EUGENE, Ore. – A lot of people will argue a good burger and a good beer go hand in hand. In more ways than one, they do.
Using spent brewer grains is not a new practice, it’s been around more than a hundred years. It’s a cost cutter on many ends, convenient and the results are delicious; but, it’s a practice that could be threatened by federal regulators.
With 40 head of cattle on his 160 acres south of Eugene, Stephen Neel is not a heavyweight in the beef business. He doesn’t want to be the biggest, he wants to be best.
“When I wrote my business plan four years ago, it was to be the Ninkasi of beef,” Neel said.
Ninkasi brewing is a big part of what Neel’s producing at Oregon Natural Meats.
Jamie Floyd and Nikos Ridge tapped into the brewing business by launching Ninkasi in 2006. Since then, they’ve added 100 employees. In 2012 they sold 67,000 barrels of beer, 90,000 last year and their goal for 2014, is 110,000 barrels.
“Without brewing system we’re able to do nine batches of beer a day,” said
Leaving tons of malted barley, wheat, rye and oats with no use. That’s where Oregon Natural Meats comes in.
“With that system we have an automated process that allows for us to move most of the grain out of the mash ton and in an oggering device that takes it through the building and all the way out to the silo,” said Jamie Floyd, Co-Owner of Ninkasi Brewing.
When they say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, this is what they had in mind.
“We actually take the spent grains the Ninkasi grains and mix them with another bi-product, which is a grass seed pellet from Harrisburg which is a waste product from the rye grass industry take all those pellets, mix those with the brewers grain and the cattle go nuts over it,” Neel said. “If you see their heads when you’re coming at them, they’re happy. If you see their tails, they’re getting away from you.”
Happy cows, happy farmers saving money on feed and happy brewers saving millions of dollars in disposal fees for all the leftover grain.
But it’s a practice that could see changes. The F.D.A. is considering new regulations to make sure the byproduct is safe for animals to eat, and safe for humans.
Neel has three issues with this. He says the F.D.A. does not regulate the meat industry, the U.S.D.A. does.
“The second issue is really scientific. There is not documented evidence or support that feeding a brewers grain even though it’s a waste product is a food safety risk to animals, and or humans,” Neel said.
The third is the simple, economics. Millions of pounds of waste going to landfills instead of being upcycled to feed animals and improve the product. With a PhD in meat science and muscle biology, Neel says the product is better.
Oregon Natural Meats is being served at Cornucopia on 17th Avenue in Eugene.
“Our goal in a restaurant is to be number one in something, our burger is our flagship, it’s our best product,” said Alison Albrecht, Co-Owner of Cornucopia Restaurant.
They have 15 burgers on the menu and they serve up about 60,000 a year. Cornucopia’s been named home of the number one burger by multiple outlets.
“You can’t have excellent food without excellent ingredients, and Oregon Natural Meats is a perfect match for us,” Albrecht said.
From brew to moo, three local, growing, successful business partners.
“As we’ve grown, they’ve grown, and it’s just been this mutualistic relationship, really can’t be any better,” Floyd said.
“I’m not a cow whisperer, but at the same time I know stress and I know stress is not a healthy thing for animals,” Neel said “I can say our cattle are as happy as I can perceive them to be.”
“If you want to be successful in the restaurant business you have to have really excellent food,” Albrecht said.
Since 2009, Ninkasi has uploaded 49 million pounds of grains into their system. If not for their ability to share with farmers like Stephen Neel, all of that would have ended up in a landfill.