How to Make, Test, Feed, and Store Homemade Vinegar

 

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Making my own homemade vinegar was something I have been interested in for some time; however, I thought it was difficult. Turns out I was wrong.

Making vinegar is just a simple (if not more so) than making wine. Just as yeast eat sugar and excrete alcohol. Acectobacter eats alcohol and excretes acetic acid (vinegar). They both need a warm dark place to do their work. However, yeast works in an anaerobic environment, vinegar is formed in a aerobic environment. So keep your alcohol away from air, or it may turn to vinegar.

All you really need is a warm dark place, a jug, an alcoholic beverage, cheesecloth or other means of keeping out debris while allowing airflow, and a mother (a starter culture of acetobacter).  Fortified wines, ports, and liquors don’t work as well as the wine and beers around 6% alcohol.

You can order a mother from several places online for 16 to 20 dollars, and generally they will be listed as either a red, white, or malt mother. The bacteria is the same, its just in a different liquid.

The reason for this is so you don’t add a red wine based mother in your pretty white wine and discolor it.

Cheaper Alternative to Buying a Culture

Vinegar Mother

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Now, if you have followed this site for any amount of time you will realize that ordering a mother and dumping it a jug with some of my homemade wine is just too simple. I had to find a more DIY way of doing things. I noticed that the apple cider vinegar I bought for another project said “raw and unpasteurized”.  Reading further I noticed at the bottom of the label it said “with mother”… a furry of internet queries later I saw that several people have made vinegar using the mother from “Bragg’s Raw Apple Cider Vinegar”.

How to Make Homemade Vinegar

  • Dump any leftover wine or beer (not both) into a crock, jug, or other stainless steel, ceramic, or glass container. (Aluminum, cast iron, or plastic containers will not work)
  • Dilute with a little water, no more than 50/50, and you want to leave room in the container for air to get in. The more surface area the faster your mother will grow. Also don’t use tap water unless you give it time for the chlorine to evaporate (it will kill your mother).
  • Dump in the mother – I made sure to get some of the chunks from the bottom of the Bragg’s jar, but I don’t think it is necessary. – About one cup per gallon should work.
  • Cap with a piece of cheesecloth held in place with a rubber band.
  • Shake a little (again probably not necessary)
  • Store in a dark closet and come back in about 2 months.

Additional Tips

vinegar Mother

You should have a leathery growth floating at the top of the liquid.  A floating culture is a healthy mother. If you don’t then you may need to feed your vinegar with some fresh wine and a teaspoon or so of more raw vinegar.

If you have a vinegar crock with a tap near the bottom, you can use it by tapping it as needed.  After you take some out top it off with whatever wine you have around as you open a bottle and don’t finish all off it. (If your someone that does that – If I open something I tend to use it… LOL).

As one last caveat – If you plan on using this vinegar for canning, PLEASE invest in some acid test strips to ensure you have enough acetic acid to ensure safe food preservation. It may taste like vinegar, but not be strong enough vinegar to kill the bad bacteria.

How to Test Test, Feed, and Store Homemade Vinegar

 

 

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Now that the vinegar has had time to steep, it’s time to see about using it.

Before I am able to can with my vinegar I have to get set up for testing homemade vinegar.

First off, when I brought the jar up from the basement it smelled very stout,  However, smelling is pretty subjective. If you are going to use your vinegar for food preservation it must be 5% acid.

This is different than pH, but for simplicity sake I used pH strips from the brew shop.

High and Low Acid Food

The Difference between pressure canning and boiling water canning is high or low acid foods.  This cut off is a pH of 4.6 anything less than a pH of 4.6 is considered a high acid food.

I have read that botulism cannot reproduce at a pH of 4.4 or less.  The food you can, as well as the moisture from it will change the pH by diluting your pickling solution.

I do not consider my vinegar to be vinegar until it reaches at least a pH of 5,  However, I wait until it is at least a 4 on the scale before I use it for canning (but I will make refrigerator pickles with a pH of 5)…

Testing Vinegar

To test, I just poured out a sample, stuck my test strips in the liquid, and then compared it to the picture on the jar. The set of strips was a reasonable cost.  They were around $7 for a jar full of strips.

However, you need to know that the FDA doesn’t allow commercial canneries to use pH paper to test.  There are two reasons for this:

  • Comparing colors is relatively subjective
  • Accuracy of the strips can degrade over time.

Storing Vinegar

Some of my vinegar made the cut.  So I stored it in a brand new plastic milk jug (HDPE #2), the rest was topped off with “fresh” wine and left to feed.*

Many folks that make their own vinegar have one continuously fed batch.  As they use it, they refill it. That is basically what I do.  As I use mine, I just top it off with whatever leftover wine I have around.

In today’s case I used half a bottle of homemade red wine left over from the sister in law visiting.  I also have the last bit of wine I bottled in mason jars when I just started winemaking.

Feed Regularly

In a perfect world, you should feed your vinegar regularly.  It needs the alcohol from the wine to keep the culture strong. In this batch my mother collapsed and sunk to the bottom.  This was because I only fed once when I began making the vinegar. Once it ate all the alcohol it basically went dormant.

The batch brewing right now (about a month later) has a much stronger, thicker mother.  It is floating on the top of the wine, because I have been adding about a cup or so of wine every couple weeks.

My plan is to filter and bottle my vinegar as I get full gallons worth. That’s mostly because I have a case of milk jugs from my honey adventures, and realized how long it will take me to fill 40 gallon jugs of honey from 4 hives (and how much slower gallons of honeys sell compared to pints).

Making vinegar isn’t really all that hard, and it is so much more fulfilling to cook with vinegar I made from wine I fermented from fruits I grew…. It may just be me, but mustard made from my homemade vinegar is so much tastier than store bought…

*Update:

That was not a good idea.  After a while the vinegar ate through the milk jug and leaked onto my M6 Scout rifle that I had sitting in the basement on a shelf.  The acid destroyed the parkerizing and pitted the metal.

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