I was reminded of just how important it is to properly store grain malts as I did a bit of spring cleaning this past weekend. A section of my detached garage’s upper trim had separated from the roof to reveal a squirrel-sized gap, supplying the ideal opportunity for a small family of Sciurus niger to make a rather comfortable home for themselves in the rafters.
I store grain in the same garage, and there’s enough of it on hand to supply the nutritional needs of several growing squirrels until at least the next World Cup. Fortunately, the rodents hadn’t invaded my stash because I keep my malts in large, metal, Oscar-the-Grouch-style garbage cans with lids.
The enemies of grain malts are many:
- Small mammals
- Your brewing buddy who forgot to go to the homebrew store
The goal of grain storage, therefore, is to eliminate or reduce these adversaries to acceptable levels. Grain storage is of paramount importance to all-grain brewers who buy in bulk, but homebrewers from all walks of life should know how to keep malt at its best.
Aluminum trash cans work well for me, but I live in a dry climate and don’t have to worry about mold. Those who live in humid areas may require a storage solution with a better seal, such as the plastic bins used to store pet food, and perhaps even a few food-safe moisture absorbers. Keep in mind, however, that rodents can easily chew through plastic.
Basements are ideal storage locations because of their consistently cool temperatures, but the garage is a good second choice. Just make sure that your malts don’t get too hot in an uninsulated garage in the summer. If you need to store grain in your home, try to choose a closet or other out of the way space, and make sure it won’t attract vermin. The last thing you want on brew day is to open up the closet and find a well-fed insect colony.
Here are a few additional tips for storing grain malts.
- Avoid crushing malt until right before you plan to brew with it. Crushed grain has a much shorter shelf life than intact kernels, and waiting until the last minute to mill reduces the chances that life will interfere with your plans before you have a chance to mash in.
- If you must store milled grains, try to minimize oxygen exposure. A simple plastic zipper bag will do the trick short term, but if you have a vacuum sealer, the vacuum-packed milled grain will probably last several months.
- Try to buy only what you’ll use within six months or so. Unlike, say, bread, which gives ample signals that it’s gone bad, grain simply becomes stale.
- It might sound obvious, but don’t forget to label your grain if you keep multiple varieties around. Over time, the supplier’s labels can wear off, and you may be left wondering whether that anonymous bag contains regular 2-row or Pilsner.
Although fresh is always best, properly stored grain will last at least a year: In dry climates, it should last even longer. Of course, the more you get into the hobby, the less you’ll have to worry about keeping grain around for extended periods of time.