Sour Corn Starter

Production methods from starch to sugars.

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Sour Corn Starter

Postby Brendan » Thu Feb 20, 2014 8:22 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, 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 :thumbup:

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 / 79-90 deg F). 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 » Thu Feb 20, 2014 8:24 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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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby Brendan » Thu Feb 20, 2014 8:28 pm

After 48 hours...

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The next smell which you can expect to get here, is the smell of vomit :sick: (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 » Thu Feb 20, 2014 8:32 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 :thumbup:

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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby Brendan » Fri Feb 21, 2014 5:19 am

Thanks Rock :thumbup:

It's something that's been discussed over the years, but I think it really helps to have a bit of a guide and knowing what to expect over the timeframe. Who would've thought bacteria would be so interesting?!
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby SoMo » Sun Feb 23, 2014 1:47 pm

Rock, that's awesome man, when I start my sour mashes over that would be great in the absence of backset where previously I was going to just boil of some wash to have back set. I'm gonna get some fresh corn in the morning and try it, two empty fermenters need filled. Thanks Melloman.
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby Woodpile » Mon Mar 03, 2014 1:27 pm

I have some sour backset from a scotch (all barley) batch. Do you think it would be ok to use that in the first batch of sour-mash corn?
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby Brendan » Mon Mar 03, 2014 3:07 pm

Woodpile wrote:I have some sour backset from a scotch (all barley) batch. Do you think it would be ok to use that in the first batch of sour-mash corn?


You definitely can...it's going to impart different flavours to what you might be expecting though. But it will, of course, serve its purpose in lowering the pH of your mash water.

The question is the difference of flavour...
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby jetkrazee » Fri Mar 14, 2014 1:50 pm

Great info!
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby mtndewman » Sat Mar 22, 2014 3:40 pm

well hell fire. wish i had read this before last week.. lmao i use 2 - 30 gl plastic trash cans to ferment in and i did a half boil corn wash.. i heated water to 150 degrees and let my cracked corn sit in it for a few hours stirring with a drill and paddle mixer.. added 25 lbs or sugar and filled with my spring well water... after a few days i started getting the vomit smell ,, so i thought i screwed up something because the smell ALSO i got a very white powdery film over the top of my wash.. it was very cloudy and smelled like vomit so i poured all 30 gl of it out to the deer.. i really couldn't get over that smell.. but i guess it was a good thing..but what was the powdery film??? i used a bakers yeast too..
great read and great info..i was a week late and 30gl short of a great run..
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby islandgreen1971 » Thu Apr 10, 2014 8:38 pm

Im a novice, 4 months in and addressing how to learn Ph problems now, but not to ask a stupid question, but can I do this to Uncle Jesse's sour mash sugar recipe?
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby RevSpaminator » Thu Jun 05, 2014 4:33 pm

I follow a similar idea when starting my UJSSM. If I have to start from scratch, I dump cracked corn in the fermenter and cover with water. Then I let it set a few days. I know it's done when it doesn't smell like puke anymore. Then I add the rest of my ingredients and let it go. I got the idea from an old post i saw around here a few years ago but I can't for the life of me find it.
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby just sayin » Thu Jun 05, 2014 5:35 pm

Thanks Brendon, I have three mason jars with coffee filters lined up on a shelf. The corn in them has dried to ugly little corn hockey pucks in the past two or three years. I was reading Pint's original post and tried follow his guide but must have let it go too long, I think I got a mold on the surface.
After reading your post, I think it is time to steam those jars and give it another shot.
Thanks for reviving the elements of Pint's tutorial here.
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby stumpjumper » Wed Jul 16, 2014 11:50 am

I have read this three times and may still have missed it. Is the started added to your corn recipe (the normal bill of goods whatever they may be)? For example if I am building a five gallon batch and it calls for 8 pounds of corn and 2 pounds of crushed barley then add the starter (whole jar?) to the corn and proceed with what ever your process was when you started from scratch.

Do I have this right?
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby Bob Loblaw » Fri Nov 14, 2014 1:14 pm

Brendan - good info. I read this along with your other post on Bourbon.

Question for you - do you think a sourdough culture could be used as a starter for the sour mash? The starting methodology here seems like the hit or miss type of approach one can take to get a mother culture going for bread baking. But once you've got the culture you want captured and isolated, seems like maybe one could skip a few of the steps (particularly the "smells like vomit" ones)?

I'm sure I can test it out, but I am wondering if you have any thoughts on that approach.
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby Ted » Tue Nov 25, 2014 11:47 am

I have 4 mason jars of this going right now. Only two of them are working, the two that aren't working I cracked the corn too fine. The 2 that are working smell nasty! :sick: you were right about the smell. How many jars do you reckon I use for a 5 gallon mash, 1 jar or 2?
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby Ted » Tue Nov 25, 2014 12:23 pm

Oh, also, how long do you think they can be stored for? Let's say they finished souring and I'm not gonna mash for another two weeks. Would they still be ok to use?
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby Brutal » Sun Dec 14, 2014 6:27 pm

All 5 of my jars appear to be molding.. Sucks.
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby Ted » Sun Dec 14, 2014 8:55 pm

Brutal wrote:All 5 of my jars appear to be molding.. Sucks.


I did four jars and none of them worked, it worked a little bit then it got stuck at the nasty rotten corn barf smell. I think next time I'll try more jars. I've been tempted to get a cultured lacto bacteria and doing it that way..
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby Brutal » Mon Dec 15, 2014 5:33 pm

Is there something we could add to ensure it starts right? Pinch of yeast? Yogurt?
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby Ted » Tue Dec 16, 2014 11:01 am

Brutal wrote:Is there something we could add to ensure it starts right? Pinch of yeast? Yogurt?


I would think to use the most freshest corn possible and a good amount of jars in a warm area
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby guittarmaster » Wed Jul 27, 2016 1:27 pm

Do i understand this correctly, You DO NOT boil the soured corn before adding it or do you sterilize it first?
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby dukethebeagle120 » Tue Aug 16, 2016 4:28 pm

can u use this as your yeast ,say like a sourdough starter
ive made sourdough starters before and it smells the same
and with sourdough starters you always get a ``hooch`` that forms if left for a bit
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby Reverend Newer » Tue Feb 20, 2018 9:29 pm

This is probably the best explanation of why and how, including awesome pictorial of sour mash starter, awesome work and thank you for your time.
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby Appalachian spirits » Wed Mar 28, 2018 7:34 pm

Ill be damned....i wish i had known this 20 years ago. This is one of those moments i wish i paid more attention to the science of this craft instead of using trial and error but thats why i joined this site. To learn. I will use this the next time i mash in a sweet run for damn sure.
Thanks for the great information
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Re: Sour Corn Starter

Postby zapata » Wed Mar 28, 2018 9:54 pm

If you can incubate the jars at around 120*F, this process goes much faster. Maybe more reliably too, I never had a batch not get a good lacto souring going on when incubating. I used to have a crockpot that would hold right at 120 on low. But I've got another one that needs to be plugged into a power controller to maintain 120. I've done both corn in jars in a water bath in the crockpot, as well as just souring up a crockpot full. Crockpot full is easier, but I guess individual jars gives you more chances in case something doesn't go right.

This works great to start a first gen UJ, or to restart UJ after some time off. A little soured corn, some frozen or canned backset, and it's like you never stopped.
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