 Under 30 list, is dedicated to bringing spent grains back into the food system. Cofounder and partner Dan Kurzrock has experimented with making bread, crackers, cookies, chips and cereal from spent grains. Though ReGrained currently sells Honey Cinnamon IPA and Chocolate Coffee Stout Supergrain bars, its real focus is on a proprietary energy-efficient way of drying spent grains and milling them into powder. Kurzrock says the milled product has an "intense whole-wheat flavor and increases fiber and protein, with prebiotic qualities and micronutrient benefits"—and, perhaps more importantly, endless possibilities.

Homebrewers looking to use spent grains can find plenty of recipes at Brooklyn Brew Shop's Spent Grain Chef. And if you're interested in making bread with beer, check out Field's recipe for oatmeal porter bread.

Amy Sherman is a San Francisco-based writer, recipe developer and cookbook author who never says no to a warm doughnut. Follow her culinary escapades on Instagram at @cookingwithamy.