Monday, December 26, 2011

Milling Grain for Home Brewing

My first home-milled malted barley. (I feel like a proud parent!)
Now that I have grown accustomed to all-grain brewing, it was only a matter of time before I bought a grain mill. I had mail ordered a kit where I suspect my mash efficiency was diminished by a bad milling. I had seen my local homebrew shop's hand-drill powered mill sometimes work, sometimes not. And a couple of weeks ago I found a great online shop in Portland, F.H. Steinbart Company, who free-ship organic grains to Washington State. But, since they don't offer milling of their organic Gambrinus Pilsner malt, Santa decided to bring me a mill this year.

My Crankandstein 3D homebrewing mill with hopper and platform.
The consensus among homebrew authors, forum contributors, YouTube video bloggers, and product web sites, is that the best milling comes from opening the barley's husk without shredding, then cracking/smashing the inner meat; not making a lot of powder, and not leaving a lot of un-crushed large pieces. Historically, the mill that had the overall best reviews was the Phil Mill, a small hand-cranked single roller & curved plate combination, which, sadly is no longer manufactured. Food processors, blenders, and rolling pins get universally poor reviews. There are a lot of two-roller systems on the market, starting at around $100: Millar's Barley Mill, Schmidling MaltMill, the Cereal Killer Grain Mill, and the Barley Crusher Malt Mill. There are even designs for build-your-own systems like the Beerbarian Malt Mill.

I found more advanced three-roller designs from Monster Brewing Hardware, and Crankandstein to have the most thought-out approach to milling grains for homebrewing. (I chose the Crankandstein for it's sturdy and beautiful design, and for the killer hopper made from what looks like a galvanized poultry watering tank.) The beauty of the three-roller design is that the top two rollers are factory set at .070" uniform spacing, perfect for pressing open the husks and softening the whole grains. The bottom roller is adjustable by .005" spacings so the second pass pulverizes the grain starch, but leaves the split husks whole. With the right adjustments, you get what should be a perfect, and consistent mash.

My eight gallon mash tun/boil kettle at capacity.
Having achieved a perfect crush, a roomier mash tun is next on my wish list. If I plan to brew higher gravity recipes I'll need to either scale up my mashes or scale down my batches.

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