Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Homemade Vinegar

Red and white wine vinegars
For years I thought about making homemade vinegar, but since we don't drink and are not in the habit of buying alcohol, I never got around to it.  A couple of years ago, when a friend gave us a bottle of red wine, I was thrilled!  It was a sign from the universe that now was the time to try my hand at making designer vinegar.

No, I had no idea what I was doing, but that never stopped me before.   I did a Google search and didn't find a whole lot of information about it on the web [There is a lot more out there now!], so I did a lot of winging it.  This is what I learned:

Very simply this is what vinegar is all about:  Acetobacter are the bacteria that make vinegar.   They eat alcohol and produce acetic acid [vinegar].  The fastest way to make your own vinegar is to get some alcohol and some acetobacter and put them together and let them do their thing.   [There's no way to short cut the alcohol thing - it's what they eat.]

Things to remember:  Acetobacter is called 'vinegar mother', hereafter referred to as mother.  Dark is good. Warm is good. Sweet is good.  Mold is bad. 

What you need:  container, alcohol, mother, cloth cover for your container and something to keep the cover on with. 

Container: Some folks use crocks.  Crocks are great.  I saw a few sites that recommended using crocks with spouts, but other sites said don't bother because the spouts get clogged with mother.   I opted for glass jars.  I like to see stuff happening and you can't see through a crock.   I have my red wine in a gallon jar now and I started a white one in a quart jar.  [photo above]   I get the vinegar out with a ladle. Use wide mouth jars so you can get a big ladle in there. 

Alcohol:   I've made vinegar with both red and white wine.  They say that the mother likes sweet wines and I believe them.  They also say that the better the wine you use, the better the vinegar you get.   The Gang of Pour uses all the wine left over after they do wine tastings.  I tried a shiraz [pronounced sher-ahh], but didn't really like the result.   I really like merlot - and you can buy it cheap in a box.  At Walmart.  White wine makes fine vinegar.   It's usually less sweet than red, so the vinegar is slower.  Don't panic if it takes longer.

Some sites tell you to dilute the wine when you put it in the jar, others say to use it straight.   I use it straight.  If you need to dilute, you can do it when the vinegar is ready to use.

Mother:   Sometimes you can get mother at wine/brewery supply stores.   I couldn't.  I tried making my own, but that was a waste of time.   Lots of folks online recommended using unpasteurized unfiltered [raw] Bragg apple cider vinegar as a mother start.   I did and it works beautifully!   [ Bragg cider vinegar is fabulous cider vinegar in and of itself.  I had no idea cider vinegar could smell and taste so good.]  When you go get the Bragg, you'll notice the sediment at the bottom of the bottle.  That's mother. That's what you're after. Get a bottle with lots of sediment.

1.  Pour off the top quantity of the Bragg until you have a cup or so left in the jar - that'll be the part that has the mother.   Pour the mother out into your vinegar jar or crock.
2.  Pour the wine in your jar.   A bottle of wine and the mother should just fit in a quart jar.  If you have some wine left over, cork it and keep it in a cool place to feed your mother later.
3.  Cover the jar with cloth.   The cover will let the air in but keep the bugs and dust out.  For my gallon jar, I use a square piece of fabric held in place with a rubber band.  For my quart jar, I use an old tea napkin held in place with a canning ring. 
4.  Put it in a dark and warm place away from places where you use yeast.   A pantry is perfect.  Once you've got a ripe mother, you can adjust the speed of things by adjusting the temp - warm speeds things up, cool slows them down.  Dark is important - sun will kill the acetobacter.  I put mine in the sun only to take these photos, then they went back in the jelly cupboard. 
5.  It may take 6-8 weeks or longer before you have a good mother of your own.  Patience is a virtue. Once you see your mother floating at the top, your vinegar is ready to use.
6.  Use it like store bought vinegar.  It's great for deglazing [even in the early stages of ripening].  You can dilute it if it's too strong for you.  Some folks say to dilute 1 part water to 1 part vinegar.  We use ours straight.
7.  Don't forget to feed your mother.   Every once in a while, pour a cup or so of new wine into the jar to keep your acetobacter happy.  

What you're looking for: If you start seeing little oil slicks on the surface of your vinegar, that's good!   You'll get collections of sediment at the bottom and maybe even on the sides of your jar.  If you're using red wine, your mother will be sort of liver colored and a ripe mother will resemble a placenta.   [Gross, but there it is.]   White mothers are creamy or pink.  Eventually, you'll get a lovely layer of mother at the top of your vinegar.  When it gets ripe, or if you disturb it too much, it will sink to the bottom and another will form at the top of your vinegar. You can see old mothers in the jars in the photo above.  Those old mothers can be used to start new vinegar.  Fish them out with a wooden spoon.  Don't worry about stirring stuff up.   

The photo to the right is of my white wine vinegar mother.  I used a red wine mother as starter, which is why it's pink instead of white.  It'll get whiter as I add more white wine.  This is a new mother, so it's only cloudy in the center instead of solid.  That's normal.  After I moved the jar, the mother sank to the middle.  That's normal too. 

For more cool photos of mothers, check out the Texas Cook's blog

More notes:  
  • Mold:  If you make a lot of bread or cheese, those bacteria can interfere with your vinegar.   Keep the vinegar in another room away from your yeast.
  • Bugs:  In the summer, the gnats [vinegar flies] will find your vinegar.   The cover will keep them out, but what you need is a trap so they'll leave you alone:   Mix some vinegar, water and a couple of drops of dish soap and put it in a little open jar or bottle right next to your vinegar.   The flies will go in the open bottle and hit the surface;  the soap breaks the surface tension of the water and the flies fall in.   This works like a charm. 
  • Smell:  yes, vinegar smells a bit - like wine at the beginning and like vinegar at the end.   Keep it in a back room so you won't notice it. 
  • Filtering:  You can filter it if you want to keep the sediment out.   I put some filtered stuff in a smaller jar for the kitchen and by golly that little jar grew a new mother in nothing flat.  Obviously this means that you need more than a couple of layers of cheesecloth to filter things through - coffee filter?   Personally, I don't care much - it took me a long time to achieve that mother and it can grow wherever it wants.
If you don't want to buy alcohol, you have a couple of options:   1. Get someone else to supply you with wine and deliver it in a jar that says 'acetobacter food'.  or  2.  Start from juice.

Starting from juice is a two step process.  First you have to turn the juice to alcohol - yes, you'll be making wine.  Then you can turn the wine to vinegar.   It's way easier to have someone else buy wine for you.

I tried the juice to vinegar process last year.   I did finally achieve fermentation - and it was bee-utiful pink foam, but not before I achieved spectacular blue and white mold.  Mold is bad. I've read that some folks were able to just pick it off and still achieve mother, but I was never able to.   That batch was a total loss and I've stuck to the wine method ever since. 

Here are two sites that tell you how to start from juice:
How to Make Vinegar

Good luck!   Keep us posted!


  1. You are making me hungry! Sounds sooo good!

  2. Hi Nan! These make me hungry every time I pull them out. Now that we have them, we've found all sorts of new things to do with them....

  3. Thanks for posting - I've just found mold on my vinegar batch and am trying to figure out what happened. I"m curious about advice to keep the vinegar away from where we make bread and cheese. Do you know why that creates problems?

  4. withinseason - Thanks for stopping by! Bread and cheese depend on bacterial processes - yeast for the bread and culture for the cheese. Those are different bacteria than what you need for vinegar and sometimes they interfere. [Brewer's yeast, too, if you're beer or wine makers]. I find that keeping the vinegar in another room makes all the difference.

    You can try to pick the mold out. Wipe the insides of your vinegar jar very thoroughly with vinegar! Those spores tend to hang around.

    Keep a close eye on it. Pick out any new mold growth. If it keeps coming back, then pick it out one last time, wipe the insides of the jar thoroughly with vinegar and pour it into a new jar and keep it in another room. I'd probably add some more mother from your starter, too, just to give it a leg up. [Bragg raw cider vinegar is my favorite.]

    Don't despair if you have to toss it all once and try again. The second time will work.

  5. I'm making a homemade raspberry vinegar by mortar and pestling some raspberries in a ceramic bowl, covering with a cheesecloth to prevent bugs, and allowing it to sit until all activity ceases (about a week); however, 3 days after I developed significant fuzzy mold on top, grey and blue. Is this normal? Is it garbage, and do I have to start all over again?

    1. I tried making vinegar that way several times and it didn't work. Too many other airborn beasties in this part of the world competing with the acetobacteria. I'd dump it and invest in some Bragg or get some mother from a friend. Now, if you happen to live in a desert area where there is significantly less ambient mold, then you might keep adding liquid and removing the fuzzies. You'll have to be very patient...and it still might not work.


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