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(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gold Creek Farms ranch manager Ricky Dynes fills a trough with stillage from High West Distillery at the farm near Kamas on Friday, Aug. 1, 2014.
Cheesemakers get crafty using spent grain from Utah whiskey, beer
Waste not, want not » Cheesemakers and others get crafty with brewing’s byproducts.
First Published Aug 05 2014 09:46 am • Last Updated Aug 07 2014 10:17 am

Like Pavlov’s dogs, the dairy cows at Gold Creek Farms in Woodland were noticeably excited every time the truck from High West Distillery drove up the road.

It wasn’t the award-winning whiskey that got these bovines giddy — it was barrels of spent grain. These leftovers from the Park City distilling process soon would be mixed into their feed, making a meal that was high in protein, fiber and deliciousness — at least for a farm animal.

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It’s just one of several arrangements that brewers and distillers in Utah are using to get rid of the byproducts of their beer and booze.

"It was pretty funny to see them jumping around like little kids," cheesemaker Fernando Chavez-Sandoval said of the usually sedate cows that produce milk for Gold Creek’s award-winning cheeses. The farm makes cheddar, parmesan, romano and a new blue cheese infused with High West Whiskey, a nod to their unique relationship.

Recently, Gold Creek has started driving its own truck to Park City to pick up the High West leftovers, more than 12,000 pounds a week of spent grain. The cows don’t get quite as excited when they see the regular old farm truck, said Chavez-Sandoval, "although they still love to eat what’s in the back."

The spent grain, which Gold Creek gets for free minus transportation costs, adds "a little bit of flavor to the milk and we think it helps increase the butterfat," Chavez-Sandoval said.

The agreement helps set Gold Creek apart from its competitors, but also helps High West recycle the thousands of pounds of byproduct it creates when making whiskey and vodka.

"We’re happy to give it to them for free," said High West owner David Perkins.

When consumers find out what the cows have been eating, silly questions follow, Chavez-Sandoval said. The best one: "So are the cows always drunk?"

"That’s never the case," Chavez-Sandoval has to explain. "High West keeps all the alcohol to themselves. We get the byproduct."

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Not far away, Russ Cohler, the cheesemaker at Heber Valley Artisan Cheese, has been experimenting for about a month with the spent grain from Wasatch Brew Pub in Park City. The farm has been mixing the stillage with dried and pickled alfalfa, whey, molasses and minerals.

"Our nutritionist has been testing it and it’s turned out to be a pretty good feed," he said.

The sustainability factor is a bonus.

"We’re taking something that, for us, is a high-quality, inexpensive protein source that the brewery would normally have to pay to dispose of," he said.

The Utah Brewers Cooperative that produces Wasatch and Squatters beers is excited about the agriculture loop, said marketing director Judy Cullen.

"We serve Heber Valley cheese [in the pubs] and they feed our grain to the cows," she said. "It’s recycling in perpetuity."

National trend » Breweries and distilleries across the country use tractor-trailer loads of grain every day to brew tens of thousands of gallons of beer and spirits. The grain is soaked in warm water, which extracts starch that turns into fermentable sugars. Once that’s done, the grain is separated and discarded, and the brewing process continues.

Earlier this year, federal officials backed off proposed livestock feed rules that beermakers feared would cost $13.6 million per brewery if they wanted to sell grain left from making beer to ranchers and dairy farmers.

But the industry is getting increasingly crafty about how to get rid of the grain and hops left after brewing, turning the byproducts and the beer into everything from bread and dog treats to lip balm and soap.

In Virginia, Devils Backbone Brewing Co.’s pub serves bread made with spent grain. The Alaskan Brewing Co. in Juneau last year installed a unique boiler system furnace that burns the company’s spent grain to create steam, which powers the majority of the brewery’s operations. Oskar Blues, which operates breweries in Colorado and North Carolina, has "beer-blessed" lip balm made from the hops and barley in its Old Chub Scotch Ale.

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