Former Plainsman editor starts dog treat company with spent beer grains

Niki Doyle and dog Tiger, partners in "Booze-Free Dog Treat" company Drunken Dog, are seen here getting drunk on Auburn Spirit at Toomer's Corner.

One Auburn graduate has found a way to combine her love of baking, brew and bow-wows and turn it into a unique entrepreneurial venture. Niki Doyle, ’07, a former editor of The Auburn Plainsman, recently started her own company called Drunken Dog Treats based out of her Huntsville home. She, along with her dog / taste-tester Tiger, have been baking dog treats made with spent beer grains for the past several months.

The concept came over a conversation with her boyfriend, Mark Nugent, last Christmas. One of Doyle’s neighbors delivered some homemade dog treats made from spent grain, and Tiger went crazy for them. Soon after, Nugent gave the same treats to his dog, Jezebel, and the couple thought it would be worth trying to make the treats at home.

“I tried it, and the dogs loved them,” Doyle said. “We started cutting them into shapes, and Mark suggested I sell them.”

Since then, Doyle and Nugent – a senior in civil engineering at Auburn – have been baking the treats using spent grains from local breweries near Huntsville. Straight to Ale, Yellowhammer and Old Black Bear have all contributed grains. When baking, Doyle said Jezebel and Tiger frequently sit at the edge of the kitchen begging for her to throw them a scrap.

Doyle has found or made unique cookie cutters for dog-appealing shapes like bones, cats and even high-heeled shoes. And with names like “Squirrel!,” “A Cat Named Snack” and “Best in Show” dogs aren’t being discriminatory on which treats are favorites.

Doyle, the assistant managing editor of digital content for The Huntsville Times, is baking, packaging and selling the treats in her spare time. An avid baker (and sharer of her baked goods), Doyle says it’s a great way to enjoy her baking hobby without making herself and her colleagues gain weight. For now, she’s content with it being a hobby.

A screen shot from DrunkenDogTreats.com.

“I have spent a lot of time and have taken a lot of care in this, so it’s very near and dear to me,” Doyle said. “But I don’t want it to be a sole source of income. I think I love it too much for that.”

If it were to become something she relied on to pay bills, Doyle said she fears it would become something different.

“I’m taking it at a reasonable pace and keeping it at what I can manage,” she said. “I want it to grow, but I love my full-time job and have no interest in leaving.”

For now, the business is paying for itself, something Doyle is excited about. “At some point, I need to turn a profit, but I’m thrilled I’m breaking even right now.”

Having recently invested in newer equipment, such as a stand-alone freezer and a food dehydrator, Doyle is able to bake more treats in a shorter time.

The treats haven’t received any complaints from Tiger, Jezebel or any other four-legged customer, and Doyle reassures humans there is no alcohol in the treats, despite the clever company name.

“It’s catchy,” she said. “My mother wasn’t crazy about it and tried to talk me into naming it something else.”

Ingredients include spent grain, flour, honey, eggs and peanut butter, she said. If sugar was added, it would be a similar taste to a peanut butter granola bar.

While not necessarily tasteful to humans, the treats are edible by anyone. “The grains haven’t come in contact with alcohol,” Doyle said. She answers similar questions about the treats on her website.

And yes, she makes Auburn-themed treats, too. The treats, shaped like tiger paws, are packaged with orange and blue ribbon. As a responsible business owner, she also makes elephant-shaped treats packaged with red and houndstooth ribbon.

“It hurts my soul a little bit, but I have to be fair to all my customers,” she said. “It does hurt me to market to toward the University of Alabama.” (Keep in mind, Doyle’s dog is named Tiger.)

The treats are currently sold in several Huntsville stores including Paradise Pet Spa and Resort, The Little Green Store at Monte Sano and at Salon Allure. Treats can also be purchased online at drunkendogtreats.com.

For more information, visit the company’s Twitter and Facebook page.

 

Victoria Cumbow is a 2008 Auburn graduate. She’s a Communications Specialist with HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville and a freelance journalist. Find her online at victoriacumbow.com  and follow her on Twitter @victoriacumbow.

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