Strike water is a term used in brewing beer that is crucial in the initial stages to transform malted grains into the mash that will be brewed. Homebrewers need to take particular care in their strike water to ensure that everything in the rest of the process goes according to plan.
What is Strike Water?
Once the barley has been malted or other grains crushed, water is added to begin the formation of the mash.
This water is called strike water.
How much water to add to the crushed and/or malted grain (the grist) is going to depend on the brewing method being used, the grains, and, essentially, each brewer's individual recipe.
A general rule of thumb for a single-step infusion mash is to use 1.3 quarts of strike water for every pound of grain. This method is commonly used to brew ales.
Strike Water Temperature
The temperature of the strike water is essential to produce a good mash and it is important for home brewers to pay attention to this.
Using the single infusion (mix) method as an example again, the general idea is that the strike water should be 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the intended temperature of the mash. The strike water is hotter than the target mash because there will be an initial cooling when grain meets water.
For instance, the target for most mash infusions is between 148 and 158 Fahrenheit so the strike water should be at least 158 but no more than 173 degrees.
The temperature of the infusion is not a guessing game, but an exact science. It is important to have the right amount of heat for the saccharification rest (another term for the mashing process) that converts the grain's starch into simple sugars that can be fermented with yeast.
The easiest way to find the strike water temperature needed is to use an online calculator like this one at Brewheads.com.
Many home brewers will heat their strike water in a turkey fryer in the brew kettle while others prefer to use their stove.
Which to Add First: Strike Water or Grain?
Yet another question regarding strike water that is commonly found on homebrewing forums is whether to add the strike water to the grain or add the grain to the strike water. There really is no correct answer and the consensus is that it is going to depend on the brewer's individual system.
The concern in this stage is to prevent the grains from creating dough-like balls when the water and grain mix. Proper and thorough stirring of the working mash should combat this problem no matter which element is added to the mash tun first.
Many homebrewers choose to add the water to the mash tun first, then pour the grain in a few pounds at a time, stirring thoroughly in between each new addition of grain. This may be the easiest way for a beginner to obtain a good mash.