FRONT PAGE STORY Sunday, January 23, 2011
By LYNN OLANOFF
Fegley’s Brew Works adds beer to its chili, sauerkraut and barbecue sauce. Its new beef burgers, however, need no beer infusion.
The restaurant’s new ground beef comes pre-filled with beer — well, in a way. Earlier this month, the restaurant started buying its ground beef from Koehler Farms in Bethlehem Township, Pa., where since late November, steer have been fed on Brew Works’ used beer grains.
It’s like a full circle: Brew Works makes its beer with malted barley and sells the used grains to Koehler Farms for cattle feed. The steer eat the beer grains and then end up served on a bun beside a glass of beer back at Brew Works.
“Our burgers are going to be tasting more and more like beer,” joked Mike Fegley, Brew Works’ director of marketing and public relations.
Breweries regularly sell used grains to farms. Weyerbacher Brewing Co. in Easton has a deal with a farm in Kutztown, Pa., and Brew Works had been distributing its used beer grains to several Lehigh Valley farms.
But breweries produce a lot of grain. Brew Works sends 750 pounds of spent grain a day to Koehler Farms, and Weyerbacher produces more than 2,000 pounds a day, head brewer Chris Wilson said.
As Brew Works ramped up production, the company needed to find a large farm to take its output, Fegley said.
The connection with Koehler Farms was made in a round-about way: the stepfather of Brew Works’ head brewer in Bethlehem is neighbors with the Koehlers’ cousins. The cousins called the family, who agreed to take Brew Works’ whole lot.
The nutritional benefits of used beer grains for cattle are well-known, Dennis Koehler said. Brewing beer strips only about 10 percent of the protein out of the grains, and the beer leaves the grains well-saturated.
“The moisture makes the cows eat a little more,” Koehler said. “They seem to be really healthy on it.”
The Koehlers combine the beer grains with their regular corn and soybean mix, with the beer grains making up about one-third of the mixture. The cattle’s diet is split 50-50 between the grain mixture and hay, Koehler said.
The beer grains don’t get the cattle drunk. All the alcohol is extracted for the beer, but the question has led to some good jokes about why cows regularly lie down.
Koehler Farms has long sold beef from its Freemansburg Avenue farm, but two years ago it started adding more cattle to its herd with the hope of developing a partnership with a local restaurant, Dennis Koehler said.
In the two years, the farm’s herd has grown from about 50 to about 170 steer. Last year, Koehler Farms started selling its beef to Vassi’s Drive-In in Hellertown, but Brew Works, with its two restaurants in Allentown and one restaurant in Bethlehem, is a far bigger customer, Dennis Koehler said.
Even with the new sales to Brew Works, beef remains a minor part of the farm’s business, which is primarily corn and soybean sales, Koehler said.
Brew Works is interested in growing the partnership, and also buying steaks from Koehler Farms when the family can add to the steer herd.
“I think it’s going to be a great partnership,” Koehler said. “They’re a family business, we’re a family business.”
Last week, the two companies made preliminary plans for Koehler Farms to sell 10 pounds of steak a week to the Brew Works.
The steaks will be a special menu item at the restaurant, Brew Works Executive Chef Jill Oman said.
The Koehler beef burgers started off as a special menu item but will be used for all Brew Works burgers starting Feb. 1.
Brew Works has had a long interest in serving locally grown food at its restaurants. The company gets its chicken, turkey and some pork from a Lancaster County farm and gets its produce from Pocono Produce and Little Peace Farm in Schuylkill County, Oman said.
The Koehler Farms beef is not only local but tastes better, Oman said.
“We’re so proud that it’s Bethlehem beef and that it’s brewer’s beef,” Mike Fegley said.
With beef a much higher-priced commodity than used beer grains, it works out that only Brew Works pays Koehler Farms in their exchange. The farm’s beef also costs more than Brew Works’ previous beef, but it’s an added cost the company is willing to pay, company President Jeff Fegley said.
“It’s a feel-good right now,” he said. “We know what they’re doing with their beef and where it’s coming from.”