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
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.
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.
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.