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I buy most of my grain un-ground in bulk, because I don’t have a car my local HBS is way across town.

Before brewing, I’ve been grinding grain using a food processor (with blades) until each kernel is, on average, in three or four pieces. This probably isn’t optimal, though, and I have some general questions about how to do it better.

How should I be grinding my grain?

Is there an affordable way to grind it “the right way” at home (that doesn’t involve spending hours with a rolling pin)?

Is there a particular grit I should be shooting for if I use the food processor?

How do other people who don’t buy pre-ground manage the grinding?

Cheers!

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For those that live closer to your brew shop, you may be able to use their mill. I buy my base grain from the LHBS by the bag, then I just return with the partially-full bag to have it crushed (and buy a few specialty malts) on the day before brew day. They actually suggested this practice to me (buying in bulk and bringing it back in for crushing); I didn't ask. –  Dustin Rasener Apr 3 '12 at 23:38

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

If you're grinding a small amount of grain for a partial mash or speciality grain additions to an extract brew, you could use a Corona mill. They don't provide a particularly good crush, and your efficiency will suffer, but if the bulk your fermentables comes from extract, it won't matter too much. And it'll be miles better than a food processor.

You can often find these mills and second-hand and thrift stores for next to nothing.

A better, but more expensive, option is a roller mill like the JSP malt mill. This sort of mill will produce a much better crush, will process grain quickly and is adjustable.

If you want to learn more about milling grain, Braukaiser has a great article.

Edit: Based on the comment from @brewchez I withdraw my statements regarding crush quality from a Corona mill. My opinion was based on hearsay, his on experience, so I will defer to him.

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I have been using a corona mill for many years. All the bad press it gets is a myth, don't believe it. Other malt mills are certainly better and I mean to upgrade someday. But the primary advantage is that they tend to crush faster than the corona. The corona can be a pain when trying to mill 15-20lbs of malt. I get 75-80% efficiency. I've never had a stuck mash, nor tasted an astringency. –  brewchez Apr 3 '12 at 0:25
    
Phenomenal article, thanks! –  Zac B Apr 3 '12 at 15:37
    
Nice. Upvoted. 15 characters is tough to get when you just want to be short and sweet. –  brewchez Apr 3 '12 at 23:59

If you are stuck without a mill, try using a rolling pin, instead of a food processor. The rolling pin should at least crack the grain open. You might try crushing grain on top of a thin towel. The towel will stop the grain from rolling around while you try to crush it. It will take you a very long time to crush a "full mash" worth of grain using the rolling pin method.

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A grain mill is definitely recommended over using a food processor - you want to actually crush the grain rather than chop it up.

Crushing the grain breaks up the endosperm to provide a greater surface area, improving efficiency, but without producing excessive amounts of flour. A grain mill, particularly the 3 roller type, doesn't tear up the husks, but keeps them relatively whole. The husks help with filtering the mash and lautering, and in theory, not crushing the husks keeps their surface area lower, reducing likelihood of extracting tannins.

Motorizing the mill can be as simple as attaching a fairly powerful drill in the region of 1 hp , 700 W, or can be more involved, such as connecting a motor and a couple of sheaves.

There are lots of references on the net for motorizing the mill. This one at BYO inspired me to build mine.

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The best way to do it is with a grain mill. By buying in bulk, you can use the savings to amortize the cost of a mill pretty quickly. If you have a friend who also brews, you can go in together on a mill to cut the cost. The ease of use and increased efficiency from a proper crush will make you glad you got the right tool for the job.

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It's a possibility. Any recommendations on where/what to buy? Thanks! –  Zac B Apr 2 '12 at 16:00
    
I use a JSP adjustable and it's served me well for over 10 years and hundreds of batches. There are other good mills out there, too. –  Denny Conn Apr 2 '12 at 19:21

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