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Sometimes my sourdough starter goes hooch (the brown liquid, alcohol) nuts and produces a ton. Other times it goes days and produces very little. I've never been able to isolate what causes this.

What promotes and discourages hooch growth in a sourdough starter?

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Hooch formation is a sign of a starving sourdough starter. I've never actually had hooch forming on a regularly fed sourdough mother. So this is the short answer.

I've sometimes spotted something similar to hooch, but it's just a false sign; Twice a day I feed my sourdough starter (it's at room temperature), and I clean my glass jar each feeding. Sometimes a small amount of water is left in the jar, and when I pour in my sourdough it doesn't incorporate the water. This water over time moves on top of the sourdough and looks like hooch, but isn't. This might or might not be the problem. Remember, a room temperature sourdough should be fed twice a day. I don't have much experience with cold-storage sourdough, but once every second day should be good.

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Wow, I'd not heard that often for a room temp starter. Mine is a fridge though. –  rfusca Feb 21 '12 at 19:46
    
@rfusca I fed mine once a day for a period of a few days once - it stopped rising, formed hooch and smelled of alcohol, so I feel confident it's actually necessary. But it's obviously not relevant in your case. How often do you feed it? –  Max Feb 21 '12 at 19:48
    
Probably twice a week. –  rfusca Feb 21 '12 at 19:49
    
@rfusca Since that is not a lot, I'd definately try to feed it a bit more often - perhaps only as much more as thrice a week - that's a little less than every second day. It's worth a shot atleast. –  Max Feb 21 '12 at 20:04
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