Monday, August 13, 2012

Making Wild Homemade Vinegar

What do we do with our creative energies when we get bored and want to try something different? People answer that question in many different ways but as for me; I'm beyond the mid life crisis motorcycle cravings even though some of the largest rides at Six Flags still excite me. What I am saying is that for me I've decided the safest thing to do is to transcend the norm of collective society through diversification over a broader conglomerate of multifarious unconventional (yet legal) distractions. Now that I have you, I might as well tell you that the process of making homemade wild vinegar might disgust you. You may not even like vinegar to begin with, but after reading this, you may never eat or cook with vinegar again, but if that's the case, then don't read up on how bees make honey because that may gross you out also and honey is way to good to never eat again. You may never be able to vomit honey as good as the bees do, but you may be able to make better vinegar than your friends can purchase at the local grocery store. Matter of fact, you never know what strain or flavor you will "catch" and then "make" into your very own unique strain of vinegar until you try.

Catching vinegar bacteria in the wild is not as difficult as it may seem. The vinegar you buy at the store all comes from what is called a "mother". If you're wondering why a particular brand of vinegar that you buy at the store tastes so consistent, it's because it all comes from the same mother. Other brands and flavors have different "mothers", and now you are about to have the knowledge to create your own mothers. The only problem is that you won't know who the daddy's are, and you probably don't want to see them anyway.

I know all this talk about mothers and daddies sounds sort of confusing, but it will make perfect sense to you soon. So far, you've learned that we must catch a wild mother in order to make vinegar. A mother is simply a wild vinegar bacterium, some may call it a glob of vinegar yeast. A trap to do that is very easy to make with just a few dollars and a little knowledge. Once you catch the mother, and you decide that you like the flavor of the vinegar that she produces, you can use her over and over again to make fresh batches of vinegar with the same flavor. However, you have to know that it might take you a few tries to catch the "flavor" mother that is palatable to your tastes, but that is part of the fun.

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Preparing to Add the Mothers to the Brew

First you have to make a trap to catch the wild vinegar mother. You'll notice in the picture above that at this point, I have skipped a couple of steps. In the picture above, I have already caught the mother and I am placing it in some malt liquor.  You can use similar containers to the ones shown in the picture to make your traps, or simply save some milk jugs or two liter bottles to tie up in a shady place outside somewhere for your trap.  My traps have been out for nearly three months now and I brought two of them inside this evening to pursue the next step in the process which is to 1) collect the mother (s) out of my mother traps, clean them and place them in some malt brew that hopefully has a high alcohol content and no preservatives. Preservatives could kill the vinegar bacteria and that just won't do for our little experiment. I chose Olde English "800" Malt Liquor for two of my batches and chose white ale for my one other batch (Shock Top Belgian White Ale). I have a couple of more traps that I will harvest another night.  We'll see if the beer and ale I used have preservatives or not if my bateria dies and does not produce vinegar. If the mothers die, I made a mistake. If they live, then hopefully they will make good vinegar.

Well, you may not know how to make alcohol, but the process is a little similar. In making alcohol, yeast is added to sugar, placed in a warm, dark environment and as the yeast eats the sugar, it excrement is the alcohol (and you thought making vinegar was gross). The more concentrated the sugar and yeast, the higher the alcohol content.
With vinegar, yeast and sugar still places a part except the bacteria (yeast) eats the sugar (just like int he early stages of home brewing) and then you place the mother in the malt liquor and the mother (yeast) then eats the alcohol and products the vinegar as the byproduct.  In making wild vinegar, all you do is make a sugar water trap with some sort of fermenting "bait" to attract vinegar flies. Yes, I said flies. The vinegar bacteria is on their legs and it has to get mixed with the fermenting sugary liquid in your trap so that it can then eat the sugar and grow into the mother we are needing to later mix with the alcohol. When the mother starts eating the alcohol, it continues until the entire batch is turned into vinegar. All vinegar mothers were started from the very same humble fly to mother origins, so try your best not to be condescending towards process. Worst case scenario, you'll catch an awful tasting strain of wild vinegar that you can throw away or play tricks on your friends with (I wouldn't do that to my friends ;o). Best case scenario, you might catch a strain that is sweet and delicious and once you catch it, you'll have it for many years as long as you feed it every now and then.

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A Grape Vinegar Trap after Two Months

The above trap was out for a couple of months. Basically get yourself a plastic container and place in it four or five cups of water and a cup or two of sugar. As bait, you can place a fresh banana peel. I am also experimenting with smashed grapes and apple peels.

Today, wine makers usually purchase store bought "wine yeast". That's cheating compared to how they did it thousands of years ago. Grapes have some "natural" yeast on the outside of the skins so during the fermenting process, the yeast came naturally. However, people usually purchase the store bought wine yeast now a days because they know it will throw a safe flavor when making large batches of wine. After you make your trap, you need to hang it in the shade somewhere during fly season, basically during late spring to early fall. Keep the lid off, but protect it from over flowing if you get a lot of rains. Once every few days or at least once a week, shake up the mixture to keep things stirred up a bit.

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A Mother Ring Formed at the Bottom in the Remaining Liquid

Don't do like I did though and leave the lid too loose when you're shaking it because you might spill out your ingredients on the ground. I got lucky though. Even though I spilled most of one trap out, as you can see above (the mother ring), the little bit left in the bottom of the container made a perfectly sized mother.

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This Big Mother Came out of the Larger (Grape Skins) Trap

The picture above is a good example of what happens with a larger trap, extra sugar, grape skins and two extra weeks of growth.

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Washing the Mother

The mother feels like a huge noogie. There may be some dead flies in your trap, but you can wash all of this off. If anything is mixed with the mother, you can just tear the bad parts off and discard. Wash the mother thoroughly. Washing with well water will not kill the mother as the entire glob is bacteria. I personally wouldn't use chlorinated city water.

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Placing the Mother into the Malt Beer

Once you clean your new found mother, you can place it in the beer. Make sure it has no preservatives. The bacteria will eat the alcohol and turn it into vinegar. Notice the "holes" in the mother. The mother when stretched out looks like Swiss cheese. The holes are easy to account for. The mother formed on the top of the sugar water and there were round grapes floating there also, so the mother grew around them leaving holes behind when I pulled it out.

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All Mothers Labelled and in Place on the Shelf


As I said, no preservatives; it is harder to make wine work, although I'm not telling you not to try it, only that your time might be wasted because many commercial wines have bacteria killing chemicals that will destroy your vinegar bacteria.

The length of time varies at this point but it could take around three months or longer. Just keep check on your vinegar batch from time to time. It should start smelling like vinegar and that's a good sign and don't worry about the bacteria. When the time is right, you will pour off some vinegar (it's easier with a spout on the bottom of your container) and either drop in some sulfide tablets (purchased at a homemade wine making store) or through other sterilization methods.  Once the bacteria is killed chemically or by heating, the product is safe to eat on salads or to cook with.

For reference purposes, I'll tell you who put me onto this idea of catching your own wild vinegar and setting the traps.  His name is Green Deane...  You can watch his video on it (and other things) at

1 comment:

  1. Hi Duwayne I fell in love with home made vinegar when I was learning how to make elderflower cordial. I made some mistakes and they were forgotten about for about a year. they were left open and had collected all kinds of nasties. When i went to dump it out it wouldn`t come out, it had a plug in it (this was a wine bottle) so I became interested in what was going on in there so I dumped it into a bowl and discovered I had vinegar.I filtered it through a cheese cloth,tasted it __________WOW****HOLY SHIT ###**#@!OH MY :} NOW That`s vinegar, My hair stood up all my senses were on high alert,my mouth watered, I felt ALIVE. Needless to say I was very impressed by my find. That was just this last year, I have alot to learn So now I make vinegar out of anything I can turn into alchol the possiblities are endless.One of the things I have learned while making vinegar was that when your ph is below a ph of 3 you won`t have any trouble with pathogens so any of the bacteria present will be good bacteria (a probiotic).I have chosen then to keep my vinegars alive and consume this life to improve my health and vitality,not to mention I`m always making new mothers to share. So the lesson here was to make mistakes and choose life.Oh and don`t foget to "BE THE WILD"