The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Drunk Starter?

Muffin's picture

Drunk Starter?

My starter smells like alcohol. It doesn't taste like alcohol, it doesn't taste particularly sour and it doesn't really taste bad. So I'm not sure if it is dead, infected or what.

I have used it a number of times before with very little additional yeast (at times none) to make good bread. However, the bread doesn't taste sour. I guess I'm fine with that because it still tastes good but I'm a little concerned now.

The only thing that I can think of is that the summer heat has something to do with it. I have it sitting on my counter in a crock out of the sun but we have yet to turn on the AC this summer. I keep it a 100% hydration (by weight) but I should probably decrease that.

I pulled 500g yesterday to make a preferment with 150g water and 375g high gluten flour. It has taken almost 24hrs to double and it has the consistancy of runny icing or glaze.

I really don't want to throw it out as I aquired my initial starter from my father who got it from my aunt who got it from some bakery in San Fransisco. It has been some time since I last baked and I haven't been feeding it very often either.

Any thoughs, suggestions or advice would be appreciated.


flournwater's picture

The alcohol that forms in sourdough starter, commonly called "hooch", is not entirely a bad thing.  You can pour it off or stir it in; your choice.  It pretty much evaporates off during baking anyway and, IMO, it tends to add a bit of its own flavor to the finished bread.  But your starter needs to be balanced and strong before you use it and the preferment you prepared might have been better if you had fed your starter first, allowed it to ferment for about 24 hours, then built your preferment on top of it.  I think you had a weak starter.  A surplus of alcohol would indicate to me that the yeasties had run short of food and were drowing in the alcohol.

I'd get the tare weight of the remaining starter, match that with a 100% hydrated feeding cycle and allow it to sit on the counter for 6 - 8 hours.  It should build a nice head over that time.  Then, back to the fridge.

I feed my starters once a week.  Feed 'em, rest 'em, cool 'em.  Never have a problem.

As for sourness, I'm beginning to believe that the difference in that is directly proportional to the acidity in the starter.  I'm trying to determine whether it's better to have more lactic acid or acetic acid in the mix; or maybe something else.  But it's very interesting trying to solve the problem of producing a range of starters that run from one extreme (sweet) to the other (sour).

SourdoLady's picture

You are starving the poor thing! When kept out on the counter in warm weather, I would say it would need to be fed three times a day. If you lower the hydration that will help a lot. You should also be feeding at a much higher ratio of flour to old starter. Try starting with 50 grams of starter to 200 grams of flour and see if it doesn't wake up. It may take awhile for the first feeding to get active, but once it does then you can give it a second feeding which will grow much faster. Remember that you should always feed at least twice as much flour as you have old starter. If you have a large quantity of old starter, then discard most of it before feeding.

flournwater's picture

Sourdolady says, "If you have a large quantity of old starter, then discard most of it before feeding."  That's what most of us do ... you will have to do something like that if you don't use it fast enough.

I believe the best way to "discard" excess starter is to make bread with it.  My starter, combined with enough flour to equal something in the range of 67% hydration, makes nice dinner rolls.  Give it a try ...