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2005 - Malt Silos

Sent: Tuesday, August 02, 2005 10:06 AM
Subject: Re: Malt Silo

Steve - Just do it!

Save your back, save time, and definitely read the article I wrote, "An Efficient Grain-Handling System." The New Brewer 11 (1), 1994. It was the transcript of the speech I gave at the 1993 Craft Brewers Conference in New Orleans, and it analyzed several methods of moving grain prior to mashing in. A silo and auger system were by far the most efficient and had the least impact on a brewer's physical health.

In the past, some grain suppliers had silo-purchase programs where you could pay off your silo by paying the bagged price on bulk malt, and the difference would pay off your silo loan. Since you'd have been buying bagged malt anyway, the pain of purchase is zilch. At 1,500 barrels, I estimate you'd probably pay off that silo and auger in about 2 years, depending on your installation costs, etc.

If you had a 15,000 lb grain silo, at 1,500 bbl per year, you would be getting it filled about every 1.5 to 2 months, depending on seasonal demand. This is the size we have in Eugene, for a similar annual barrelage. Find out if your bulk malt supplier requires minimum deliveries, or if you can split deliveries with other local brewers. Then size your silo accordingly. Don't get too large of a silo; you don't want the contents to last six months! And try to knock out ALL the husk clinging to the cone (and sides), or at least as much as possible between deliveries with an extra long-handled broom. (Do this safely with goggles and dust mask on, and ropes and a spotter, as per OSHA requirements, if you are on top of the silo.) Grain beetles and other varmints like to hang out in the husk material because it has a higher moisture content than the rest of the malt. You can save that husk material and substitute it for rice hulls later - to help out your grain bed when you're making a huge wheat beer or other beer with a lot of huskless material.

I have no idea if freezing presents a problem mechanically. It freezes here once in a while, but I've never noticed a mechanical problem. The only thing I can think of, is that normally your silo is outside, so the grain is super-cold when you go to mash in. If you've got a grist case, mill the night before you brew. That way your grain has a chance to warm up before you mash in. Otherwise you'll need hotter liquor back water in the winter.

It rains in Oregon like crazy, so we silicone caulk the silo and create a line of silicone around the cone, part-way down, for a "rain skirt". This keeps the water from running down into the junction where the cone meets the auger.

I'm a huge proponent of silos, augers, and bulk malt. I recommend you go for it, and don't think twice!

Cheers, Teri

2009 Update:

This advice still stands: Just do it. Automating your grain-handling will not make your beer any less "hand made." However, it may keep you in business, keep your back in good shape, and keep you from having to pay Workman's Comp on an injury.

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