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Old 12-14-2007, 04:12 PM   #1
McCall St. Brewer
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Default Why buy a grain mill?

Or, to be more specific, why do you suppose most folks here report that their efficiency goes up when they start crushing their own grain?

Obviously buying a grain mail can save money over the long run-- you can buy grain in bulk and even smaller amounts are cheaper if you gring it yourself.

But why can't/won't homebrew suppliers do as good a job as people can do with their own grain mills?

I have read posts here by folks who live near me who report that the LBHS I use does a crappy job of crushing grain. I don't know very much beyond the basics about crushing grain. Is it possible that people get good results at home because their grain mills aren't used very much and hence are not likely to be worn out?

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Old 12-14-2007, 04:19 PM   #2
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It's not a matter of being "worn out" in most cases. I think when a LHBS gives a poor crush it's more likely a matter of them not taking the time to set the mill to give the proper crush. They may set it to a certain gap and never change it, and often that gap may be too wide. They don't want to run the risk over-crushing the grain, otherwise customers will get stuck sparges and come back complaining, so chances are they are conservative. Besides, what motivation do they have to push the limits on a finer crush? If your efficiency is better, you buy less grain, and they make less money. I'm not saying that most of them would INTENTIONALLY give you a poor crush, but giving you a mediocre crush is 'safer' in general - enough to keep people from complaining about under-crushing, but also enough to keep people from complaining about stuck sparges.

My LHBS may not be a great example, because they're really pathetic in general, but their mill is this narrow single-roller piece of crap and the adjustment knob is busted. I really doubt it ever did a much better job, even when new, except for the adjustability part. It really does a terrible job of crushing, but nobody adjusts it and they don't seem to care enough to fix or replace it. In cases like that, yeah, using a less beat-up mill helps. But I would imagine most LHBS's are using a more decent mill and just not adjusting the crush sufficiently.

If you have your own grain mill you can easily adjust the crush on-the-fly to exactly the way you want it, and you can tweak it and experiment to figure out where the "sweet spot" is for your system, for maximizing efficiency without suffering stuck sparges. If you screw up and crush too fine, you've only got yourself to blame. If your LHBS over-crushed and you got a stuck sparge and spent several frustrated hours dealing with it, you'd probably complain, and then they'd probably have to do some combination of apologizing, replacing the grain, and/or losing you as a customer - none of which is great business for them.

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Old 12-14-2007, 04:22 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Funkenjaeger
It's not a matter of being "worn out" in most cases. I think when a LHBS gives a poor crush it's more likely a matter of them not taking the time to set the mill to give the proper crush. They may set it to a certain gap and never change it, and often that gap may be too wide. They don't want to run the risk over-crushing the grain, otherwise customers will get stuck sparges and come back complaining, so chances are they are conservative.

If you have your own grain mill you can easily adjust the crush on-the-fly to exactly the way you want it, and you can tweak it and experiment to figure out where the "sweet spot" is for your system, for maximizing efficiency without suffering stuck sparges.
Also you can buy your grains in bulk. 2 row costs $2 a pound at my LHBS. and that is Briess. I bought a bag of Muntons pale 2 for $49.99 this week when my mill came in. And that was without even shopping around. In 3 bags of grain my barley crusher is paid for and after that I save $1 a pound on base malts. But I used mine for the first time today. And I can tell the crush is much much better than the crushes I've got from NB or my LHBS.
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Old 12-14-2007, 04:24 PM   #4
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I think funken hit the nail on the head at least as far as my LHBS owner is concerned. He has a awesome mill but he is paranoid that someone might get a stuck sparge.

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Old 12-14-2007, 05:03 PM   #5
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I'm sure that the shop mill at the FLHBS I use is at least 30 years old and mills hundreds of pounds a day. My dad probably used it when he brewed in the late '70s. No matter how solid the thing is, or was, the wear can not have been kind to it. I've seen it down, and repaired, several times. There is no way the gap is still at .040 and no way the rollers still run true.

I honestly don't remember why I originally bought my mill - I used to use a different shop (which is no longer there), and they may have had a crush charge, or they may not have had a mill on premises.

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Old 12-14-2007, 05:50 PM   #6
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My LHBS actually has their mill set quite well. I get (or got) 75% efficiency each time I crushed my grains there. However, I still purchased my own mill. Why? So I can brew when I want to.

When I feel like baking bread I can open my pantry and choose from four or five different flours. I have a pound of good bread yeast in my freezer, and I have just about any other ingredient I might ever need or want to bake breads, pizza dough, whatever. When I wanted to brew beer, however, I had to plan out what I was going to make, when I was going to have an open slot in the schedule, when I had time to make the 25 minute drive to the store and basically run my brewing day like the invasion of Normandy. I now have a 55lb sack of Marris Otter in an airtight container, a small but workable selection of crystal malts and specialty grains and a couple of yeasts that will be good for another 4-6 months plus one or two that I've harvested.

I still plan my brewing days but I suspect it's going to be a lot more relaxed. And if I run into scheduling problems I can just put it off for another day or two. I don't have to worry about pre-crushed grains going stale or finding time to go pick up ingredients. Very cool.

Chad

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Old 12-14-2007, 05:58 PM   #7
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Personally i don't like spending 15 min in the LHBS crushing grain on a loud squeaky mill that you can tell is annoying everyone there. Also i like the idea of keeping grain at home and preparing what i need when I want.

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Old 12-14-2007, 06:17 PM   #8
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I have 110 pounds of Marris Otter and 55 pounds of Weyermann Pilsner…all for just under $100.

In the end I think it’s about gaining an extra measure of control over your brewery.

We move from straight extract to steeped grains to control color and flavor.
From Steeped grains to PM to increase that control and widen our recipe base.
From PM to all grain to gain maximum control over flavor, gravity, IBU’s and color.

Owning a mill simply takes one of the major factors about our brewing (the crush), out of the hands of others.

Plus, I love sticking my arm all the way to the bottom of a 55 pound sack of freshly opened grains.


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Old 12-14-2007, 06:24 PM   #9
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BM, I might have to start piggybacking on your bulk purchases - STL is only a 6 hour drive from me, and my LHBS just went up to $54.00 for 50# 2-row and "should be climbing more soon". Good thing I just bought a bag at $50.

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Old 12-14-2007, 06:30 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chad
. And if I run into scheduling problems I can just put it off for another day or two. I don't have to worry about pre-crushed grains going stale or finding time to go pick up ingredients. Very cool.

Chad
That was a major factor for me also. Plus I hope to break even and start saving money sometime around 2045.
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