From Milling to Distilling
Hi friends! Exciting things are happening at Brooks Grain! As many of you know, we are opening a brand new, state-of-the-art milling and bagging facility at the end of this year to cater to our craft customers. Nate, Jeff, and I just got back from Kansas State from milling training and we have never been more anxious for this project to launch! We spent last week trying to prepare and learn as much as we could from the experts. The Brooks team is proud to be able to better serve the craft distilling industry with a continued commitment to outstanding quality and customer service.
Our week-long course at Kansas State University was hosted by the International Grains Program Institute (IGPI) in conjunction with the International Association of Operative Millers (IAOM). If all these acronyms are starting to get confusing, you’re not alone! Here’s the skinny; these guys are the gold standard for milling and grain education.
(Kansas State University, IGP Institute)
On the first day of class, we learned about wheat classifications and the different uses for each type, as well as the biology of the wheat berry (think: germ, endosperm, and bran). We also discussed grain quality, which is of highest importance to us here at Brooks Grain, and the different types of cleaning systems available to help achieve quality standards. The day ended with a tour of Kansas State’s onsite Hal Ross Flour Mill. It was useful to compare their operation to ours and envision how ours will work in a few months.
The second day included an overview of mill flow sheets. These are basically a detailed map of the mill and all the machines that feed into and out of it. These diagrams are fairly complex, but, with a little help from our instructors, we were able to comprehend the mill flows and the processes. The best part was applying our understanding to our own mill flow sheets after class to better visualize our process.
On Wednesday, our class went to Kansas State’s milling simulation classroom on campus. This was easily the most valuable part of the entire week for me. We ground wheat, carefully following each step (or break, as a miller would say). Jeff and I sifted the output through sieves with various micron-sized openings that decrease in size as they approach the flour collecting pan at the bottom. From there, we sorted the trays from the sifter and either sent them to the next break if the particle size was still too large, pulled them out as a byproduct if they could not be further broken down, or, if it sifted through all the sieves to the collection pan, it was deemed to be flour, or finished product. We also learned how to adjust the rolls on the mills to grind more or less aggressively and how to operate the feeder gate to prevent overflowing the mill, while still optimizing efficiency. Milling is harder than it looks! There are so many steps in the process. Next time I pull out the all purpose flour from my pantry to bake a cake, I will definitely stop and think about all the steps it went through to transform from a wheat berry to the familiar powder we all recognize on the grocery store shelf!
Jeff operating the simulation mill
We spent the entirety of Thursday in the Hal Ross Flour Mill. We learned so much about how to adjust and monitor the grind, how to calculate flour extraction, and how to sample the product coming off the mill. This was more math than I’d done in years! No one mentioned that when I enrolled in the course… In all seriousness, milling is much more complex and scientific than one might assume. We also got to complete a sample board (pictured below) to illustrate the product at various stages of the process. The white squares represent flour with less bran and germ, which is ideal for baking flours or “patent flour.” The brown sections include less endosperm and are mostly bran and germ. For distilling, it is best to have all components in the grind (bran, endosperm, and germ).
On Friday, we reviewed the results of our milling exercise and drew conclusions about the results. Nate, Jeff, and I headed home feeling capable and with our heads full of ideas about how our mill will operate. Personally, I felt that this experience rounded out my knowledge and improved my ability to communicate with our customers and understand their needs. This training comes as an excellent addition to the knowledge base I’ve already built at Moonshine U (read all about that here). While I believe that I will never truly be done learning about this industry, I am in an optimal position to aid and advise customers now that I have experienced the complete process, beginning to end. Stay tuned for a big mill opening announcement soon and lots of other exciting news as well!
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Craft and Milled Product Sales