While watching Episode #77 of the BeerSmith Podcast on BIAB brewing, guest Jake Keeler rattled off three items that are a lifetime investment for a homebrewer: propane burner, wort chiller, and a grain mill. In other words these are things I had to have.
When one of the big online homebrew shops had a 20% off everything sale it was a perfect time to make a couple big purchases. After filling my cart with everything I needed to have an all-grain setup and daring to dream I scaled back my ambitions. A propane burner isn’t practical at the moment. I would either burn my apartment to the ground or fill it with carbon monoxide if I tried to use it inside. In the end I purchased the wort chiller and grain mill.
Efficiency at the brew house is the measure of how well the brewer converts and extracts fermentable sugars from the grain bill. One way to increase your efficiency is to make sure your grain is milled as close to brew day as possible. Most stores and websites will mill your grain, but remember fresh is almost always better! Just like fresh-ground coffee tastes better than than coffee you grind in the machine at the supermarket, let alone the freeze-dried stuff out of a bag or can.
Having my own mill I now have full control over how fine my crush is. When I brew a traditional all-grain batch where I’m filtering sparge water through the grain bed, I can adjust the rollers for a coarse crush that cracks the husk of the grain while keeping it intact. This will prevent the mash from getting too doughy and the sparge from getting stuck. BIAB brewing typically isn’t as efficient as a traditional all-grain mash and sparge. When doing a BIAB batch at home I can adjust the mill for a finer crush to compensate and not have to worry about a stuck sparge.
Having your own mill also enables you to buy your base malts in bulk to save money in the long run. You can buy a 55lb sack of malt and mill it as you go. Sometimes homebrewers in an area will arrange a group buy where the group bands together to order enough malt to buy it directly from a wholesaler. I tend to use different base malts all the time. At this point I’m not sure if I will fill my apartment with sacks of barley, but if I want to now I can.
The wort chiller is something I’ve stubbornly held out on purchasing for a long time. When brewing at home cooling up to 3 gallons of boiling wort with an ice bath has worked reasonably well. It still takes 20-30 minutes. With the wort chiller the wort should cool in about half the time. While the wort is cooling it’s exposed to the elements. Whenever your wort is exposed and you run the risk of your beer being infected. Also the faster you chill the wort, the clearer the finished beer will be.
Now I’m like a kid who can’t wait to use his new toys. I’ll use the wort chiller for my upcoming Belgian Pale Ale.