Vinegar making is fairly straight-forward as long as you follow a few basic principles. Making vinegar at home is different from most other fermentations as it is necessary to expose the ferment to oxygen throughout the process. Ethyl alcohol from wine, beer, cider, etc. and oxygen from the air are consumed by acetobacters to create acetic acid, that tart taste in vinegar. The acetobacters have a few demands if they are going to work for you. One, they want their alcohols between 5-10%ABV; two, they want to be kept at room temperature (60-90 degrees); three, they want to be protected from other bugs and light. So, how do you make this delicious condiment for yourself? Follow these simple steps...
- Get a clean and sanitized glass, ceramic, or plastic vessel. Do not use metal.
Always start with good quality alcohol. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t make vinegar out of it.
Cut the alcohol to 5-10% by introducing chlorine free water (if you are using city water leave the water out overnight to “off-gas”). Example: if your wine is at 12% alcohol add water at a 1:1 ratio to bring it down to 6%. If you beer/cider is already down in the proper range you will not need to add any water.
Aerate your alcohol source. Stir it for a minute or more, let it sit for a while, stir it again. Repeat this step a number of times. You want all possible sulfates and carbon dioxide to off-gas as well as introducing as much oxygen as possible. This will also allow your alcohol to get to room temperature.
Add some mother. You will want 1/4 of your overall volume to be mother. So, add 1/4 mother to 3/4 alcohol at 5-10%.
Cover the vessel with a layer or two of cheesecloth, a tea towel, or a coffee filter.
Put your vinegar-to-be in a darkish, room temperature area to hang out and do it’s thing.
Check in on your vinegar every week or so, it should develop a gelatinous film on the top of the liquid - which can develop mold, if left too long. After a month or so taste your vinegar and see if you’re ready to bottle it.
You can get fancy and do acid and pH tests, but homemade vinegar should only be used for flavoring and not for pickling or preserving, so taste is much more important than numbers.
You can also filter or pasteurize your vinegar. These steps are much more important if you’re making large batches that will age or be stored for a while. You can filter with a coffee filter or several layers of muslin or cheesecloth. You can also use a carbon filter for larger batches. Pasteurizing will kill the live mother, so if you plan on making more vinegar reserve some of the live vinegar for inoculating your next batch. To pasteurize put your vinegar in a non-reactive pot and bring to 150 degrees for 30 minutes (do not let it get over 160 degrees). Or you can fill bottles WITHOUT caps or corks and place in your pot with water up to the neck of the bottle. Then bring to 150 degrees for 30 minutes (do not let it get over 160 degrees). Let your vinegar cool to about 70 degrees and bottle or cap/cork.
- You can flavor your vinegar with herbs, spices or oak. Use fresh or dried herbs. Always make sure the herbs are covered up completely by vinegar. Again, taste is the important part here, so you’ll have to find the amounts of additions that are right for you. It’s best to remove the herb additions so they don’t mold or start breaking down too much, so taste after a week for strong spices (garlic, peppers, etc) and after a month for milder herbs. Then strain out the herbs before bottling up. You can also shake up the vinegar and herbs daily for a faster extraction time.