Sourdough Ale, Part 1

Bubbly sourdough starter

Lately I’ve been on a sourdough kick, which began with creating a sourdough starter. I don’t seem to tolerate breads and pastas very well anymore, so I opted for a gluten-free multipurpose mix from King Arthur, but I’m coming around to wanting to experiment with wheat flour and see if letting it ferment well will take care of my digestion issues.

Once I’d made pancakes, bread, and injera, I started casting around for some other recipes to play with. Obviously, even a hundred years ago, plenty of Americans didn’t have easy access to little yeast packets, so culturing an ongoing sourdough starter was just a routine household chore. Letting flour and water sit out and attract the wild yeasts that exist everywhere was as routine as having a backyard garden and cooking meals at home. Then I remembered things like kvass, a fermented beverage that’s been made in Russian households for at least hundreds of years. Basically, take some old stale bread, throw in a few raisins and lemon juice if you’ve got it, and off you go. I immediately mixed up a batch of the crust of a loaf of sourdough I’d made, a tablespoon of starter, and about a cup of sugar. I threw in some blueberries, and by the morning the concoction was fermenting strongly and had that wonderful earthy soured aroma that I associate with water kefir or young kombucha. Suddenly, all I wanted was to make a Sourdough Ale.

Get Your Sourdough Ale Starter Started!

Sourdough really is a little bit of magic, and if you’ve never made a starter, it’s possibly the easiest and most versatile way to jump into wild fermentation in the home. And if you want to join the Sourdough Ale experiment, it’s the critical Phase I process that begins the adventure.

Sourdough Starter, for bread and Sourdough Ale

This is how people made bread rise for many thousands of years, and it likely served as an inoculant for short-duration fermentation of low-alcohol beverages in the home.

Flour of your choosing
A mixing bowl
A clean dish towel
A rubber band

How to make sourdough starter:

Mix equal parts of flour and water in a clean bowl. I find that 1/3 cup of each makes a usable amount of starter for me, but not too much.
Cover the bowl with a clean dish towel, then secure with rubber band. This keeps bugs and dust out.
Let the bowl sit out for the day or overnight.
Before you go to bed, or upon waking the next day, mix in the same proportion of flour and water, cover, and let sit. This is called “feeding” your starter, and it’s required. Regular feedings also give you insight into whether your fermentation is taking off. Once a day may be enough, but morning and night feedings may speed things along. If your bowl gets full before it takes off, pour half of it out and keep feeding.

After several days to a week, your sourdough starter should have some obvious signs of fermentation – bubbles on the surface, obvious rising action, and a nice, beery aroma.

Once the starter is bubbly, you can pour extra into a jar to keep in the fridge for cooking, or keep your whole starter in the fridge, feeding weekly instead of daily.

Sourdough Ale?

Hang tight. In Part 2, I’ll update you on a test batch of Sourdough Ale that’s fermenting now.

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Sourdough Starter
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