Real Life Reviews: Barley Crusher malt mill

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Many years ago I began all-grain brewing, and at the time a Corona mill was the best I could afford. It served me well for many years and several hundred pounds of malt, but the older I get the lower my enthusiasm slides for spending a significant amount of time turning a crank when I want to brew. An initial attempt at motorizing it was not overly successful, and it seemed time to consider an upgrade to a roller mill.

After looking at the options I was leaning strongly toward a different model, but I walked into my local brewing shop for something else and found a very good sale on their mills. Looking at the various options, it seemed the Barley Crusher was the better mill for my needs and I purchased one.

As with most of the mills on offer, the basic design is a single knurled driven roller with 1 or 2 non-driven knurled rollers arraigned in such a way that as the driven roller is turned the malt itself becomes the driving force for the other roller(s). On the Barley Crusher there is an o-ring stretched around the driven roller to transfer some energy to the non-driven one so it isn’t fully undriven, however the information that came with the mill indicated that the o-ring will eventually break and does not need to be replaced, so it seems mainly there so when people look at it in the store both rollers turn with no malt between them. The spacing between rollers can be varied to account for the specific size of malt being milled. The driven roller’s shaft extends out from the housing and is connected to a hand crank which can be removed in order to use a drill directly on the shaft. The Barley Crusher comes fully assembled and includes a malt hopper as well as a MDF base which is designed to fit fully over a 5 gallon bucket with just enough space for the hand crank or a drill to be attached.

The mill came with a single sheet instruction page which clearly indicated how to adjust the rollers and provided general usage guidelines. It is recommended to power it with a handheld drill at 500 rpm and specifically states that a V-belt pulley drive is not recommended.

For my initial test (and to clean the rollers) I tossed in a handful of 6 row malt and gave it a crank by hand. 3 things happened… First, I gave I a few cranks and thought it was incredibly easy, only to see that the crank was quite happily spinning on the shaft – the screw to hold it on the one flat ground on the shaft had not been fully tightened. Second, after I tightened the crank onto the shaft I gave it a spin and realized it still took quite a bit of effort to crank by hand. Third, since the mill was just sitting on the bucket when I applied enough force to start turning the rollers against the malt, it tipped up and nearly fell off… so I had to use my other hand to hold it down while I cranked through the rest of the malt.

Once done cranking the first trial, I had a look at the crushed malt and was very happy with the results. Good cracking, intact husks, and much more uniform than I ever had out of the Corona. That said, the default factory setting was a bit large for the 6 row, so I had my first lesson in adjusting the rollers and found it very easy and straightforward.

Next came the primary test – how it worked when powered with a drill. I took the hand crank off, put my 5.2 Amp drill on the shaft, went to tighten the keyless chuck and found there isn’t very much room to get a hand in to tighten. I snugged it up as best I could and gave it a try with no malt. Very smooth operation. Then I put in a couple of handfuls of malt and gave it a try. The drill torqued in my hand and then freewheeled – snug was apparently not quite snug enough when under load. No big deal, I thought, until I took the drill off to recheck and found little metal particles. The shaft is apparently softer than the drill chuck, so when it freewheeled the chuck jaws more or less started to machine the shaft.

After rechucking and tightening with pliers, I gave it another try and had much better luck. Following the initial torque to get things moving the drill easily kept up as long as the speed was reasonably fast, but with no indication it was hard to tell if it was at the recommended 500 rpm, above, or below where the cutoff was. When it went too slow, the torque of the drill in my hand notably increased.

Having played enough to be comfortable, I put together the grain bill for my next batch and loaded it in the hopper. It took less than 5 minutes to mill roughly 8 pounds of malt, including setting things up, 2 hopper refills, adjusting the rollers back to the initial spacing when I switched from 6 to 2 row malt, and cleaning up (performed with a few quick shots from an air hose).

All in all I am quite happy with the Barley Crusher after my first real use, but the following points are worth noting:

1) the shaft is a bit soft for using with a drill – but that is the best way to drive the mill, so I’ll probably end up filing some flats on it to give the drill something more to grip.
2) The base is unfinished MDF. I’ll probably give it a few coats of paint to make it easier to clean.
3) The hand crank is functional but a bit longer throw would be a big improvement.

Update after several uses:

  1. I’m still impressed how quickly and well this mill works. It now takes me more time to measure out the malt than it does to mill it.
  2. Having compressed air handy is a great thing when it comes to cleaning after use,  I tried brushing it a couple of times and it takes much longer and isn’t as good as a couple of quick shots of an air nozzle.
  3. Having switched from my corded drill to a high / low speed cordless drill, I can say that it is much easier with a cordless drill set on it’s low speed / high torque setting.  Furthermore, the chuck on the cordless drill is slightly longer and easier to tighten than on my corded drill, so I have had no further issues with the chuck slipping under load even without filing flats on the shaft.
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