Beer Rye Sourdough

There was a time when I didn’t like beer. Actually, there were many times. The first that I remember was at a family party at my grandparents’ house, when my cousin and I must have pilfered a can from the ice chest and gone for a walk to try it. Though we reveled in Maneschewitz at Passover, a sip of beer left me baffled as to how anyone could drink something so vile.

I held to this notion until I traveled to Italy with my best friend, who shocked me one night when she ordered a beer with her pizza. By way of explanation, she said simply, ‘I like beer.’

Since my friend has impeccable taste, I gave beer another chance, and decided that light beers, namely Coronas and Pacificos, were ok, so long as you had a lime wedge to shove in the bottle and something cheesy and greasy to chase them with.

Then I met Jay, a true cerevisaphile, and everything changed. (And not just because I didn’t have to do thedishesanymore.)

There were light beers and dark beers. Sweet beers and sour beers. Malty beers and hoppy beers. There were boozy barley wines, sweet Belgians, fruity Lambics and crisp kolschs.

The Doc and I at Boundary Bay Brewery in Bellingham, Washington

But most importantly, there was Anchor Steam.

I’d seen the blue, red and gold label many times and thought nothing of it, until I moved in with Jay a mere 5 blocks from where the magic happens. When I walk outside in the morning (or afternoon, mostly), I can often smell the malty aroma of the cooking barley, or ‘mash,’ wafting on the breeze. Few bojon activities rate as high as the free tours of the beautiful brewery, which culminate in a sunny taproom with tastings of their various brews. I love Liberty Ale, a gently hopped IPA of sorts; and the Bock, with it’s goaty label. Summer ale refreshes on a hot day, and even the porter is quaffably smooth.

But nothing beats their Steam beer (you’ll have to take the tour to find out why it’s called that), an expertly balanced lager that goes with anything, any time. The little gold dress of beers, if you will.

When I began baking with sourdough several years ago, I liked to think that the coveted yeasts from the Anchor brewery had found their way into my kitchen and lent their good juju to my loaves. (In fact, I still like to think that.)

My starter had been sitting in the fridge for months and months, patiently waiting to be revivified. When I saw this handsome, beer-based loaf on CakeWalk, via YeastSpotting, I immediately removed my starter from the fridge, poured off the gray liquid sitting on top, and began nourishing it for baking. I made somemulti-grain pancakes and brownies, and then it was time.

I altered mysourdough country boule recipe, decreasing the starter and using Anchor Steam in place of the water. I added a touch of honey, and the bread baked up intensely flavorful; not tasting of beer, but with a malty depth of flavor. The bread was denser than I wanted, however, probably from adding too much flour and not kneading the dough enough.

Inspired by Cheeseboard’s Sourdough Beer Rye, I decided to try this loaf with rye flour in place of whole wheat, so I made a second one, this time kneading the dough in the stand mixer so that it could remain wetter. The dough was stickier than I was used to, but I wrestled it into a banneton dusted heavily with flour (it still stuck). When I turned it out onto a cornmeal-dusted peel, it was so wobbly that I feared it would ‘sploosh’ into a flat, ugly loaf in the oven.

But the loaf defied me, and baked up into one of the nicest breads of this sort I have ever made. The crust was deep mahogany, almost black (and next time, I would decrease the oven temperature after 15 minutes rather than 20), and the interior was soft and chewy, with large, irregular holes. The bread makes excellent sandwiches, spread with Sierra Nevada mustard and layered with sharp cheddar, avocado and sprouts.

And of course, nothing washes down a sandwich quite like a cold glass of Anchor Steam beer.

Sweet on sourdough:

Two-Olive Sourdough
Flaxseed Waffles

Beer goggles:

Bacon Beer Scones
Buckwheat Crepes
Smoked Porter Chocolate Cake

One year ago:

Nibby Matcha Wafers

Sourdough Beer Rye

Makes one large loaf, about 2 pounds

Total time: about 9 hours, not including refreshing starter

refresh starter four hours before beginning recipe
mix, knead and autolyse dough, 1 hour
first rise, 3 – 4 hours (or overnight in fridge)
shape dough, 10 minutes
second rise, 1 1/2 – 2 hours
bake, 45 minutes
cool loaf, 1 – 2 hours

A few notes:

I used Anchor Steam lager for this bread, but you could probably use any beer that you like the taste of (though I would stay away from anything ultra-hoppy).Having your beer at room temp will help the bread rise faster than cold beer. If you forget to leave your beer out to warm, place the unopened bottle in a container of warm water for 20 minutes or so to take off the chill.

You can order fresh sourdough starter here.Thisis a nice-looking site if you want to learn how to raise your own starter. (If you live in the Bay Area, I’m happy to give you some of mine!)

In order to raise bread, your starter has to be refreshed, full of bubbles and vigor. If your starter isn’t doubling within four or five hours when you feed it, it will not be strong enough to raise bread. If it isn’t, don’t despair; bake some sourdoughcrackers,pancakesorpie doughand give the starter another feeding or two until it’s ready. I keep my starter rather thick and almost gloppy, the consistency of a very thick pancake batter; if yours is thinner, you will need to add more flour to the dough.

I like to weigh my starter, as it is extremely sticky to put it in a measuring cup and then try to scrape out. You also get a much more accurate amount, since the bubbles will drastically effect the volume, by a factor of two or three even.

This recipe assumes you have the following accoutrements:

  • plastic dough scraper
  • rising basket (banneton)
  • wooden pizza peel (you can use a large, smooth cutting board)
  • baking stone
  • dough slasher (lame) or sharp knife
  • large plastic bag, such as a trash bag, and something to close it with
  • sacrificial metal pan to put ice in (to steam the oven)

The bread:
8 oz. liquid sourdough starter, bubbly and well fed (about 1 cup stirred down, or 2+ cups at full froth; see headnote)
12 oz. room temperature beer (such as Anchor Steam lager; see headnote)
3/4 ounce (1 tablespoon) honey
5 oz. (1 cup) rye flour (I used light, but dark/pumpernickel would be good, too)
12 oz. (2 1/4 cups) white bread flour (plus extra as needed)
2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

Mix and knead the dough:
Combine the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer in the order listed. Attach the dough hook, and knead on low speed (1 on a Kitchen Aid) until the dough is evenly moistened; it should be wet and sticky. Cover the bowl tightly with a lid or plastic wrap and let rest 20 minutes. (This is calledautolyseand allows the flour to absorb some of the water, and the gluten strands to begin straightening out; it makes for less kneading in the end, and will prevent you from adding too much flour right off the bat.)

After 20 minutes, mix the dough on medium-low (2 on a Kitchen Aid) for 10 minutes, adding more bread flour 1 tablespoon at a time within the first 5 minutes until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. After 10 minutes, the dough should be smoother, but still tacky to the touch.

Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a few minutes by hand, adding as little flour as necessary to keep it from sticking to your hands and the counter. It should still be a bit sticky, but should feel smooth and clay-like.

Place the dough in a large, lightly oiled ceramic bowl or a large plastic container at least twice the size of the dough. You can mark the outside of the vessel with a piece of masking tape where the dough will be when it doubles, if you like. Cover the vessel tightly with plastic wrap or the lid, and allow it to rise until doubled, 3 – 4 hours. (The warmer the spot you choose, the faster it will rise, the ideal temperature being 75-85º. You can turn the oven on to warm for a few minutes, then turn it off and place the dough inside to give it a head start; make sure the oven is cooler than 100ºF.) (Alternately, let the dough rise in the fridge or a cool place overnight. If you do, let the dough come to room temperature before shaping it.)

Shaping the dough and the second rise:
Gently turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, pressing out the air bubbles. Shape into a boule by tucking the edges under itself, then gently rotating the dough on the surface to form a taught outer layer of dough.(Here’sa quick video of how to shape a boule.) For an oval-shaped loaf, roll the boule seam-side-down, between the pads of your hands and the counter to elongate.

If you have a rising basket, sift a light layer of flour onto the inside, and place the boule in it upside-down, pinching the seam shut. (If you don’t have a rising basket, place the boule directly on a peel or board dusted with cornmeal or flour.) Place the whole deal in a large plastic bag, such as a trash can liner. Inflate the bag and close it with a twist tie or clip.

Let the bread rise a second time until doubled, about 1 1/2 – 2 hours. When the bread is ready to bake, it will hold an indentation of your finger when you press it lightly, rather than springing back.

Prepare the oven and bake the bread:
While the bread is rising, about an hour before you’re ready to bake, remove all but the lowest rack of your oven. Place a baking stone on the rack (or a heavy duty baking sheet), and place a metal, non-teflon pan of any size that you don’t care about sacrificing (it will get rusty) on the floor of the oven.

Crank the oven up to 500º.

When the bread has doubled, gently turn it out onto a wooden peel dusted with flour or cornmeal. Holding alameor sharp knife at a 45º angle to the loaf, draw the blade, about 1″ deep, across the top of the loaf, beginning and ending 2″ from the bottoms of the boule. Make 2 or 3 diagonal slashes this way (see photo in post, above).

Fill a 1 cup measure with ice cubes. Quickly slip the boule off the peel and onto the stone, and toss the cubes into the hot pan on the floor of the oven. This will steam the outside of the loaf, allowing it to expand as it bakes.

Bake the loaf for 15 minutes without opening the oven, then turn the oven down to 450º and bake another 15 – 20 minutes or so, until the bread is a deep, burnished golden-brown and the loaf sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom. An instant read thermometer inserted into the middle should read around 200º, the temperature at which the starches in the dough are set.

Cool and store:
Let cool completely on a wire rack, 1 – 2 hours, before enjoying. When hot, the bread is still ‘baking’ from the residual heat and steam inside the loaf, so step away from the bread until it is truly cool.
This bread keeps well for more than a week. The best way to store this type of bread is in a paper bag at room temperature for a couple of days. After that, put the whole thing, paper bag and all, into a plastic bag and continue to store at room temp. After a couple of days like that, it there’s any left over, cut leftovers into 1/2″ chunks, fry in a heavy skillet in light olive oil, and toss into soups or salads for the best croutons ever.

28 thoughts on “Beer Rye Sourdough”

  1. I will trade you ANYTHING if you will make me some of this bread. Really. What do you want?

    That loaf is *gorgeous*, Alanna. I have never mastered the fine art of sourdough (or the sandwich loaf, for that matter), and have had to make do with MANY baguettes instead. Both have their merits, but every time I buy bread at the store (to make sandwiches with cheese and avo and sprouts, of course), it makes me sad that I can't make it myself. Maybe I'll have to try again.

    1. I didn’t see a way to comment on the blog post itself, so I’m replying to a comment. I followed your method to a tee and the results were gorgeous! There is so much conflicting, confusing, and mystifying information out there about making sourdough bread—and nothing straightforward, that I could find, about the rye variety. Thank you for your excellent directions. I will say that water would work as well as beer (I used half of each so the beer wouldn’t overpower). To those starting out, I’d advise three things: 1) the starter is crucial; make sure it’s well fed and frothy; 2) do NOT stint on the rising time—my first rise took 3.5 hours; and 3) weigh your ingredients—it’s worth the trouble. Don’t give up!

  2. Gorgeous! You inspire me back – to go out get an Anchor Steam: little gold dress of beers! I wonder if you have any tip for making the bannetons "non-stick". I almost always use a floured towel in mine, since even when heavily floured, I have stickage issues. I bought it new last year, and figure it needs to build up a season, but it's frustrating not to have lovely ribbon-top loaves… yours is seriously beautiful!

    1. Rice flour is more round in structure so releases better than other flours. I use a close mesh cotton cheese cloth dipped in rice flour and lightly shaken to minimize adding flour. This easily peels off with virtually no impact on the loaf because there is little surface contact and it is light weight.

  3. Hm… I believe that Nancy Silverton recommends using rye flour for kneading and flouring the bannetons as it can help decrease stickage (I usually just use white, though). I have had my baskets for several years, so it may be as you guessed. I definitely use a strainer to sift the flour into the basket, so it gets into an even layer and settles into the cracks. I suppose you could try sifting flour directly on top of the boule before placing it in the basket, as well as flouring the basket. If, when you turn it out, there is too much flour sticking to the loaf, you can always sweep off the excess using a pastry brush.

    Thank you again for your beautiful and inspiring beer sourdough post – I'm greatly enjoying your blog, and also the King Arthur blog I found through your site. Keep me posted re: sticky bannetons. Happy baking!

    1. OK, this is the BEST recipe. I made it this week. My loaf was beautiful and sooooooo delicious! I substituted molasses for the honey and added about 1 tablespoon of caraway seeds. I baked it in a round ceramic casserole dish so it would rise high and not spread across a stone. The crust was crunchy and the bread was soft and had that perfect rye bread taste. Thank you! If I knew how to post a picture I would. I fed my sourdough for a couple of days, every 12 hours, to beef it up before making the recipe. This recipe is a keeper! Is there anything better than rye toast?

  4. Finally broke down and made this bread. And actually followed directions.

    Waiting for it to cool now, but it looks like I might have actually made a successful sourdough!!

  5. I don't like beer still..but I like beer in food, and I love sourdough so I'm going to give this a try one day! really like your blog btw,a nd all these really helpful tips you give, so super jealous that you're studying cooking but so happy for you and for myself because I get to read what you've learnt (:

  6. I made this loaf last night. (My sourdough starter is clearly not robust enough so it took about a whole day and a half to rise, but rise it eventually did.) Followed all your directions as written and the bread came out wonderfully. The crust is thick and crispy and the inside is dense, but tender and moist. The taste of Anchor Steam kicks in at the end of each bite. (I don't have a bread stone and peel yet so there was an awkward transfer into the oven. My loaf ended up looking like a luchador wrestler (think ski mask) and a potato had a baby as a result, but this certainly didn't affect the taste or texture) I'm planning on making either a cream of mushroom soup or a beer/cheddar soup to pair with it.I will definitely be making this again, once my starter is back up and running full tilt. Thanks for the great recipe! Beck

  7. Just set my boule to proof! I don't have a kitchen aid, or any fancy equipment, so I kneaded it by hand. And this was my first time doing a Rye Sourdough, so I hope it will turn out ok! If nothing else, toasted with some butter or brie should be tasty enough. Or everyone I've talked to said they've had at least one good fail with sourdough (I'm new to this, only been doing it for a few months, and I'm still waiting for a big fail ;) ), so I guess I'm due ;)

    Thank you for posting this and I can't wait to try in the morning with coffee!

    1. How'd it turn out?! I've had my fair share of sourdough fails, but usually with a brand new starter. Sounds like you're in the clear! Let me know how you like it. :)

  8. Love this recipe! My husband came home two days after I discovered this recipe with a case of Anchor beer. I nearly fell off of my chair! He didn’t know that the original recipe called for Anchor beer, it just happened to be an interesting beer he wanted to try! He hasn’t let me use it in the baking of bread though. Said the beer tastes too good to put in bread! It turns out great every time even when I’m using cheap beer.

  9. Hi Alanna – Jenny in London, England here. Made my first ever sourdough to your recipe with my nephew’s beer and it turned out great. He has re-established a dormant family business – the Hammerton Brewery – lucky me! Just one question. I know this would depend on the flour being used but could you give me an idea of roughly how much flour you add by the tablespoon to get the dough to come away from the bowl? As a newbie I was worried about adding too much / not enough… In the end I stuck at 10 tablespoons but my dough was very wet and difficult to handle. Bread looked and tasted great though, so thank you!

    1. Hi Jenny! I’m so glad you liked this recipe – thanks for giving it a go and for the note! I would just try adding a bit more flour next time if the dough was too wet at 10 T. :)

  10. how often do you feed your sourdough starter? mine sits in the fridge and I feed it every couple of days, even if I am not using it… this necessary, or can I take it out once a week, refresh and use?

    1. Hm, these days I’m caring for a gluten-free sourdough that I started from this wheat one. But I usually feed it once a week when I’m not using it, and when I am, I feed it 2-3 times a day for about 2 days in order to build it up.

  11. Will try, as makes sense to use beer as basically is bacteria as is sourdough. However you did not mention what type of sourdough you used. Can only assume since it had the liquid on the top that it was white bread flour sourdough.
    I have rye sourdough, as it holds up better – so assume I can use it. Should I then reduce the rye flour used and use more bread flour?

  12. Hi, Alanna!

    Looks like a lovely recipe. I have an FYI, though, from my experience making it last night–

    I followed your recipe to the letter, except for the following: I was out of King Arthur Bread flour, so I used Bob’s Red Mill Artisanal bread flour cut 10% with King Arthur AP flour, to get the gluten level about right. I added a teaspoon of prepared mustard & a tablespoon of caraway seeds.

    Unfortunately, I had to step away while after the first 4 minutes in the mixer, and left my partner in charge of making sure the kitchenaid didn’t explode (I always assume the worst when I leave the kitchen). I came back 3 minutes later & the dough was already over-kneaded. So, the total kneading time was 7 minutes. It was like a basketball.

    I figured I’d give it a shot, so I left it to rise at room temp for an hour and a half. It barely spread. I then put it in the fridge overnight, and pulled it out an hour ago. I splashed some warm spring water on it, which I’ve done occasionally to overworked dough to give the outer layers a little more flexibility. That doesn’t appear to have helped. Anyway, I’m going to leave it in the oven with the pilot light on while I’m at work, and see if anything gives.

    If you usually have it in the mixer for 10 minutes, then I bet the problem is the problem with mine is the gluten level. I used a porter for the beer, but I don’t *think* that would have caused a problem– I made a point of not using a high-gluten beer, but malt does have some gluten still.

    Regardless, it smells wonderful, and if I can get at least a little rise out of it, I’ll bake it anyway & hope oven spring keeps it from being a rock.

    1. Hm, interesting! What was the consistency of your starter? I wonder if it was drier than the one I used and that’s what caused the dense texture of the dough rather than overkneading?

      1. It was a semi-stiff starter– because I use it only about once a week, I keep it at about 100/90 rather than 100/100.
        The water really seemed to help! It loosened up some, rose a little– never quite doubled, but poofed a bit. I shaped it into 2 loaves so I could use my bread-pot for one of them. The bread-pot baked loaf definitely got a bit more oven spring, but even the batard lightened up a little. I’d describe them as tight-grained and a little heavy, but not the absolute concrete I feared.
        It tastes wonderful with cream cheese! Lovely recipe. Thanks!

  13. I made your recipe here a few months ago with a freshly made starter, and it was pretty good. Now that starter is still going, very active, and I have some home brewed beer to boot! So, I’m going to make it again, but I will bake it in a covered stoneware dish that I’ve been using for my sourdough breads with great success. Can’t wait until the weekend! Thanks for sharing this with us.

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