Dan Kurzrock loves beer. As spendthrift underclassmen in college, he and his buddies made gallons of it on a regular basis. Borrowing the equipment and getting the ingredients were simple enough — and consuming the product was never a problem — but waste was an issue. Once the sugars have been extracted from whatever grain is used in brewing, that grain’s ability to make beer is kaput. Dealing with the leftover barley, a substance typically referred to as “spent grain,” troubled the eco-aware economics student.
“That’s when I realized that we had all of this grain and nothing to do with it,” Kurzrock says.
He was convinced the byproduct had to be useful for something, so he called a childhood acquaintance, Jordan Schwartz, and the two set to work. The project evolved into ReGrained, a sustainable food production company that reclaims spent grain from San Francisco’s microbreweries.
“It’s not that brewers are wasteful. They’re not evil creatures who are squandering resources,” Kurzrock says. “There’s just no way to make beer without being left with this stuff.”
For centuries, these grains have been used as fertilizer and fodder for farm animals. This is still the case across the country, and while that’s great for brewers who have the resources to transport the byproduct, it’s a challenge for small urban microbreweries. San Francisco alone is home to more than 30 — and there aren’t exactly cattle grazing in Cow Hollow these days.
Most urban breweries resort to compost if it’s available, or landfills if it isn’t. Composting isn’t a bad option, but Kurzrock thinks we can do better, and swears that spent grain isn’t as spent as you’d think.
“The industrial term ‘spent grain’ is a total misnomer,” says Kurzock, who prefers “upcycled.”
“I use that language very deliberately, because it’s not waste,” he adds. “It’s a food source that could and should be harvested.”
Although the post-brewed grain is no longer good for making beer, plenty of its nutritional properties remain intact. To that end. ReGrained’s first concept was a closed-loop brewery-bakery, wherein spent grain from Kurzrock and Schwartz’s homebrew was used in the production of fresh-baked loaves.
“I thought if I can make beer, then I can make bread,” Kurzrock says. “So we started making bread. But then we discovered that the opportunity was much bigger.”
Every six-pack of beer requires roughly one pound of grain. Scale that up for even a small brewery, and we’re talking thousands of pounds of leftovers. Kurzrock and Schwartz saw this as an opportunity to expand their initial concept, while also improving the urban economy.
The first step was a practical product. A single loaf of bread can take hours to make — and begins to break down in less than a day — so ReGrained pivoted from loaves to a snack bar.
“We wanted something that we could make a lot of at one time, that would be shelf stable and more viable as an actual product,” Kurzrock explains. In the same amount of time it took to make one loaf of bread, “we could make 200 bars.”
ReGrained currently kicks out thousands of bars a day, sourcing grain from five San Francisco breweries: Magnolia, Thirsty Bear, 21st Amendment, Triple VooDoo, and Harmonic.
“We’re not even scratching the surface of how much grain there is,” says Kurzrock, who harvests grain from just one partner brewery each week. Eventually, he and Schwartz are looking to scale to the point where they’re offering a real service in removing spent grain, but for now they’re focused on production.
ReGrained bars come in two flavors: Honey Cinnamon IPA (made with almonds, oats, honey, and cinnamon) and Coffee Chocolate Stout (a touch richer, with semi-sweet Guittard chocolate and coffee). The texture is akin to a chewy granola bar, with scattered crunchy bits, and an overall feel that’s more, well, grainy.
In spite of the slogan “Eat your Beer,” the bars are zero-proof and surprisingly nutritious. Upcycled grain is low in sugar, has as much protein as almonds, and contains three times the dietary fiber of oatmeal.
“It’s very decidedly a healthy snack bar,” Kurzock says. “The kind of wholesome snack you could eat at your desk.”
In keeping with ReGrained’s focus on sustainability, many ingredients are local and packaging is compostable.
“Our big vision is not just to be a granola-bar company,” says Kuzrock, who considers the bars a sort of “Trojan horse” for the ReGrained concept. “We’ve got a lot of R&D on different kinds of products that utilize more and more of this grain.”
The next few products will also be bars, although ReGrained wants to upcycle flour, as well. Plans are in place to expand harvesting more widely in San Francisco, and eventually include other cities.
Coming out with another health bar is hardly original in a world rife with super-handy health foods, but ReGrained’s sustainable mission is something unique.
“Does the market need a new bar?” Kurzrock asks. “Probably not. But does the food system need our concept? Absolutely.”