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food waste

This Startup Turns Beer Waste into Fancy Vegan Smoothies

Wasting beer is not cool—but maybe beer waste is.

Becky Hughes

Photos courtesy of Canvas

Beer is great for a lot of things—cooking, ponging, shoe-chugging—but it's not good for wasting. Hell, even the shittiest beer deserves to be drank. But if you've ever taken a brewery tour, you might have noticed one glaring step in the process: All that barley used for the beer's base gets dried, cracked, boiled and steeped… then the remains simply get tossed. Kind of like the vegetables from a batch of stock, they give all their goodness to the liquid, and they're, well, spent. The beer-making process has operated this way since basically forever ago, and "spent grain" has been either trashed or transported to farms and fed to livestock.

That wastefulness wouldn't stand for Sarah Pool, beer enthusiast and former CEO of Pacific Superfood Snacks. She was intent on finding a way to make use of the spent barley so all that fibrous grain wouldn't get scrapped—and now she's doing just that with Canvas.

Canvas founder Sarah Pool. Photo courtesy of Canvas

The start-up is blending up spent grain (they call it "saved" grain) with cashews, coconut milk, pea protein, and flavorings like matcha and turmeric (very au courant), bottling it in some Rothko-lookin'-ass packing, and selling it via Kickstarter.

"Brewers do their thing, they make beer," she explains, "and they don't have time to think about what to do with the leftover grain...The grains have been making this amazing product—beer—but what's leftover is just as amazing. Here's a ton of fiber and protein, sitting there, waiting to become better."

READ MORE: This Pizza Was Made Out of Beer, and It's Actually Pretty Healthy

Once Pool's aha moment struck, she had to sort out the details. "The grain is highly perishable, so we had to figure out how to solve that problem," she tells me. "Once we figured that out, we saved the grain, it became a question of what we could turn it into—and Canvas was born."

The result is something between a thick nut milk and Soylent—a bottle clocks in at around 250 calories, so it's more of a snack than a full meal replacement. The way Pool describes it, "It's balanced nourishment, a quick fix, whenever you need it. We drink it for breakfast every day. It's not a meal replacement, and it's not a typical plant milk—it's really creating a new category in general."

READ MORE: These Belgian Brewers Are Turning Wasted Bread Into Tasty Beer

It should be noted that Canvas isn't a Kickstarter-made brand, per se—they're fully backed by ZX Ventures, the disruptive growth arm of AB InBev.

"We knew in order to pull this off, we needed the biggest, best partner. We're really an independent startup within AB InBev—Canvas has its own identity, it's own culture and style," Pool insists. A pretty genius pairing, when you think about it—the big beer conglomerate has an opportunity through Canvas to make an appeal to food-waste-conscious, small-business-loving, Kickstarter-hard-on-having youths. "The process of figuring out how to save the grain is cost-intensive. Having AB get behind us, and say, 'There's gotta be a way to do this' is huge."

The product is for sale on Kickstarter now, but Canvas will be manning their own ecommerce site as of September 15th. Canvas' end-game? To make use of the 8 million pounds of spent grain that are being wasted annually, and to turn that grain into a solution for even wider-reaching problems. Pool says, "We're in the midst of an obesity epidemic, a third of the world's population is malnourished—there's so much that can be done with spent grain."

"It's not about making a product on a shelf," Pool tells me. "It's about making a big impact."