Sour Corn Starter

all about mashing and fermenting grains

Sour Corn Starter

Postby Brendan » Sat Jan 25, 2014 1:40 pm

Now just thought I'd cover sour corn starters in conjuction with my bourbon thread in case anyone is interested. I'm not claiming it as my own knowledge, but it's all stuff I first saw presented by Pinto (shine not bootleg :shifty: ) over yonder, so thought i'd mention it here for those who haven't come across the idea at all.

When making bourbon/american whiskey and following the traditions in the process, you would have come across the sour mashing method. This involves using a portion of the set back/backset/stillage from the previous run to introduce into the new mashing. If anyone doesn't have much experience with this process, it does not have to do with introducing a sour flavour into whiskey...it's main objective is to lower the pH of the mash and be able to maintain some consistency throughout multiple runs. As set back is very acidic it is effective in bringing the mash down to an optimum level for corn mashing, and helps to prevent bacterial infection. The other benefits to sour mash is that the lactic solution can introduce what some would label as "creamy" flavours and supposedly provide a degree of mouth feel. as far as i'm concerned though, it's all about the pH control :handgestures-thumbupleft:

When you are doing your first run and don't have any set back, a sour corn starter is a method which can allow replication to some extent of some of the effects of the sour mash. Here's the process...

Fill up a few jars/containers with some corn. I got cracked corn, and chucked it in the blender for 10 seconds just to break it up a little bit. You'll need at least 4 jars, because they don't always work....

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Pour filtered/boiled water in the jars to a minimum of half of the height again on the corn on top. Make sure the water is at fermentation temp (maybe 26-32 deg C). The idea here is that we are giving the natural yeast/bacteria a wet environment to start fermenting. You will notice the water cap turn white as some of the starches dissolve into the water. Put some paper towels over the top and leave them sit in a standard fermentation area.

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After 24 hours you should notice that some form of fermentation is underway and there will be little bubles all through the corn, some working their way to the top and possibly pushing small particles to the top forming a cap of floating pieces.

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There are 3 particular bacteria that we are lookingto take hold, one at a time, the next denaturing the previous one. Once the first fermentation is underway and the bubbles are visible, there should be a creamed corn like smell, which is the first of the three bacteria in action...
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby Brendan » Sat Jan 25, 2014 1:44 pm

These pics are after 36 hours...at this point the fermentation becomes a fair bit more vigorous, and you may see a sizeble cap formed from pieces being pushed to the top of the liquid.

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You can see those little bubbles all in amongst the pieces of corn...you can also give these a shake around or a stir to get the cap down and release some of the CO2, which will make it fizz a bit but will soon settle.

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Last edited by Brendan on Sat Jan 25, 2014 1:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby Brendan » Sat Jan 25, 2014 1:49 pm

After 48 hours...

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The next smell which you can expect to get here, is the smell of vomit :puke-huge: (yes, it actually smells like puke). This is expected, and is not a problem...this is the second bacteria that we are expecting taking hold and taking over the first bacteria...as this process occurs, the pH level of these starters is dropping. The puke smell usually appears after the 48hour mark, but will soon be killed off by the third bacteria.


After 60 hours...definitely hit the vomit smell now :silent:

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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby Brendan » Sat Jan 25, 2014 2:02 pm

72 hours...

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84 hours...at this point the vomit smell has all but gone. The third bacteria, which is the one we want, has destroyed the second one and the smell has taken on a pleasant corn smell...once this smell sets in and everything settles and clears, it's right to use as a sour starter.

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This is the end at about the 96 hour mark...the smell is pleasant, and everything has settled out. This starter will be highly acidic, and can be used in a bourbon mashing to replicate the effects of the sour mashing process using backset. A bit of boiled (dead) yeast can also be added with the mash, as that's another compound which would be present in a sour mash set back addition :handgestures-thumbupleft:
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby SBB » Sat Jan 25, 2014 9:36 pm

Top post Brendan, that should help a lot of people, the info has been out there for ages and is way over due.
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby 1 2many » Sat Jan 25, 2014 9:44 pm

SBB wrote:Top post Brendan, that should help a lot of people, the info has been out there for ages and is way over due.

:text-+1: Very well documented mate, the best " howto" in a long while. :clap: :clap:
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby haze » Sat Jan 25, 2014 11:23 pm

fantastic. thanks for your efforts it will help me in future
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Sour Corn Starter

Postby P3T3rPan » Sun Jan 26, 2014 6:43 am

Fantastic post Brendan. Finely distilled information.
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby flamehawk » Wed Mar 12, 2014 9:55 pm

I was trying to look around for this info tonight. Thanks for the photos and details

I boiled all my cracked corn which was probably wrong.

Can I ask, should I start again?

Also, if you add boiling water where does the bacteria come from?

Cheers ian
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby Brendan » Wed Mar 12, 2014 10:18 pm

flamehawk wrote:I was trying to look around for this info tonight. Thanks for the photos and details

I boiled all my cracked corn which was probably wrong.

Can I ask, should I start again?

Also, if you add boiling water where does the bacteria come from?

Cheers ian


Yeah I would assume that nothing will happen. By pouring boiling water over it, you are killing the natural yeast/bacteria...think of it like pitching yeast in a wash and keep it under 35 degrees :handgestures-thumbupleft:

You can still boil cracked corn to soften it or pre-soak it, but keep a little aside and fresh to make a sour starter...
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby flamehawk » Thu Mar 13, 2014 5:16 pm

So, I've been brewing a ujsm. Found the recipe but the instructions were poor.

Would it be normal to boil the corn or follow your instructions

Depending on the answer should I start from scratch. I will be going into my third generation by weeks end
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby bluess57 » Thu Mar 13, 2014 5:28 pm

flamehawk wrote:So, I've been brewing a ujsm. Found the recipe but the instructions were poor.

Would it be normal to boil the corn or follow your instructions

Depending on the answer should I start from scratch. I will be going into my third generation by weeks end

No need really to boil up the corn in gens of ujsm, but it isn't really going to make any difference since your at Gen 3.
These starters are really only of use when you first put the wash on, and don't have any backset. All other gen's your using backset.
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby Brendan » Thu Mar 13, 2014 5:42 pm

bluess57 wrote:
flamehawk wrote:So, I've been brewing a ujsm. Found the recipe but the instructions were poor.

Would it be normal to boil the corn or follow your instructions

Depending on the answer should I start from scratch. I will be going into my third generation by weeks end

No need really to boil up the corn in gens of ujsm, but it isn't really going to make any difference since your at Gen 3.
These starters are really only of use when you first put the wash on, and don't have any backset. All other gen's your using backset.


:text-+1: What he said
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby stretch69 » Wed Jul 16, 2014 10:10 am

Is it okay to throw these starters in a couple days after fermentation has begun?.
I reckon I read somewhere that someone actually does this on purpose for some reason.
My starters just aren't ready yet
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby Kimbo » Wed Jul 16, 2014 10:13 am

stretch69 wrote:Is it okay to throw these starters in a couple days after fermentation has begun?.
I reckon I read somewhere that someone actually does this on purpose for some reason.
My starters just aren't ready yet

Yeah, it should be ok mate. The starters are only there for the flavour and lactic acid....no real conversion will take place :handgestures-thumbupleft:
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby stretch69 » Wed Jul 16, 2014 10:42 am

Thanks kimbo :handgestures-thumbupleft:
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby Brendan » Wed Jul 16, 2014 1:03 pm

Yeah what Kimbo said, and for pH control.

In a UJSSM won't be a problem, in an AG though you'd only be looking at a 3 day ferment so you want the pH set from the start :handgestures-thumbupleft:
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby stretch69 » Wed Jul 16, 2014 1:38 pm

What about in a BWKO?, I'm guessing it's okay because the grains are being used for flavor and not conversion :think:
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby Kimbo » Wed Jul 16, 2014 1:40 pm

stretch69 wrote:What about in a BWKO?, I'm guessing it's okay because the grains are being used for flavor and not conversion :think:

Yep, that'll work too :handgestures-thumbupleft:
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby 7evan » Sat Oct 11, 2014 8:50 pm

Hey lads. I've made some some sour starters for a BWKO.

I still add bakers yeast hey??
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