When you’re brewing with grains, one fact is inescapable: you’re going to need to crush them. So, let’s explore five ways to do just that, ranging from the thrifty to the unconventional to the sacred Grain Mill End Game.
Homebrew Store Crush – Buy em’ Crushed
And let’s start with number one: not crushing your grains at all. Get your local home brew store to do it, and I’ve been doing this for years. You can’t beat being able to mash in right away.
With a bag of pre-milled grains, there are some concerns about freshness. Will the milled grains stale over time? Well, let me tell you that if you keep the milled grain bags sealed, they’ll stay fresh for a good while.
I’ll typically pick up four or five bags of milled grains at once and then use them over the course of a month or so and have not noticed an issue. Pluses: the grain is ready right away on brew day and you get the consistent crush of the homebrew store grain mill.
Downsides: well, the consistent crush of the homebrew store grain mill is good, but I prefer a much finer crush than I would get at the homebrew store and that’s just not an option.
So, let’s assume you do want to crush grains yourself. Perhaps you have a supply of grains at home and you don’t want to run back to the store every time you want to use them. So, that brings us to option number two: the rolling pin method.
Rolling Pin Method
Now, don’t laugh. This is a totally legit way to crush your grains. All you need is a rolling pin and a plastic bag. So, first measure out the amount of grains you need and place them in the bag.
Then, using the rolling pin, crush the grains by rolling it back and forth over the bag. Now, you might need to adjust the pressure that you apply and the number of times you roll to get the rough crush size that you want. And you can see here, it’s done pretty well. It’s a little bit inconsistent.
There are some kernels not crushed still, perhaps with a bit more application, I could have ground this up a bit better. Now, to be sure, if you’re brewing a five-gallon batch of all-grain, this method is well, it’s a little long-winded.
But if you’re looking to crush a few ounces of grain for an extract brew day, this might be all you need. So, useful in a pinch with a small amount of grain.
Now, what about option three: a coffee blade grinder? In this method, just add the grains into the grinder cup and pulse the grinder a few times until you get the crush size you want.
Simple enough, but there is a fundamental problem here. This is a grinder, not a mill, that crushes. And what’s the impact of that? Well, the point of crushing grains is to crack open the grain. We want to expose as much of the endosperm as possible while keeping the hull as intact as possible.
That’s not what a coffee grinder does; it pummels its contents into oblivion. So, that’s it. A no to the coffee grinder idea. Well, actually, while a coffee blade grinder may not be the best option for crushing barley or other grains with a husk, it can be a valid approach for malts that don’t have a husk, like wheat malt.
You can grind that wheat malt to powder if you want. I held back on this a little bit, but this is really nicely grinded and would be great to add into a mash, perhaps with some rice holes. So, a coffee blade grinder works but only when you’re looking to grind rather than to crush.
A Grain Mill – Drill Powered
So, let’s move on to a tool designed for this very purpose: a Grain Mill. I’ve owned this monster mill for years now, and it does a nice job. It’s pretty simple to use.
It’s a two-roller system in this case, and you just connect a powered drill bit here to this chuck and you can set the size of the gap between the two rollers using a knob on the side.
Simply use a feeler gauge like this to set the roller width. I recommend a corded drill. This needs a lot of torque. I tried using an electric drill and I ended up blowing it out, literally smoke coming out of the vents here.
So, this is a lot of torque needed. Stick with the corded drill. Cooperate with it. You simply rest it on a bucket. It’s quite easy to use, it’s pretty reliable. The only real issue I have is that the roller gap doesn’t really stay in place. I do need to keep checking it every few runs through this with my feeler gauge.
And the crush consistency is pretty good. Because I do have this roller adjustment, I can get the exact crush size that I need. So, if I want to finer crush, if I brew in the bag, which I do, I can get that with this.
Sometimes I will double crush this as well. These rollers, they’re pretty thin, stuff does sneak through, so a second crush seems to give me more consistent results.
I know there is a three roller model of the Monster Mill, and perhaps that would help with consistency.
Grain Mill $$$
Okay, now finally option five: that’s a dedicated Grain Mill with its own motor and its own stand, like this Mill from Blichman Engineering.
My first exposure to this was a review on Short Circuited Brewing, and I’ve no joke re-watched this video with Brian demoing this Grain Mill at least a half dozen times since.
The folks at Short Circuited Brewing were kind enough to let me try it out myself. It’s finally here, my precious!
These grain mills offer a lot of advantages. Having their own motor means I don’t need to pull out my drill every time I want to crush something. It’s simply the flick of a switch.
They come with bigger rollers, and the fact that these rollers are bigger means a faster and more consistent crush. So, I’m not going to need to double crush with this.
The Blichman Mill in particular comes with two three-inch rollers made from hardened steel, and unlike drill-powered mills like my Monster Mill, in this case, both rollers are powered.
So, that improves speed and performance. There’s not just one roller coming along for the ride, and the gap size can be adjusted with a knob rather than fiddling around with a feeler gauge. And when you adjust it, it stays in that place. I don’t need to come back later and readjust it.
This thing is also super fast. That was the thing that really surprised me. I can crush 12 pounds a minute through these things, which means I’ll need to use it for, well, only ever one minute because that’s about as much grain as I’m ever going to use.
But still, by default, this is setting seven on the mill. You actually calibrate this to be .055 of an inch gap between the rollers. Inches of weird and that in my system is a 10, so this is three below that, so this is a little bit finer than the default setting, but it’s perfect for brewing the bag because it gives me a nice mix of powder and then husks, and it’s super super consistent.
I’m very impressed with that.
Monster Mill vs. Blichman Mill
Let’s compare that to the Monster Mill. So, the two-roll Monster Mill on this side here, the Blichman on the top. In general, the Monster Mill is a little finer because I did set the rollers a little bit closer together, I think, but it’s done a nice job.
There are a few little uncrushed pieces here and there, which is why I favor the double crush. This is the single crush with the Blickman. Super consistent. They both do a pretty decent job. The Blickman one was significantly easier to use, of course. So, this option is the fastest, it’s the most consistent, and it’s the most convenient.
The rather obvious drawback is price. This is a serious piece of kit and you’ll want to be crushing grains regularly to justify the purchase. So, that’s five options for crushing or not crushing your grains. Have I missed any of your favorite methods or hacks? Let me know.