With my local homebrewing shop the other side of town and not having a car at the moment, getting brewing supplies can be a bit of a hassle. So it got me to thinking about milling grain at home and so I’d have to get a grain mill.
Before I make any big homebrewing purchase, I like to do my research and so I’ve been looking into whether or not having a grain mill is worth it for most homebrewers.
A grain mill for homebrewing is useful when you brew on a very frequent basis and want to buy a lot of grains at one time. Most Brewing stores will charge you $0.30 to mill a pound of grain and you can get a $20+ discount when you buy unmilled grains in bulk which you can store for months.
You might think that I crushed the answer there, pun intended, but I actually found out a lot more during my research which I’d like to share below.
What does a grain mill do?
If you are brewing beer with the all-grain method then milling your grain, whether you do it or someone else does it for you is very important.
During the mashing phase of brewing, you are trying to release as much fermentation sugar into your wort so that you can brew the best beer possible with the ingredients you have.
If you were to drop full uncrushed kernels of grain and use this as your grist, then you probably wouldn’t get a lot of fermentable sugars released, if any at all.
By milling or crushing the grain you break the kernels open (or much more than that if you want) which allows your mash water to soak into them and help extract the right amount of fermentation back into the wort.
Reasons to buy a grain mill
For most homebrewers, milling grains at home isn’t necessary. You can easily buy pre-crushed grains in your local homebrewing store or crush them there yourself in the grain mill(s) provided.
However, like in my case, there may come a time where waiting in line or getting to that store is no longer an option.
Reason #1 – Cost
Of course, this was the thing I was most interested in finding out. Would it actually save me money to buy my own grain and crush it?
Truth is, if we take an example from Morebeer.com, just buying your average amount of grain for a batch isn’t going to save you a who heap if you bought it uncrushed.
So with a saving of 30 cents on each pound, it’s hardly going to pay for the mortgage if you just crush your own grain, but when you look at the option of buying grain in bulk, the savings are vastly different.
So, roughly speaking you are going to save $20 on every bulk purchase of grain. Just remember that Morebeer.com is an online brewing supply store and their prices are much cheaper even for the milled grain not sold on bulk. I checked out a few Homebrewing stores and found that some of them offered a discount on bulk, but many didn’t.
Share the costs around
You may be thinking that you probably couldn’t get through 55 pounds of all the grains that you frequently brew with, you only need a small fraction of that from month to month.
If this is the case, then you can get in touch with your local homebrewing community and ask if anyone already has an agreement where they buy in bulk and then share it among several people. If they don’t do this, perhaps you can start the ball rolling. Homebrewing clubs are a great place for this.
Reason #2 – Brewing frequency
Another reason which should push you off the fence is how often you brew. I remember having a in-depth conversation with the head brewer of a Hong Kong brewery at a recent Beer convention, a little too drunk to remember his name, but I remember what he said.
I asked him how did he develop his craft so quickly and he simply said that he brewed every single week without fail for several years.
If this is something which you are already doing or even building up to do, then having an almost unlimited supply of grains on hand is vital. So buying in bulk and milling your own grain is not only going to save you money, it’ll save you the trip to your homebrewing store every week.
Reason #3 – Storage
Another reason to crush your own grain, and also buy in bulk, is if you have the space and the right conditions to store the grain in.
The thing is, if you buy a lot of grain at once, crush it and then seal it in a vacuum-sealed bag (see Amazon for details), you can store it for months before you have to use it. This is of course only possible if you have space, but it’s a great way to cut down your brew day by simply having the grain on hand, crushed and ready to go!
If you want to know more about storing your grains properly, check out my article here.
Reason #4 – Brewing Control
Perhaps the strongest reason for getting your own grain mill is the old adage, “if you want something doing right, do it yourself!”
Your local homebrewing store may give you a great service and be well supplied, but if their grain mill can’t give you the right crush or worse, is always occupied or even worse, breaks down frequently…well that’s a sign.
Things to remember when buying a grain mill
Now, not all homebrewers were born equal, and I’m of course referring to their home breweries. Although the actual grain mill is quite compact, you want to have enough space to mill your grain in.
The major issues are simply storing the grain when you buy it in bulk, even if you are using the particular quantity you are crushing at the moment. Also, I learned this from bitter experience, you can get a bit of dust off of the grain mill if your gap is quite narrow. Not great in confined spaces.
Don’t be cheap
As we both know, this hobby can cost you an arm and a leg if you get carried away. So, saving a few dollars here and there is necessary.
However, don’t be tempted to go for a dirt-cheap grain mill. Invest in something a little more high-end just to make sure you aren’t fixing it every time you use it, or even buying a replacement a few months down the line.
Get a big hopper
One thing that everyone has told me when I talk about grain mills, is to make sure that you get the largest capacity hopper that you can. It should be large enough to comfortably hold the average amount of grains you brew with, and a little bit more.
This is just going to save you time because you won’t have to keep stopping and filling up the hopper again and again. Think of your back!
Some assembly required
Unless you are buying a grain mill directly from someone else second-hand or from the homebrewing store pre-assembled, you’ll need to put it together yourself. You’ll also need to attach it to a base of some sort (but you can also buy these).
It’s just something to remember, because you may have to set aside a little bit of time to get the unit installed and ready to mill before you can actually run any grains through it.
What type of grain mill is best?
What I’m looking for is something which is a named brand, not too cheaply made and has the option to use a drill instead of a hand crank. So, although there are other options out there, I have my eye on the Malt Muncher (3 roller)
You can check out the latest prices and availability on Amazon. But just be aware that there have been a couple of good deals on this product on Morebeer.com recently, so if you act fast you could snap it up at a discount.
Crush settings for your grain mill
As I said before, the great advantage of milling your own grain on your own grain mill is that you have total control over the crush. You can set your grain mill up and, if you always brew in the same way, you are ready to go every time you want to prepare your grains.
The credit card method
A really easy way to set up your brand new grain mill so that you can get a decent crush without brewing with flour, is to use a standard credit card.
What you need to do is to tighten your rolls until the gap is set small enough that you can fit a credit card between the rollers. It should be close enough that the credit card doesn’t fall through, but not so tight that you can’t get it out without damaging the card. In fact, as you pull it out the rollers should rotate.
This seems the best way to quickly check that your grain mill is set up and ready to go.
Where to buy grains in bulk?
If you really want to get bulk grains and your local homebrewing store can’t sell them in the right quantities or for the right price, you can check out the following websites.