Seems the sourdough starter I made last month is a bit of a touchy customer. Since I use it quite a bit I’ve gotten used to just letting it sit out on the kitchen counter 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Yet now that it’s really warm I’ve had a bit of trouble. Two weeks ago I forgot to feed it for two days or so, and it developed a very strong alcohol smell. I refreshed it for three days, yet I couldn’t get the smell to go away. The tangy sour aroma that I loved so much was completely gone. I declared defeat, threw it away, and began again (no big deal really…it only takes five days). Yesterday I did the same thing: forgot to feed it, and the pungent alcohol smell is back.
Here’s what I think is happening: left to its own devices at room temperature, an extremely alcohol-tolerant strain of saccharomyces cerevisiae is taking over the culture. Not necessarily a bad thing, but the sharp rise in alcohol is killing the partner bacteria that gave my culture its unique flavor (you do remember that starters are a yeast/bateria tag team don’t you?). So I’m starting yet again. This time I’m definitely going to refrigerate it, though it’s a disappointment, since I really got using to having a ready-to-go sourdough leavener right there on the counter when I needed it.