“We get beautiful beer that we really should be drinking, but instead it ends up in soap,” says Kim Sanwald of Brickyard Farms in Delton.
That’s right, Kim Sanwald and her partner Valerie Lane make beer soap.
Brickyard Farms works the Grand Rapids brewery’s breakfast stout, centennial IPA, and a scotch ale they call “Dirty Bastard” into a lather of skin-loving suds.
“Beer has always been known as a skin and hair conditioner," says Sanwald. "So if you marry that with the quality bar that we’re already making, it was just a really nice combination.”
Brickyard Farms sells soaps at the Grand Rapids farmers market to make a little money during the winter.
Valerie Lane has been making soaps for about 13 years. She learned it from her late life partner Kate Burke.
Sanwald says to make great soap you have to be good at math and chemistry. Burke was an ace.
“And then in 2006, she was loading hay bales—straw bales out on the farm and broke her leg and unfortunately had a blood clot and died very suddenly,” Sanwald says. “Nobody expected that.”
Sanwald says Burke was also living with early onset Alzheimer's disease.
"And as she was struggling with that, she decided that she would write amazingly detailed notes about the soap making process," she says. "And thankfully for Val and I, those notes were so detailed that she decided to—‘Ok, I will try to do soaps.’”
Now Brickyard Farms makes about 28 different scented soaps and has sold more than 4,000 bars to Founders. Sanwald says beer may be good for the skin, but it’s not the easiest ingredient to work with.
“If you think of back in science class when you’re in elementary or junior high and you make those volcanoes out of clay and baking soda and vinegar. And you see that foaming reaction. That is how beer reacts to lye,” says Sanwald.
“And so you have to know to make it in larger pots because it’s going to gas off so significantly. You get probably a foot of foam initially and then it settles down and incorporates with the lye and so forth. So it’s more or less knowing how it’s going to behave.”
Surprisingly, the finished soap bar doesn’t smell that much like beer. But Sanwald says it’s the scent oils combined with that light note of beer that makes the bar unique.
“Centennial IPA—this has ground hops in it and if you smell it, it has a citrus scent that comes through. Kind of a grapefruit scent because of the ground hops,” Sanwald says.
“The ladies always like those nice aromatic soaps, but the guys always go, ‘Yeah, I don’t know.’ But when you tell them it’s beer soap...they just love it.”