I imagine if I was a pro it would be necessary for me to make pellets. As a home BREWER, I hate pellets. The last thing I want to do with my home grown hops to make them into sludgy pellets. I'm curious why you want to make them into pellets. Beyond storage issues, I don't see the advantage for the home brewer. Not trying to pick a fight, just curious.
Pelletizing is done for two primary reasons, volume reduction and oxidation prevention. You can fit a 4 x 4 x 4 pallet of hop cones into a few 1 cubic foot boxes after pelletizing, which saves a lot of cooler space. You also significantly reduce surface area so there is less oxidation occurring to spoil the hops.
Most brewers also prefer that sludge to whole hop cones. It is easier to clean out and you don't loose as much wort when you pull the sludge out compared to the whole cones. Wort = beer = profit.
That said, making pellets is a pain and requires beefy equipment. If you grow your own, make hop plugs for storage if you want to reduce volume.
One other note, you really don't loose lupulin in the pelletizing process, if you do it right. We send them through the hammermill and convey it directly into the pelletizer. Once it is pelletized, its locked in. Where you lose the most is during drying and when you pull it out of the dryer.
////////Most brewers also prefer that sludge to whole hop cones. It is easier to clean out and you don't loose as much wort when you pull the sludge out compared to the whole cones. Wort = beer = profit.////
Huh. I'm not challenging this fact, just surprised. I knew about the storage issue. As a former business owner, I get the value of space. Less oxidation makes sense. I just remember the first time I used leaf and thought, "I'm never going back." Yes I lose some beer, but I'm a home brewer, it's not for money. Appreciate the answer GVH Dan, I'm learning a lot from your contributions.
There is a jig online, and perhaps even on here for making pellet like plugs using an empty shell casing if I recall. You basically stick a couple of hop cones in this thing and push a rod or something through, and you end up with a tight little plug the size of a pellet or a little larger.
Naked, you're talking about flat die pellet mills. They really don't work. The problem is you need to keep the pellets below the same temperatures as when drying and the easiest way is to use liquid nitrogen vapor. That vapor is so cold that it condenses moisture out of the air which mixes with the hops and forms a paste/glue stronger than gorilla glue. Operate 15 minutes...clean for 30. You get pretty darn frustrated in a hurry.
The brick would probably work, but you need serious compression and I'm not sure how you could make a machine that could do that with out heating the hops up too much. Likewise, the bigger the brick, the less flexibility the brewer has.
They only need to be compressed enough to minimize air contact to reduce oxidation as much as possible. For GVH Dan they need to be reduced to save him storage and shipping volume. I don't expect a real storage issue at home, but I am sure I could come up with another cheap or free freezer to take care of that before I could buy a pellet press.
IIRC you can get decent pellets with a block of close grained hardwood like maple with a 1/2" hole drilled in it, a 1/2" dowel sanded just enough to slip fit, and a mallet. You could also use PVC pipe as your form, but may have to work harder on getting the dowel to slip fit.
That's mostly true. In reality, at the moment we make pellets because that's what brewers are used to seeing and using. Most of our harvest is turned into beer within 3 months of harvest, so pelletizing to reduce oxidation/extend shelf life isn't that important.
If you are trying to store, compaction is important. There is probably a minimum amount needed to reduce air contact, but I'm not sure what it is. Vacuum packing with a nitrogen flush is probably more important, though.
What kind/brand of a hammer mill can I find to make the hops powder? What size do you grind the hops to in order to send them to the pelletizer? Would you think I would need to grind it as fine to make a brick vs. a pellet?
What kind or brand? I don't have much experience with multiple brands. I'm sure there are quality differences, but I can't give you advice there. We've only had one, bought it used and spent a lot of time cleaning it.
For a brick...I'm not sure. You would have to experiment. My gut feel is that it should be the same size, but I don't know for sure.
Seriously, before you start running off in this direction, talk to a few of the brewers that are potential clients and ask them if this is a form they would accept. If the answer is no, don't bother. If the answer is yes or maybe, then move forward with the experiment. From the standpoint of oxidation, storage volume, etc. I don't see any problem with a brick. From the standpoint of usability, that's where it may get tricky.
I think I might be able to convince people that my powder brick is as good as pellets. I'll just have to revolutionize the industry, that's all. No big whoop.
I have seen a company called Meadows Mills. They make hammer mills and steel brush mills. They don't look very well made to be honest. They are under 2K without a drive system. There is another company called Schutte Buffalo. I'm ready to dive in head first! It's too close to harvest at this point to be useful this year, but I need to think about next year.
Well, best of luck in that venture. I'm not saying it can't be done, but in my experience customers usually want what they want... You'll have to convince them there is something special about the brick that is better for them then pellets. In this case, its a locally grown product but you still have to convince them.
To be honest, the more I think about it, the more reservations I have. To get the mill powder to compress into a brick, you need to add about the same amount of pressure as the pellet. True, the equipment would be easier to build but think of the extra heat build up inside the brick. That won't dissipate and it will degrade the hops in the core of that brick. Then brewers that use the brick won't get the flavor or bittering they expect based on the chemical analysis.
Anyway, before you run out and buy a hammer mill, I can send you a contact of a group setting up a processing plant in the Northeast. It may be more cost effective for you if their prices are right.