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Sourdough Starter goes 'Boozy?'

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jjainschigg's picture
jjainschigg

Sourdough Starter goes 'Boozy?'

I started a new starter about seven days ago, using an 'offhand' method that's always worked reliably for me in the past to produce a starter with the classic yeasty/sour/yummy smell, stable and robust, with good rising characteristics. Now the same method has produced a starter that seems to rise very well and smells great, but more like someone took the top off a Calvados still: lushly, almost 'ether-y' fruity-sweet and clearly kicking out a (probably) flammable mix of ethanol and acetones.

I started with organic rye flour and tap water, 1:1, and used a scrubbed-and-dishwasher-sterile (i.e., mostly sterile, but not surgically so) glass, lidded container (old pickle jar, clean metal lid, holes poked with a nail). Discarded 3/4 and fed with more rye for three days at 12-hour intervals. Ambient temp was on the high side - maybe 85-90 degrees. But the stuff was bubbling up in the predictable way and smelled like a rye flour starter at first -- i.e., normal, with that harsh rye edge.

Once I was seeing doubling in small amounts, I began feeding with white flour (KA bread flour), starting at roughly the same "pour off 3/4ths, add 1:1" proportions and intervals, slowly backing off on the liquid to make for a 'doughier' starter, which seems to produce (for me) a more sour loaf. The sweet smell emerged with the first white-flour feeding. The stuff rises normally (double-triple in 3-4 hours). And now I've risen a test loaf with it -- first rise looked textbook, as did the second, and the dough itself smells great, except there's definitely a hint of this 'liqueur' aroma around it.

I've read several TFL threads via Search for 'sourdough smell,' and I'm not too worried about this. I assume the starter will settle down with further feedings and probably stop being so tipsy. But I wonder if anyone can see, in my description (which I know is sadly loose -- I've done this enough times with dead-on results that I've gotten to assume things will always 'just happen' in a certain way) something that explains why this starter smells so different from my prior efforts. Thanks!

 

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

It's just unstable and immature at this point, nothing to worry about.

After the starter peaks and collapses, it starts to turn acidic. At this point, there will be a tremendous amount of alcohol as a by-product, and that's normal. As it continues to collapse, it with produce other by-products. I found, in an answer to my own post about 3 days ago, that if you let it go 24 hrs on a 1:1:1 feed, it won't be quite as alcohol smelling. I baked a new loaf this morning after 2 days of one 24 hr feeding, followed by two 12 hr feedings, and the end product was much better.

To me, a good sourdough should stay within the nasal cavity after smelling or chewing. My first loaves with the predominant alcohol smell did not do this. My last loaf definitely had this fragrance, although not quite to where I'd want it in order to start making multiple loaves. At any rate, that you are getting that strong alcohol smell is a GREAT milestone, but realistically, there's not much else to celebrate with a starter only 7 days old. It will take time to mature and build the character that describes a truly mature and robust sourdough. As you also know, it will take quite a bit more abuse or neglect down the road and bounce back nicely. Good luck with it, the road ahead is much easier once you can at least bake with it!

- Keith

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Growing wild yeasts can be a gamble and getting the right balance in the beginning tricky.   Feed it the way you have in the past to set up the parameters for the starter and be patient, those that fit your needs will vie for the slot.   Alcohol is a product of fermentation; acetone, if getting stronger, needs to be taken care of.  (compare to nail polish remover)  Those starters can be fixed but the tendency for the starter to swing out of balance and return to an acetone smelling starter is greater and can be frustrating.  You might want to start another starter while you're playing with this one but keep the two separated.  I've also had problems with jars with nail holes in them.  The inside seals on the lids are broken protecting the jarred substance from traces of metal that can drop into the starter.  Try an inverted custard bowl or plastic wrap with a loose rubber band to hold it in place.  I clean up those nice big rubber bands that come on whole chickens, first a good scrub and then stretched in the dishwasher.

It could be you have a faster acting yeast in the starter than before and this starter is quicker to evolve than your past starters.   If this is the case, slowing down the feeds forces the faster yeasts to drop out of the competition.  The longer life cycle yeasts then take advantage with the next feeding.  I hope the fragrances stay, might be from the rye.   How long does the first rise take to peak after feeding?  

If you're getting hooch, then pour it off first and use the thicker amount on the bottom to feed.  Split into two starter and feed one normally and experiment with the other.   If your starter is thin, then thicken it a little bit more when feeding and save less of it to feed.  If you chilled your starter in the past, now might be a good time to start chilling it...  say 3 hours after feeding following your old schedule for a 24 hour period.  See if that helps.

jjainschigg's picture
jjainschigg

Ah ... very interesting. I will try lengthening the time between feedings and see if that changes things. And then I will back off the liquid further, as Mini suggests.

My test boule, baked in a Dutch Oven, came out looking okay (fine rise, good spring, nice color, bubbles and crackles, 'singing' on its way out of the oven, etc.). So the yeast seems to be operational. And it tasted .... okay. But Keith is right ... immature starter (plus a hurry-up-style recipe, no cold retard, etc.) = no real personality. Didn't stop me from making tomato/feta/onion sandwiches with it at 2 AM, of course, and the kids, who take a dim view of fully-souled sourdough, will love it. But I'm looking forward to a little more of that intra-nasal resonance. (grin)

Juergen Krauss's picture
Juergen Krauss

Hi,

It seems that sourdoughs which are underfed / starving produce lots of ketones (acetone is one of them).

You could try using less of the old starter for a  refreshment.

From my own experience - I had huge trouble when I switched from Dove's rye to Shipton Mill (UK flours, I live in Britain). The difference in behavior and smell was just unbelievable. For Dove's it usually took me a week to get a stable starter, for Shipton Mill It took quite a bit longer. And I had to relearn which smells are the good ones. The new flour ferments much quicker (maybe different strains of yeast and bacteria), I have to change the ratios in my refreshments.

Maybe you changed your supplier, or the new batch of rye they got is just different?

Juergen

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

I agree with Mini, and have done so myself, and that is, split the starter if you want to experiment.. especially anything that might be extreme. I now have 3 starters going, and 2 of them are playthings. The original is always treated the exact way that keeps it active, but since it's a WW starter, I haven't tried to bake with it. The other 2 I freely experiment with (both white), and one of them is what I'm baking with every 3 days or so as it matures. Obviously if something goes horribly wrong, you have the original one as the backup.

Isn't it amazing that the kids will eat the awful smelling rejects? I cringe! They can't get enough of it! LOL... just more war stories for when they get older... ; )

- Keith