The Challenges of Staying True to Commitments

2023 has been an eventful one for KBC. One of them was the need to deal with a dilemma as to whether we could keep up one of our environmental commitments, a key element of our Ethical core value.

This came down to our spent grain, and how we handle it.

Firstly, what is spent grain? Malt, which is grain, usually barley, that has been made to germinate in water and then heated to stop the process, dry, and “roast” to one degree or another, is the first key ingredient in beer, the one that carries the most weight. In our case, we typically use around 400kg of dry malt in each brew we do, which can go to well over double that volume in our stronger beers. Naturally, this also means a huge amount of waste in every batch.

We have been incredibly proud that, since our founding, we have never needed to simply “throw out” our spent grain as rubbish. Thanks to our network of farmers, expanded and organised with the help of a local farmer named Nishimoto-san, all of our spent grain has become useful fertiliser or, on occasion, animal food.

The Difficulties of Scaling Up

Last year, with our increasing production, we started to find that the volume of our spent grain was testing the limits of how much Nishimoto-san and the other farmers could take on. Through engaging with Kyoto Botanical Gardens and Kyoto Zoo, as well as from using SNS to expand our network of farmers, we were able to continue, in addition to making more special local connections. We called this initiative “Bakukatsu”, roughly translating as “malt initiative”.

There was plenty of zest for this initiative from all sides, as people rallied and our connections increased. New problems began to arise, however. Our spent grain has plenty of moisture inside. This helps with rotting and turning it into good fertiliser, but the smell became an issue with both the botanical gardens as well as farmers based in semi-residential areas.

As time went on, we found our potential outlets were limited, and we finally had to start contacting the disposal company. Would we finally have to face chucking our spent grain, full of nutrients, along with our regular trash? Nishimoto-san once again rallied, but time was running out.

Investing in Our Values

Not wanting to compromise, we found a solution in the implementation of a grain press, installed in July. This grain press reduced the weight of the spent grain by 44%, meaning that transport of it would be much more feasible and, crucially, it prevented most of the quick decomposition and resultant smell. While we were concerned that the removal of moisture would mean removal of most of the nutrients, an analysis was made that confirmed that most of the nutrients remained, but it also became much easier to manage as well as transport.

The implications of this were many, but what really expanded our outlets was that, while the speed of decomposition before meant that it was limited to use as fertiliser, it now works well as nutritious feed for dairy and poultry farms.

Our change in how we handle spent malt has meant that we can avoid compromising on one of our core values, but it has also helped another: Engaging. Through this program, we have managed to connect with many other like-minded individuals in our local community.

We recently had a nice opportunity to see the results of this program in action, as we had a small farmer’s market event on one of our taproom days, with fruit and vegetables raised on our spent grain being offered for sale by Nishimoto-san himself. We really hope that, despite already being 8 years in, this is still only the start, and we have more opportunity for local partnership and further opportunity to have a positive impact.

(For those interested in our spent grain, please feel free to contact us via