We invented an automated home malting machine

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homemaltster

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My brewing buddy and I started working on a little project almost 2 years ago. As you all know, those little projects can sometimes spiral out of control...

We had a simple quest: to make a truly local, truly good beer from scratch. Finding the ingredients was our first stumbling block. We already had access to some hop plants, but quickly learned access to good quality malting barley isn’t an easy thing to get. We knew a thing or two about farming, so we decided that if we couldn’t buy it, we could grow our own grain, malt it, and brew with it.

Malting wasn’t as easy as we’d hoped either. Like other people that have tried their hand at home malting, we cobbled together a simple setup: some buckets, a fridge, and a homemade kiln. Our setup was as janky as they come, but we made malt and had fun doing it. The biological journey from barley to malt was fascinating, and interacting with our equipment was exciting.

After the first couple uses, we quickly realized our equipment’s limitations. Getting up at 3 AM to turn and moisten the grain got old fast. We decided to automate the process to allow us to malt without spending all of our time doing it.

The bigger problem was that our setup didn’t have the climate control capabilities to consistently make good malt. If the weather wasn’t just right (so, nearly always), the sprouting process got out of control, and molding could happen. To make high-quality malt every month of the year, we had to do something to simulate the cave-like conditions that are ideal for germinating grain.

So we built a machine to do just that. Now we just upload a recipe to it, dump in the grain we grew with a farmer friend, check on it at least once a day, and look at the malting data that’s automatically logged online. The machine maintains optimal conditions, and we’ve been really happy with the malt we’ve been making.

We’re still refining the machine, but we’ve decided to found a startup to try to bring our baby to market and share the fun we’ve discovered with others. We’ve found home brewing to be even more creative and fulfilling since we started making our own malt, and we think exciting things will happen to beer if our community starts playing around with the soul of beer.

As we said before, we’ve been working on this for almost 2 years, so a lot has happened. We’ve gone so far down the malt rabbit hole and have become truly hooked. It’s been a blast, and we really want to share everything we’ve learned - about barley, farming, malting, equipment, beer, and more - with our fellow brewers. More to come soon!

Can’t talk about equipment for that long without sharing a picture…here it is!

Automated Home Malting Equipment.JPG
 

bobeer

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Wow, awesome! You should write a book about it.. "barley, farming, malting, equipment, beer, and more" sounds interesting!!
 
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homemaltster

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Wow, awesome! You should write a book about it.. "barley, farming, malting, equipment, beer, and more" sounds interesting!!
Thanks! Not ready to tackle a book yet, but we will soon be sharing posts and articles on what we’ve been learning and playing with. Much more manageable for us and this way we can quickly get information out to you.
 

WaltStarr

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Okay, this is totally cool! It doesn't get more local than growing your own hops and barley, then malting the barley, unless you capture and propagate some local wild yeasts to ferment with!

:rockin:
 
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homemaltster

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Okay, this is totally cool! It doesn't get more local than growing your own hops and barley, then malting the barley, unless you capture and propagate some local wild yeasts to ferment with!

:rockin:
We've already got the 2016 hops and barley harvest stored away, but we'll have to figure out wild yeast harvesting soon. Then we can really start talking about the terroir of our backyard.
 

WaltStarr

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We've already got the 2016 hops and barley harvest stored away, but we'll have to figure out wild yeast harvesting soon. Then we can really start talking about the terroir of our backyard.
There are tons of videos on YouTube explaining he procedure.
 

sfish

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We've already got the 2016 hops and barley harvest stored away, but we'll have to figure out wild yeast harvesting soon. Then we can really start talking about the terroir of our backyard.
SO I ask why wild yeast? the hops are home grown form purchased stock and the barey is homegrown form seeds purchased. Why is harvesting yeast at home considered different then homegrown?
 
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homemaltster

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I'm in. How much? :)
Sweet! :ban:

It’s still early, so we can only really give rough estimates on price that are likely to change. It’s a higher end piece of equipment, and will likely be $1500 - $2500. However, it is multi-use. You can use the malt kiln components as a hop oast to dry fresh hops down and the refrigeration system and vessel to ferment up to a ½ barrel of lagers or ales.
 

WaltStarr

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SO I ask why wild yeast? the hops are home grown form purchased stock and the barey is homegrown form seeds purchased. Why is harvesting yeast at home considered different then homegrown?
Yeast strains are unique to the location where they originate. The yeast I can get from my back yard is not the same as what can be obtained from yours. Each will have their own characteristics, or terroir. The hops and barley grown in his soil will have their own characteristics based upon the environmental factors of the location as well. (e.g. grapes grown in the Bordeaux region of France have different characteristics than clones of those vines grown in Napa Valley, same holds true for soil conditions for hops and barley to a degree).

Because of the nature of yeast propagation, the terroir of the location does not transfer with the strain. Wyeast 1318 will have pretty much the same characteristics if you ferment in London as if you ferment in Seattle. So the only real way to capture local terroir for yeast characteristics is to use a yeast that was obtained locally.

The problem with this is the vast majority of yeast samples you obtain locally will not be suitable for fermenting beer. That's where the real work is in creating a completely local beer.

OF course, it all comes down to it being his beer and how far he really wants to take things Just malting his own barley is cool, if you ask me. Using hops he grows kicks things up a bit. If he goes to the trouble of capturing an appropriate wild yeast, well, that just kicks things up another notch as far as how local he's gone.
 
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homemaltster

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SO I ask why wild yeast? the hops are home grown form purchased stock and the barey is homegrown form seeds purchased. Why is harvesting yeast at home considered different then homegrown?
You make a good point, sfish. I see who’s asking the profound questions around here! I think part of your question is asking where do we as homebrewers take ownership over our brewing. If I buy yeast from my LHBS and pitch it directly, I didn't have a hand in its creation. If I made a starter, then I was a bit more involved. And if I harvested it from my last batch, then it's my yeast baby now.

That's part of why I started malting - I have more influence and ownership over my brew when I take it from a raw barley kernel to a finished beer.

Yeast strains are unique to the location where they originate. The yeast I can get from my back yard is not the same as what can be obtained from yours. Each will have their own characteristics, or terroir. The hops and barley grown in his soil will have their own characteristics based upon the environmental factors of the location as well. (e.g. grapes grown in the Bordeaux region of France have different characteristics than clones of those vines grown in Napa Valley, same holds true for soil conditions for hops and barley to a degree).

Because of the nature of yeast propagation, the terroir of the location does not transfer with the strain. Wyeast 1318 will have pretty much the same characteristics if you ferment in London as if you ferment in Seattle. So the only real way to capture local terroir for yeast characteristics is to use a yeast that was obtained locally.

The problem with this is the vast majority of yeast samples you obtain locally will not be suitable for fermenting beer. That's where the real work is in creating a completely local beer.

OF course, it all comes down to it being his beer and how far he really wants to take things Just malting his own barley is cool, if you ask me. Using hops he grows kicks things up a bit. If he goes to the trouble of capturing an appropriate wild yeast, well, that just kicks things up another notch as far as how local he's gone.
WaltStarr, I was thinking the same thing about yeast's lack of terroir, or "flavor of the field" (some beer people wanted to Americanize the term?). Harvested yeast shouldn't have come into much contact with anything besides your fermenting wort.

Though could it be argued that your wort is at least somewhat unique? It would be with different water profiles. I’d like to see an XBMT where two households brewed the same beer with the same yeast, then saved that yeast and both brewed the same beer again with the saved yeast. Would the yeasts have been impacted by their surroundings after one generation in different places? Sigh... Another question for Brulosophy.
 

sfish

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So far on my road to brew a farmhouse ale "from field to glass"~
A friend and I have planted and harvested about 60 pounds of barley and needs to be malted. This took 2 years because the first year it was planted in the winter and froze. We have grown 10 pounds of red wheat as will.

we have harvested about a pound of hops from second year plants.

We have harvested 2 strains of yeast.

I will call this "homegrow beer".

Next year I will rinse the skins of grapes and apples grown on his land, add to a starter and see is I can harvest a strain of yeast.

I will call this "Terrior Beer"

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Have you read this book?
"The Perfect Keg: Sowing, Scything, Malting & Brewing My Way to the Best-Ever Pint of Beer" by Ian Coutts

It was being passed around, don't know it the chain stopped though.

https://www.homebrewtalk.com/showthread.php?t=496350

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BTW feel like the thread is being hijacked a better subject line is

https://www.homebrewtalk.com/showthread.php?t=107409&page=39
 
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homemaltster

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So far on my road to brew a farmhouse ale "from field to glass"~
A friend and I have planted and harvested about 60 pounds of barley and needs to be malted. This took 2 years because the first year it was planted in the winter and froze. We have grown 10 pounds of red wheat as will.

we have harvested about a pound of hops from second year plants.

We have harvested 2 strains of yeast.

I will call this "homegrow beer".

Next year I will rinse the skins of grapes and apples grown on his land, add to a starter and see is I can harvest a strain of yeast.

I will call this "Terrior Beer"
Those sound like fitting names. It's awesome to see someone acting on such similar goals!

------------
Have you read this book?
"The Perfect Keg: Sowing, Scything, Malting & Brewing My Way to the Best-Ever Pint of Beer" by Ian Coutts

It was being passed around, don't know it the chain stopped though.

https://www.homebrewtalk.com/showthread.php?t=496350
That book looks right up my alley! I'll see if I can find it on the other thread.
 

sfish

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homemaltster

How does it work? Like you put in grain and there is a timer that adds water and air and then removes and stirs the grain when done adds heat ????
 
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homemaltster

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homemaltster

How does it work? Like you put in grain and there is a timer that adds water and air and then removes and stirs the grain when done adds heat ????
The machine is made up of a vessel and a component box. The vessel is a ½ barrel stainless steel conical, and malting takes place inside of it. The component box houses the various components needed to maintain an ideal climate inside of the vessel - at times filled with cold, aerated water, at other times with cold, moist air, and at other times hot, dry air. The box is plugged into 120vac, a hose is run to it from a faucet, a drain line runs to a bucket or drain, and the machine is connected to wifi.

When you’re ready to malt, you choose a recipe online (created by you or someone else), add your grain to the vessel, and turn your faucet on. You must be involved in a short washing step to get rid of thin kernels, debris, and dirt, but once that’s done, the machine is basically good to run on its own. You need to check on the grain at least once a day and give it a stir, decide when germination and kilning are complete, etc. But you don’t ever need to babysit the grain or wake up in the middle of the night (unless you really want to :D)
 

WaltStarr

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The machine is made up of a vessel and a component box. The vessel is a ½ barrel stainless steel conical, and malting takes place inside of it. The component box houses the various components needed to maintain an ideal climate inside of the vessel - at times filled with cold, aerated water, at other times with cold, moist air, and at other times hot, dry air. The box is plugged into 120vac, a hose is run to it from a faucet, a drain line runs to a bucket or drain, and the machine is connected to wifi.

When you’re ready to malt, you choose a recipe online (created by you or someone else), add your grain to the vessel, and turn your faucet on. You must be involved in a short washing step to get rid of thin kernels, debris, and dirt, but once that’s done, the machine is basically good to run on its own. You need to check on the grain at least once a day and give it a stir, decide when germination and kilning are complete, etc. But you don’t ever need to babysit the grain or wake up in the middle of the night (unless you really want to :D)
 

lhommedieu

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How do you test the malted grain for various indexes, e.g. Kolbach, protein, beta glucan, etc.? Send it out for analysis? And if the results are not what you want, do you tweak the recipe accordingly?
 
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homemaltster

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How do you test the malted grain for various indexes, e.g. Kolbach, protein, beta glucan, etc.? Send it out for analysis? And if the results are not what you want, do you tweak the recipe accordingly?
For a few of the specs on a malt analysis sheet, there are basic lab tests that you can do at home to measure things like color, extract, etc. If you want the specs for Kolbach index or protein though, you’d need to send a malt sample to a lab with specialized equipment. We’re looking into putting together a lab so that we can offer those services to home brewers if the demand is there.

Just like brewing, you can make changes in the malting process to get the results you want. If you malt a grain with known specs and follow the same recipe, you can feel confident that you’re replicating those results - no need to analyze the malt after every batch.

What malt analysis specs do you usually look at when designing your recipes?
 

lhommedieu

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I've been exploring tri-decoction, so I'm looking for grain in the lower modification range. I've been using Weyermann floor malts; this winter, I'm going to brew with grain from Pioneer Malt in Rochester, NY

Somewhere down the road, I'd like to venture into growing and malting my own grain.
 
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homemaltster

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I've been exploring tri-decoction, so I'm looking for grain in the lower modification range. I've been using Weyermann floor malts; this winter, I'm going to brew with grain from Pioneer Malt in Rochester, NY

Somewhere down the road, I'd like to venture into growing and malting my own grain.
Very cool :mug: Let me know what it's like using that craft malt from Pioneer.
 
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homemaltster

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Hey for those of you who were looking for more information on what we're doing, we've just started a long form blog all about malt and malting. It's not so much a personal blog - it's a place for us to write about the big ideas we encounter.

The first post is about big beer's role in developing the barley varieties we all use. Check it out - you'll probably learn something! http://www.sprowtmalt.com/2016/11/30/barley-varieties/
 
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