About 20 years ago, after Capital Brewery‘s Scott Wiener started baking his own bread and making pizza dough, he read an article about using spent grain in those recipes.
As the then-chairman of the Middleton brewery, Wiener — now president — had easy access to spent grain, the waste product left from the production of beer.
Spent grain can amount to as much as 85% of a brewery’s byproduct.
Wiener played around with his bread machine and said he “came up with a recipe that actually was quite delicious.” And since then, he’s been feeding the resulting bread and pizza dough to friends and family with positive results.
Last summer, in the brewery’s biergarten, he met Monica Theis, a senior lecturer in the department of food science at UW-Madison, who’d heard about Wiener and his experiments with spent grain.
She asked if he’d consider scaling it up and possibly collaborating with a local bakery to make the bread available to the public. Theis knew Michelle Clasen, the owner of Clasen’s European Bakery, also in Middleton, and a partnership was born.
Clasen left her meeting with Wiener and Theis surprised by the bread Wiener made at home. It was pretty good, she said. “I guess that would be like a baker trying to make beer. So it’s a natural combination of businesses working together.”
For the past two months, Clasen’s Bakery has been making two breads with spent grain from Capital Brewery’s Wisconsin Amber and Supper Club Lager: Amber White bread and Supper Club Wheat bread.
Clasen, Wiener and Theis describe the resulting bread as having a nutty flavor and richer texture than traditional white and wheat bread.
The breads are sold at Clasen’s Bakery for $7.50. Packs of six spent grain hamburger buns are $6.29, or $1.20 individually. The bread is also available at a growing number of grocery stores: Metcalfe’s, Woodman’s, Willy Street Co-op, Brennan’s and Sendik’s in Brookfield. Capital Brewery sells spent grain soft pretzels.
Wiener welcomed the partnership, since the bakery is only four blocks from the brewery, and he’s gone there since he was a college student 40 years ago. “I grew up in Milwaukee, so we ate a lot of European/German-style everything,” he said.
Every batch of beer Capital Brewery produces results in hundreds of pounds of spent grain. The brewery ends up with more than 2,000 pounds of spent grain per week, Wiener said. The bakery only uses a tiny fraction.
The spent grain didn’t go to waste before the collaboration. The brewery sells the bulk of it to a local farmer who feeds it to his cattle.
“They can mix it with some other silage, and it’s very high in fiber and very low in carbohydrates,” Wiener said. “So it’s a very good source of roughage for their cattle.”
It’s the high-fiber, low-carb quality that also makes the bread attractive to bakery customers, Clasen said.
The bakery touts the nutritional benefits of the breads on its packaging and on signs where the products are sold, and they’re selling pretty well, Clasen said. The labels have the logos of both the bakery and the brewery.
“Certain people seek it out,” she said. “I mean, the flavor is amazing. There’s a real nice crunch to the bread.”
Each loaf of bread contains about a cup of spent grain, Wiener said.
UW Hospital is interested in getting some of the spent grain products into its kitchens, starting with the spent grain buns, Clasen said.
The bakery, which has been in Clasen’s family since 1959, has a rotation of more than 600 products. Some are seasonal. Capital Brewery, founded in 1984, produces about 18,000 barrels of beer a year, with about 12,000 of those barrels made in Middleton. The rest is made in Stevens Point.
Theis, who brought Clasen and Wiener together, got to sample the bread and said it’s easy to tell the spent grain bread from regular bread because the grain segments are visible. The spent grain breads have the flavor of whole grain bread, she said.
As a Middleton resident, Theis finds the local connection between the two businesses particularly exciting. She said she’s pleased “that two organizations can get together and address an issue of a waste product that can be reformulated into something delicious.”
Wiener said he doesn’t have anything against cattle, but using the spent grain in breads and pretzels is a higher purpose.
“The fact (is), I’ve had so many people sample it and every one of them has just said, ‘This tastes fantastic.’ ‘It smells great.’ ‘It’s got a wonderful texture.’ ‘I can’t wait to buy some.’”