Welcome to Our Lab
Written by Christopher || 01/03/17
We shared a little bit about our startup Sprowt a month ago, and now we want to share a bit more about what we’re doing. Our goal is to make malt and malting accessible to brewers by putting together the necessary knowledge, seeds, and equipment.
So far, we’ve been reviving heritage barley varieties, farming, and aggregating knowledge on malt and malting here. However, the equipment portion is how we got into all this, and where the majority of our energy goes. We’ve achieved a fully functioning, automated malting machine capable of producing malts we’ve been really happy with.
We’re currently refining iteration #7, codenamed Alatar. It should hit all of our parameters, and we’ll be sending it out into the wild once it’s built and passed our tests. We’ll be running demonstrations for interested brew clubs and brewers, as well as offering early access to a select number of beta users. (Interested? Shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org).
From there, we’ll be taking the feedback we get and making more tweaks to the design. Our goal is to then ramp up production and start sharing our equipment with the home brewing community.
The startup process has required us to update our brewing space into a development lab. We can now store, clean, malt, brew, ferment, and keg barley we grew ourselves. It’s truly a seed to glass operation for testing our equipment and grain varieties. We wanted to share some pictures of what we’ve put together!
Our grain is primarily stored in a gravity wagon outside of Minneapolis. It’s covered with a tarp and in an old dairy barn. It’s stayed rodent free so far..
We keep a few hundred pounds in the lab for our tests. It’s primarily our own grain, but we’ve also bought smaller quantities from a few farmers. We also have wheat, buckwheat, corn, and quinoa on hand.
Our grain is straight from the combine, so there’s various junk in it – like chaff, stem, and small rocks. We need to clean this out before malting, so we run it through our small seed cleaner. The grain first shakes on a screen with holes that allow barley-size objects to fall through, but scalps off larger stuff. The grain that made it past the first screen then shakes on a second screen with holes that clean out the smaller bits, but barley can’t fall through. All the barley-size items then fall down a chute with air blowing up it. The lighter items are separated off, and the fully mature barley ends up in one place.
You don’t need a seed cleaner to malt at home. We need a cleaner only because of the quantity we deal with. If you grow your own grain, you can use a fan to winnow it to similar effect.
We also plan to sell clean, high quality grain alongside our malting systems. We hope farms and home brew stores will start offering grain down the road as well, and we’ll work to make sure this has been cleaned.
Once we have cleaned the grain, we load it into our malting machine. The machine is made up of a vessel and a component box. The vessel is a stainless steel conical, and malting takes place inside of it. The component box houses the various components needed to maintain an ideal climate inside of the vessel – at times filled with cold, aerated water, at other times with cold, moist air, and at other times hot, dry air. The box is plugged into 120vac, a hose is run to it from a faucet, a drain line runs to a bucket or drain, and the machine is connected to wifi. More on the malting machine in a later post.
Moving on in our lab tour, we have a common but indispensable tool: a computer, which we use for 3D design work. We were fortunate enough to win access to Solidworks CAD software through their startup program.
In the corner of our lab, we have a moisture analyzer, the most lab-y device we own. Moisture content within the grain signals when to move on to the next step of the malting process, and when malting is done. We add grain samples to the moisture analyzer before, during, and after malting to track this progress precisely. This is another piece of equipment home maltsters don’t need. Moisture can be tracked by measuring the weight changes in a grain sample contained in a mesh bag. We are also building out our software’s capability to accurately track moisture content.
I had to sell my 10 gallon all grain setup when moving from Maine to Minnesota 2 years ago. Before really committing to Sprowt I needed to replace my equipment on a smaller, apartment scale! We use this 1 gallon all grain setup in testing the malts we make.
In addition to our 1 gallon setup, we brew with a Picobrew. As an automated brewing machine, it has been the topic of many a heated forum discussion, but it’s been really useful in isolating single variables in our tests. We can guarantee the exact same mash, with less labor, which has been worth it to us.
After brewing, the wort then goes into our fermentation fridge. We recently added some shiny certificates to the door from a malting and brewing course we won a scholarship to attend at North Dakota State University, which is the center of the barley universe.
Right now, the fridge is home to a 100% oat malt beer, happily lagering away. In a couple of days, the beer will be clarified and ready for the keg, and next week, we’ll be drinking Oatoberfest (a few months late, but hey)!