Cringe-Worthy Grain Crushing Methods Put to the Test

The purpose of grain crushing is to crack open the outer husk of the grain, exposing the rich center. Well-milled grain will leave the husk in tact, like the opening of a clam. This will make the grain bed more coarse in the fermenter or grain bag, which will allow the water to pass through and remove the nutrients you need from within. If the grain isn’t cracked open, you won’t get all the good stuff in for your boil. If the grain is pulverized, it turns to a fine powder that clogs as soon as you try to run water through it.

Imagine your sink is full of stones and you turn the tap on. The water will wash away anything in-between those stones and run off quite freely. Simple. Now imagine your sink is full of sand (a more pulverized, fine medium) and you turn the tap on. The water will clog and if you leave the bathroom for five minutes to grab a beer, you’ll probably return to wet ankles.

The most effective device for grain crushing, guess what, a grain mill. We put some "other" grain crushing devices to the test to see how they stack up to a mill. The results shouldn't surprise you.

Wet Grain in a Blender.

Wet-Blender-1F

By wetting the grain just a tiny bit, the husks are given a little elasticity, which helps them retain their form. A good idea is to use your sanitizer spray bottle so that you know the water won’t be carrying any nasty hitchhikers. Maybe clean all of your equipment first so that there’s not much left in the bottom, tip that bit out and fill it back up with tap water.

The blender is also the easiest for you, as it doesn’t require any bashing or rolling. BUT, any time you use a blender you'll find that a fair bit of grain will be pulverized and you can only attempt to crush a small amount at a time to make sure all of the grain makes contact with the blades. Using wet grain in a blender can work as a back-up if your mill breaks or you accidentally ordered uncrushed specialty grains. Continued use will burn out the blender's motor in no time.

Dry Grain in a Blender (BIAB ONLY!)

grain crushing in a blender with dry grain If you compare the image here to ‘wet grain in a blender’, you’ll see that this image shows more pulverized grain, rather than cracked. This however isn't an issue if you do Brew in a bag where there isn't a sparge, but it may be worth it to go to your nearest homebrew store to get the grain crushed. Even paying a small fee if they insist on charging one is cheaper than buying a new blender. Now check out these other methods which are definite no-goes.

Mortar and Pestle

grain crushing with a mortar and pestle

From here on out you expect noticeable dips in efficiency. You won't be crushing the grain entirely and will leave many kernels unopened. The motion you use when operating a mortar and pestle allows you to exert a lot of force with minimal effort. But beware, you don’t get much control so you need to make sure you’re not totally pulverizing some of the grains while leaving others completely in tact.

Wine Bottle

Wine-Bottle-zoomF

As a brewer, you might not own one of these strange foreign objects, but if there’s someone else in your house they should be able to describe what it looks like. It’s like a big beer bottle, but twice as solid and full of an ingredient used in European cooking. The wine bottle makes an appearance ahead of the rolling pin because glass seems to work very well as a bludgeon and can at least open up some of the grain before exhaustion sets in. The image above is after a few minutes of rolling (you’ll need to put A LOT more time into it).

A mill can be driven by a rotating crank, a motor or a drill, which means you can prepare your entire grain bill by pressing a button. Trust me, after half an hour of smacking grains with a glass bottle, you'll be wishing you had the luxury of a hand crank or simple switch.

Rolling Pin

Rolling-Pin-zoomF

Neither wood nor plastic of a rolling pin crunches down quite hard enough as grain kernels can be rock solid. The grain in the image above is a little less crushed than the grain crushed with a wine bottle, but only because I spent a few more minutes with this device. Again, taking the time to individually crush grains can add a couple hours to your brewday. If you haven't been sold on getting your own grain mill or having us mill it, check out the bottom of the pile in our experiment.

Food Processor

Food-Processor-high-30p-zoomF

The last few options we’re looking at have all got pretty convincing reasons not to use, starting with the food processor. This handy appliance seems to cut the grain, rather than press and crack it open. In addition, there’s a very fine dust that’s left behind, which guarantees a more difficult brewday if you are sparging. Please note this photo was taken with my food processor on high for thirty seconds. Other brewers suggest that their devices are much more effective and work better on a low setting.

Pasta Maker

Pasta-Maker-with-help-2F

The pasta maker (shown below) represents anything you might have around the house that resembles a mill, so it must work well right? Although it might seem like a good idea, the mill is a purpose built machine and any mechanical substitute will probably have small issues. The small defect with the pasta maker is that, as soon as you crank the handle, grain will fly all over the place and not a single kernel will be crushed. Useless. The photo is an example of this ridiculous attempt. Almost no grain was crushed.

Get A Proper Mill, Or Have Your Grain Milled By Your Homebrew Shop.

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This is the grain from a proper grain mill. You can see the insides of each piece of grain (the white) have been separated from the husk (outer shell). This allows your mash to convert the grain quickly and effectively.

In conclusion, you can hit grain with a hammer, run it over with your car, drop it off your balcony or smack it with a phone book (if you still have one of them) but the best way to mill it, is to use a mill. If you accidentally got your hands on some uncracked specialty grain for an extract recipe, your best option is the wet grain in a blender. Any sort of all grain brewing with these methods only lead to Carpel Tunnel, horrible efficiency, and hours of frustration.

I intended on saving a hundred bucks by using home devices for the rest of my life, but after these experiments, I've changed my tune. If you need large quantities of grain milled, you should invest in the appropriate machine, or have your grain supplier do the milling for you.

About the Author

Daniel Norrish is an Australian homebrewer, living on the west coast of the country. When he's not boiling wort or waiting for brews to lager, he writes novels and watches rugby. Dan prefers strong, dark beers, but he'll drink anything and he enjoys adding strange and peculiar flavors to beer.

written by Daniel Norrish

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7 comments on “Cringe-Worthy Grain Crushing Methods Put to the Test”

  • I would love to see a tutorial on motorizing the Barley Crusher as shown in the first image! Sourcing the motor with gearbox has bee the roadblock for me! Thank you for the nice article.

    Reply
  • Great article.

    Reply
  • Craig (big head brewing ) neuberger January 26, 2017 at 9:20 pm

    Best thing I've done is buy a grain mill,and the brew bag, both from H.B.S, grain mill set to 0.25 awesome efficiency, replacing the crank handle with a 18v Dewalt cordless drill set on low rpm's making short work of 12 lbs of grain, I highly recommend, Cheers!

    Reply
  • with the wet grain in a blender why do you worry about nasty hitchhikers? the grain itself already has tons of hitchikers all of this is happening pre boil so boiling is going to kill all the nasties anyway.

    Reply
    • Daniel

      Not too worried about introducing microorganisms in the milling step, but I'd rather keep it cleaner if possible. It's probably just a habit to keep attempting to sanitise.

      Reply
  • I can only draw on my own experience with BIAB in making this comment, but I definitely noticed a difference between using a finer crush with more flour and dust vs. a coarser crush where the grains were basically just cracked open. In my case at least, it proved to be a myth that the crush doesn't matter for BIAB. My efficiency jumped considerably when I went to a coarser crush, and the bag drained more easily as well.

    Cheers

    Reply
    • Daniel

      Yeah, definately Kelsey. We spend so much time and effort planning the perfect recipe, then waiting for the brew to ferment, that it's clearly essential to start with the best ingredients.

      Reply
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