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Troubleshooting starter - hooch and not rising

veyhveyh's picture

Troubleshooting starter - hooch and not rising

Hi everyone, 

I need some help with my starter. I started it on the 29/04 so it's only a few days old. It is my first ever try, I didn't have distilled water and I'm not even sure if the flour I'm using is unbleached. I used the recommended mixture by Joshua Weissman on YouTube for the first mix and a few of the first feedings, this was:

Day 1: 100g wholemeal flour (I didn't have rye) and 150g lukewarm water

I then fed it every 24hrs 

First feeding: 70g starter, 50g wholemeal, 50g strong white bread flour, 115g water

Second feeding: same as first 

I then moved it to a slightly cooler area

Third feeding: starter, wholemeal flour and water in 1:1:1 proportions, (70g) 

And finally getting to my issue:

After the first feeding I left it in quite a warm spot (on a warm surface) and after 24 hours it rose by about 1/3 and had lots of bubbles on top. There was a layer of liquid (hooch?) in the middle of bubbly starter and the nonbubbly starter. It was just separated.

I used the top layer for my feeding and discarded the rest. It smelt strongly of vinegar. 

After every feeding the starter keeps forming a vinegary liquid on top (hooch I'm guessing), even after I moved it to a cooler area (room temp in a ventilated kitchen). And it hasn't risen at all since the first feeding. There are some bubbles. What am I doing wrong?  I have started to feed it twice a day, about 12 hours apart now. Is there anything else I could do or try? 

 Any advice will be greatly appreciated,

Thanks in advance!

pmccool's picture

First, if the water and flour are separating, reduce the amount of water.  Aim for a soft paste consistency instead of a liquid consistency. 

Second, you haven’t said what “warm” or “room temperature” are.  Your starter will grow best if the temperature is around 25C, give or take a couple of degrees.

At this juncture, I’d suggest stirring in just enough flour to thicken it, then leave it alone until you see activity.  That will give the bacteria the chance to build their populations and cycle through their regimes until the starter’s pH drops far enough to waken the yeast.  Once you see the starter bubbling and expanding, plus smell yeasty/beery/fruity odors, it will be ready for another feeding.  


veyhveyh's picture

That's actually really helpful, thank you! I stirred in a bit of flour because I naturally thought it was too "wet". 

I left it on a Rayburn hob top which feels warm to touch so actually I would say it's probably around 38 degrees. The starter is in a glass jar so the temperature is probably much lower than this however following your advice I might move it to just next to the Rayburn.

I haven't fed it for about 38 hours as it looked like it was bubbling nicely and frothing on top with no hooch. Possibly the fact that I reduced hydration helped? 

It now smells nice and fruity for the first time! Which I think is a good sign :) It hasn't risen a whole lot, so now what should I do? At what point do I feed it? Or should I use it now (if that means it's ready for use) and then feed it? Or do I leave it without feeding to see if it rises? 

Thank you for your advice!