CHARLOTTE – Breweries only use grains like barley, oats, wheat, millet, rye and rice in the first step of the beer-making process – when they’re soaked in water to extract sugar. Some of what’s left is donated to local farmers, but a lot still goes to waste. Not any more.
Eric Westerduin and Sheera Bursch, co-founders of Calvin’s Craft Cookies, are upcycling those grains into nutrient-packed treats for dogs. The Charlotte-based duo has been making the treats since January thanks to used grains donated from Pilot Brewing, Town Brewing Co., The Unknown Brewing Company, Divine Barrel Brewing and The Suffolk Punch, among others.
The treats are peanut butter flax flavor and made of brewer’s grains, unbleached all-purpose flour, peanut butter and cinnamon. There is no meat, fillers or preservatives. The next flavor for release is apples and cheese.
Calvin’s Craft Cookies are packaged in recyclable aluminum cans that each contain approximately 45 cookies and retail for $8.99 online and at breweries, veterinary clinics, pet grooming salons and pet supply stores across the Charlotte region. Every month, 15% of proceeds are donated to a different local animal rescue group.
Treats stay fresh for at least six months unopened and at least two months opened. Reusable lids are sold separately for $1 each. Cans also come in a four-pack with a reusable lid included for $32.99.
Westerduin said he came up with the idea for Calvin’s Craft Cookies (named after his mini dachshund) after winning a contest to brew his own beer at Unknown Brewing Company. That’s when he learned about the beer-making process and what happens to all the leftover grains.
“I thought, there must be a better way to reuse these grains and recycle them because they’re still so nutritious,” he said.
An entrepreneur with a background in business and finance, Westerduin has started a handful of small businesses over the years. He currently works at Suite Plants, a company he co-founded in 2012 that’s based in Charlotte and manufactures custom living plant wall systems for indoor and outdoor spaces.
“In the past, I’ve had other businesses that I’ve started and run, but this is the most rewarding and the most fun,” Westerduin said.
Bursch is the director of marketing at Suite Plants but was a veterinary technician and veterinary nurse for many years. Before agreeing to join Calvin’s Craft Cookies, Bursch said she took a hard look at the grains that would go into the treats from a veterinary health standpoint.
“During the brewing process, they’ve taken out the sugar and what you’re left with are these really nutritious grains,” Bursch said. “They have protein. They have fiber. They have carbs. They’d be really good dog treats. Plus, the grains they get for craft breweries are such high quality.”
As soon as Bursch and Westerduin got their hands on some brewer’s grain, they began experimenting in their own kitchens and testing variations of treats on their dogs. It didn’t take long for them to nail down the final recipe.
“That was the key,” Bursch said. “If the dogs didn’t like it, it wasn’t going to work out.”
When it came to packaging, they knew they wanted Calvin’s Craft Cookies to be different. Westerduin said most dog treats sold in stores are packaged in single-use plastic bags, which didn’t fit with their sustainable and eco-friendly brand, so they decided to do beer cans instead.
Not only are the cans aluminum and recyclable, but they’re also eye-catching at local breweries and pet stores.
“I think we’re in the position where if breweries had a box of Milk-Bones behind the bar, no one would care, but they see the cans and they’re like, ‘Oh my God!’” Westerduin said.
Jeff Hudson, who owns Pilot Brewing in Plaza Midwood with his wife, Rachael, said grains are one of four main ingredients of beer. The grains are soaked in water to extract sugar and the sugary liquid is used later in the fermentation process to make alcohol. After the liquid is drained, the grains are set aside and the beer-making process continues.
Hudson donates his spent grains to a farmer who uses them to feed his livestock, but he was happy to also give some to Bursch and Westerduin.
“It really was no sweat,” Hudson said. “They only use so little, so it’s not hard to share it with people like that.”
Bursch and Westerduin said breweries like Pilot Brewing have been generous with donating their grains, and that’s helped with production. Since starting Calvin’s Craft Cookies earlier this year, Bursch said they’ve been doing everything themselves, from picking up the grains to making, canning and delivering the treats. It’s manageable now, she said, but they may have to find a co-packing facility in the future to handle the demand.
“Hopefully, we grow enough to need that,” Bursch said.
“Charlotte is such a craft brewery and dog-friendly city, this should be a home run for us,” Westerduin said.