Barley Crusher Grain Mill Review

Part of going all-grain is deciding whether or not to invest in a grain mill. Grain mills offer some nice advantages to the homebrewer:

  • Control over the crush size
  • The ability to buy grain in bulk and store it without losing freshness
  • Consistency in the crush

Believe it or not, it took me almost 5 years of brewing all-grain to buy one. Since I’ve always had a local homebrew store nearby where I could crush my grains, I haven’t needed my own mill.

Since I now bounce between two homebrew stores where the crushes vary, and sometimes even vary within one store, I got fed up with the inconsistency and decided to purchase The Barley Crusher.

Barley Crusher Features

After looking at a handful of models, I decided on the barley crusher because of its good reviews in the homebrew forums. At $115 it’s not a small investment, but grain mills can easily get above $200 so it’s not on the higher end of the price range.

It comes with a 7 lb capacity aluminum hopper. If you want a 15 lb hopper, the total cost comes to $138. I decided to save $23 and do the minimal extra effort of refilling the smaller hopper. I normally don’t have large grain bills and have been brewing smaller batches recently anyways. Besides, I could always build an extension on top of the 7 lb hopper if I really need it.

The Barley Crusher is a pretty simple device. Its components are:

  • The hopper
  • The mill body which houses the rollers
  • Two steel rollers
  • Drive shaft for the crank or a drill
  • Two djustment knobs
  • A wooden base for mounting on top of a bucket, which catches the grain

Barley Crusher Adjustment Knob

Drive shaft and adjustment knob

Barley Crusher Rollers

2 rollers below the hopper

The unit comes preassembled so all you have to do is hook up your handle and you’re ready to mill. Before you do that though, you should really measure the gap between the rollers. I did this using a feeler gauge from the auto parts store.

The Barley Crusher instructions say that the gap is pre-set at .039″, but after measuring it I found that it was actually at .035″.

A smaller gap will give you a finer crush which usually boosts efficiency. The drawback is that you start to make more flour which can make lautering a PITA and you risk shredding the husk which could lead to off-flavors. It’s a balancing act and every homebrewer has their preference. I went with 0.038″.

Adjusting the mill is easy. You loosen two screws and then turn the adjustment knobs on each side until the gap width is where you want it, verifying it with the feeler gauge. It’s important to measure the gap at both ends for uniformity.

Using the barley crusher

Feeling rustic and more connected to my brewing, I decided to mill my first batch of grains the old school way with the hand crank. That was fun for about 30 seconds. I removed the handle and reached for my Porter Cable cordless drill. Ah…relief…

There are the Popeyes out there that enjoy milling 20 lbs of grain by hand, but most people go with a mechanized solution. The simplest way it to just to use a standard corded or cordless drill like I did. You don’t need any special attachments – the drill chuck will clamp right onto the mill shaft.

This method has its caveats, however. The Barley Crusher recommends 300-500 RPM,but many drills operate at close to 2000 RPM.

What you want is low speed and high torque. My drill has two speed settings, the low one operating at 350 RPM which is perfect for the mill. On the low torque setting it can’t crush a thing, but on the high torque setting of 440 in-lbs it eats the grain like a fat kid eats a Big Mac.

Cordless drill with barley crusher

Powering with a cordless drill

Barley Crusher with handle attachment

Powering with the hand crank

With the full 7 lbs of grain in the hopper, the drill has no problem crushing the grain and does so in about 30 seconds. On lower torque settings the mill stalls and the grain needs to be added a small amount at a time.

The other option is to use a motor, sheave, and belt system like you see most homebrew stores using. This is a more much robust set-up but requires more work to build. At this time it’s not worth it to me, but many homebrewers love DIY projects so if you are interested in building one then BYO has a great how-to article.

Overall thoughts

Crushed grain from the barley crusher

The finished product

So far, I love this thing. I say “so far” because I’ve only used it for 5 batches and a big determinant of quality is durability. If this thing starts the crap out after 2 years then it will sour my impression and I will certainly let you know.

One drawback is that during milling it is not very secure when resting on top of a bucket. You need to hang on tight to make sure it doesn’t topple over, especially when using the hand crank. Many people secure it to a stand to make it easier.

Overall this has been a very worthwhile investment. I now have complete control over my grain crush and even got a small boost in efficiency. It’s easy to use and requires no assembly. I highly recommend it.

About Billy Broas


He is the founder of The Homebrew Academy, a BJCP beer judge, and the homebrewing expert on the Rocky Mountain PBS television show Colorado Brews. He lives in the fine beer town of Denver, Colorado.

Comments

  1. Nice review, I just picked up one last week. Won’t get to use it for a while yet but this gives me some things to look out for. I live pretty far from the good HBS so being able to mill my own will be great, no more rolling pin and cutting board for me! (Yeah I had to do 3+ pounds of grain that way once, not a fun task)

    • Billy Broas says:

      Thanks Jason. I never actually did the rolling pin method but sort of feel like I missed out on something. I remember Charlie talking about it in TCJOH. I bet it gets old quick though. Let me know how you like the barley crusher.

  2. I still buy grain and mill it at the Home Brew Shop. I’m like you, bouncing between 2 or 3 shops (isn’t Denver wonderful to have so many brew shops?). So far the inconsistency of the grain crush hasn’t been an issue for me. There are too many other factors I can nail down before I get to worry about that variable I think.

    At some point, I would like something, though. Obviously the cost savings of buying grains would be huge. More than that, though, at some point I would like to play around with different crushes to see how it affects things.

    It seems to be that I heard (somewhat) recently on the Brewing Network that some commercial brewer did experimentation and found that a really course crush is actually better for mash efficiency than fine milling (contrary to what was expected).

    Anyway, thanks for the review. When I get around to looking for my own, I’ll be sure to try to remember this review.

    • Billy Broas says:

      Yea it’s hard to complain about inconsistency between these shops when some people don’t have any around them. Gotta’ love Denver.

      It is cool to experiment with different crush sizes, even if it’s just seeing the difference visually and being able to identify a fine crush from a coarse one.

      That’s interesting about the BN experiment, and I admit I’m not convinced that a finer crush makes as big a difference as everyone says. I wonder if perhaps the better efficiency came from a better lautering efficiency due to the more fluid grain bed. Guess it depends on how they measured it. Overall though, I’d rather have a coarser crush and NOT have a stuck sparge, even if it means sacrificing efficiency.

      Glad you liked the review.

  3. Ryan Murphy says:

    I’ve had one of these for the last year or so and love it. Having your own mill really helps in the consistency department in that even if you have a coarser crush, it is the same coarse crush as last time and you can plan for it.

    As for me I have the mill set pretty tight as I use a technique call “malt conditioning.” Basically, it is just a fancy term for slightly wetting the grains before milling. It allows for a tight gap without shredding the husks making for a little better efficiency and less stuck sparges.

    • Billy Broas says:

      Good to hear it’s worked well for you, and cool to hear feedback about malt conditioning. That’s another example of the control that owning your own mill gives you.

    • Kris Venema says:

      Ryan,

      How tight is your crush? And do you have any tips on how best to run it throught the mill (hand crank, drill at high or low rpm?).

      Thanks!

  4. Any update on how your mill is holding up?

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