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Choosing the Right Mill for Your Craft Distillery

So, you want to start distilling with freshly milled grain. Maybe you’re tired of paying top dollar for the pre-milled stuff from the malt distributor, and you’re ready to invest in the quality, efficiency, and bulk pricing that comes with milling your own whole grain. But where do you start?

Well, it’s always a good idea to first familiarize yourself with what’s out there. While there are plenty of options, the two most common types of mills used in craft distilling operations are the hammer mill and roller mill.

The Hammer Mill

A hammer mill uses hardened steel rectangles – referred to as hammers – which spin centrifugally around a motor-driven shaft inside of a screen. As the hammers pulverize the grain, it is forced through the screen.

Overall, hammer mills tend to produce a finer grist. The benefit of hammer mills is that screens are available in different mesh sizes, meaning you can, at least to some degree, adjust the particle size of your grist and ensure that it comes out more uniformly. Another plus is that when hammers and screens become worn, they can be relatively easy and inexpensive to replace.

It’s important to note that hammer mills do consume more power than roller mills, so there will be an added cost there. Hammer mills are also noisy and produce more dust than roller mills. Since dust poses a safety risk, you’ll likely need an aggressive dust mitigation approach when dealing with a hammer mill.

The Roller Mill

A roller mill uses sets of two solid and centrifugally cast, hardened rolls to crack grain as it falls through the spaces between them.

While roller mills can help you reduce power consumption at your operation, in general, roller mills will tend to produce a coarser grist. Particle size and uniformity will be largely dependent on the skill of the miller operating the roller; although it’s worth mentioning that you do have the option to include additional sets of rollers and different corrugation profiles to make this process more effective.

The benefit of roller mills is that they make less noise and produce less dust than hammer mills, reducing risk of safety hazards. They also tend to be more affordable than hammer mills, but with a catch: when rollers do become worn, replacing parts can be expensive and time consuming.

*A note on dust – The primary hazards in craft distilling are fire and explosion. The dust created from processing grains can contribute to this risk. That’s why at Malt Handling, we always recommend using a dust collection system in accordance with our grain handling systems, and we can provide a variety of options to fit your budget.

Other Considerations for Mills

Now that you’re familiar with the two basic milling systems, there are a few other considerations you’ll need to think about before making your final decision:

Grains & Grist

The grains you’re planning to use should factor heavily into what type of mill you choose. If you’ll be using mostly corn, wheat, and/or rye, then you probably want to go with a hammer mill for a finer grist. If you’re going heavy on the malted barley, and want more of a coarser brewer’s grist, then a roller mill is likely the best option for you.

In some cases, it may make sense to have both types of machines – a roller mill for single malt products and a hammer mill for most others – but that will depend on other factors, like your budget, production schedule, and the scope of your operation.

Sizing

Even after you’ve chosen your mill type, you still need to figure out the size you’ll need. One way to do this is by nailing down your batching proportions for different grains: Do you want to mill straight into the mash, or use a staging batch hopper or grist case? Are you pulling from different bulk sources – like silos or bulk bags – or just dumping 50-pound bags into the mill? For a lot of craft operations, you can get away with a fairly small-sized mill – but you also don’t want to be stuck with an undersized piece of equipment that forces you to invest in another upon future expansion.

There are plenty of other factors to consider around milling and mash procedures, as each of your choices has implications for efficiency, waste disposal, maintenance, labor costs, and more. You’ll want to iron out your processes with your head distiller – or yourself, if that’s you – and figure out what’s going to work best for milling at your distillery.

Malt Handling offers comprehensive grain-handling consultation on topics including bulk storage, conveying, and weighing equipment, as well as high-quality, affordable hammer and roller mills. To receive a quote today, call (773) 888-7718 or email info@malthandling.com. Mention the referral code “MOON U” to take advantage of a 5% partner discount. You can also check out equipment at Sasquatch Mills.

Written by Andrew Myers, Malt Handling, LLC

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