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Bourbon Whiskey

Distilleries and Mushroom Farmers Partner


This photograph taken on Sept. 30 shows eryngii mushrooms produced by the company Eclo, which recycles beer and bread waste to grow organic mushrooms in Brussels. (Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images)

The University of Kentucky recently discovered that distilleries could sell their spent grain to grow mushrooms — another step in the right direction when it comes to sustainability for distilleries.

The University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment is looking for ways to ease the strain that the bourbon industry of Kentucky places on cattle farmers.

“Cattle farmers cannot keep up with a booming bourbon industry that is producing more bourbon, and consequently more waste, than ever before,” lab manager Zachary Byrd said, according to the University of Kentucky’s College News. “You can’t just dump these grains on the ground, so this has turned into a very large issue.”

Distilleries often look to farmers as the main resource for using spent grains, which is what’s left over after the distillery makes whiskey.

“In a distillery, grains like corn, malted barley, wheat and rye are mashed to produce a sugary liquid that yeast ferment into ethanol,” assistant BAE professor Tyler Barzee said. “The liquid is then passed through a still to recover the ethanol which is then poured into barrels and aged into a whiskey product. The leftover liquid, also known as ‘stillage’, contains all the same grains you started with but since the fermentable sugars have been removed, the leftover grains are then considered ‘spent’.”

Selling Spent Grains For Profit

Since the university sits right in the heart of the world’s bourbon capital, the issue of spent grains is a prominent one the university has noticed since cattle farmers only need so much feed.

However, sustainability isn’t the only reason why a distillery would want to sell its spent grains to a mushroom grower. It is also projected to become extremely profitable, according to Barzee.

“Economic impacts could be significant since stillage is normally given away for free or disposed of at a significant cost to the distillery,” Barzee said. “The types of mushrooms we are growing are considered gourmet and can sell for $15-25 per pound, or more, depending on the mushroom. It’s a niche market right now, but in my mind, the partnership with Kentucky distilleries could be a significant advantage to the branding and marketing.”

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