Turning cheatgrass into Beer?! The idea may sound off the wall to most of you, but the fact is that several people have experimented with this idea and I think the outcome may surprise you. For several years the idea has been floating out there on the possibility of turning worthless cheatgrass into a palatable beer. The grass Bromus tectorum, goes by the common name of cheatgrass in North America and dropping brome in Europe. Cheatgrass is one of the main culprits in the type conversion of millions of acres to annual grass lands. Cheatgrass has single handedly increased the fire frequency in the western states by ten fold and there appears to be no end in sight. However, through the waves of the endless cheatgrass sea, there has come a golden possibility. Cheatgrass ale has the possibility to be the profitable future of cheatgrass control.
There have been several nutrient analyses and they revealed that cheatgrass has a biochemical composition similar to barley, which is the main element in beer production. Tye Morgan and Robert Blank of the USDA collected cheatgrass seeds for a test batch of beer. They used the decoction mash method during the brewing of the test beer. Morgan and Blank used the decoction mash method because it uses highly enzymatic aliquots with non-malted products to achieve full conversion of starches to sugars. The test beer that was brewed was then measured by a hydrometer and its original gravity was 1040. The beer was then measured after the fermentation process and the final gravity was 1008, which produced a beer with a 4.5% alcohol per volume rating, the average beer is between 4% to 6%. After the taste testing panel was formed and cheatgrass beer was consumed, it was decided that the flavor was similar to amber ales and it was a very consumable beer.
The economic value of harvesting and producing cheatgrass beer now needs to be analyzed. According to the Morgan and Blank research, the average seed densities for cheat grass are 3112 pound per hectare (2.5 acres). They also came up with the figure of 31 pounds of seed to produce one barrel of beer or 100 barrels respectively per hectare. The average barrel of beer is sold for $200.00; Morgan and Blank estimate a $20,000.00 gross profit per hectare.
If a person is creative and can keep other costs down, the possibility to make a good living on cheatgrass beer is out there. I am sure some entrepreneur can run with this idea and make it work, just don’t drive with it.
Chris Gee -CSR Fire Ecologist