By: Devin Mills – Dalkita Distillery Engineer
A craft distillery’s type, source and style of grain for its products is one of the first decisions a distillery makes, and it is a complex and multi-layered decision. Let’s look at the decision from the cost and facility complexity perspectives. The least expensive dollar/pound option for grain, results in more complex – more expensive – facility. Conversely, the more expensive dollar/pound option for grain, results in a less complex – less costly – facility.
The least expensive dollar/pound option for grain, results in more complex – more expensive – facility. Purchasing whole grain and milling (or not) in-house has benefits.
What Milling Can Bring to Your Product:
- Specialty grains like buckwheat, quinoa (not technically used in a “whiskey”), millet, teff, triticale, fonia, sorghum often only available as whole kernels
- No flavor loss through processing before arriving at distillery
- More control over flavor of product
- More control of the granule size to optimize product yields
The “Dark Side” of Milling In-House:
- Additional expense in milling equipment and physical facilities
- More ventilation required
- Added personnel protection equipment
- Added housekeeping duties to entire facility
- Time required to mill grain
- Consistency from batch to batch – sometimes grind setting will need to be adjusted between deliveries of the same grain dependent upon nitrogen content and dryness
- Increased energy usage for whole kernels and larger grinds requiring longer mash times
- Decreased mashing yields using whole kernels and larger grinds
- Potential over-milling contributes negative characteristics to final product
The more expensive dollar/pound option for grain, results in a less complex – less costly – facility. Purchasing pre-milled, rolled or flaked grain also has benefits.
The Lighter Side of Pre-Milled Grain:
- Time – Grain arrives at distillery ready for mashing
- Grain size and easy access to enzymes and starch molecules make mashing quick and easy
- A level of consistency from batch to batch
- Lower equipment and facility cost – bulk storage (S1) cheaper to construct than hazardous (H2) occupancy
- Cleaner – no combustible dust issues
- Quieter – no additional noise added to production floor
- Safer – no staff interaction with milling equipment, less risk for accidents
The Negatives of Pre-Milled:
- Narrower selection of grains to choose from
- Specialty grains hard to source in a pre-milled form
- Some flavor loss occurs during processing
- Less control over flavor profile of final product
There are positives and negatives with each decision. What is the right play for one distillery is not necessarily a good fit for another. Consider what you want to accomplish with your product, process and brand. From a design and construction standpoint – milling grain is for the craftiest of the craft producers among the industry. It may be a no-brainer for the product you are trying to create. Whatever direction you go in – a safe facility is a necessary and achievable goal.