Make It Yourself: Homemade Vinegar

Did I mention I make my own vinegar?  Of course I didn’t.  The last friend I shared this with sighed audibly and warned me firmly that if she were to note I’d stopped shaving my legs, wearing the appropriate foundation garments or if she were to catch a sign I’m constructing a lean-to in my backyard, she would stage an intervention (I should never have told her about my worm composter).
I do make my own vinegar and you should too.  This is the perfect time of year to start and you’ll have some ready for early summer salad dressings.
I make two types.  Red Wine Vinegar and Apple Cider Vinegar.  Making vinegar is very easy though there are some specifics you need to know to be successful.
SUPPLIES
·         1 gallon wide-mouth glass* jar preferably with a metal spigot (can be larger than 1 gallon)
·         Cheesecloth and rubber bands
·         A vinegar ‘mother’ (see Where To Buy below)
·         The liquid to convert into vinegar (organic red wine if making red wine vinegar or hard cider if making apple cider vinegar; you can also make white wine vinegar through the same process)
*must be glass or ceramic crock; plastic with interact chemically with the vinegar.
The wine I have used for my red wine vinegar

 

The ‘Mother’
This name has always scared me, evoking memories of Sigourney Weaver in movie Aliens when she confronts ‘THE MOTHER’, the oozy, dripping, teeth-gnashing alien giant.  This mother isn’t much prettier once it becomes a ‘big girl’.  The mother is a mass of bacteria which serves to convert the liquid into vinegar.  When you begin, it is an innocuous mucoidal blob which you put in the jar with the liquid.  You’ll need a vinegar type-specific mother; they are different depending on whether you are making apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar or white wine vinegar.
Areal view of the apple cider vinegar ‘mother’
Over time the mother grows to make an opaque thin layer on the top of the liquid.  Each time you add more liquid it usually dislodges the mother and a new one will grow.   When your batch is mature, you can even give part of your mother to a friend with some of the vinegar and they can start a batch of their own.  I’ve heard tell of people (all of them in France) who have been working with the same mother for 20 years.
HOW TO
1.       Before beginning  decide where you’ll keep your vinegar.  It should be a place where it can stay (they don’t love moving).  It will need warmth (70-80 degrees is ideal), darkness and good air circulation.  I started mine a year ago this past December when it’s cold in Colorado.  I put it up on the highest shelf in my laundry room which was good for warmth.  I wrapped a hand towel around the jar and fastened it with clips to keep it dark.  It was too close to the ceiling however and was not getting enough air circulation.  It began to smell like acetone (which I’ve also read is part of the process but not having had that happen since I’d say it’s not good).  I brought the jars down lower and they’ve been fine.  The cheesecloth, which you’ll put on the top of the jar opening, allows circulation and keeps things (fruit flies) out.
2.      Sterilize your jar with hot water (not boiling) and drain.  I’d check the spigot before beginning to ensure it works.  Because the conversion process is ongoing, you’ll be ‘feeding the mother’ (love THAT phrase; like having a pet) regularly.  This refers to adding additional liquid to convert to vinegar.  The converted vinegar will be at the bottom of the jar and the liquid in process of converting on the top.  The spigot allows you to drain completed vinegar out the bottom for use and not disrupt the mother(s) by pouring out the top of the jar.
3.      Adding liquid.   The container your mother comes in will have instructions of initial liquid to add.  For the red wine vinegar I added 16 ounces of organic sulfite free (that’s the hook; you want to use low or no sulfite wine as sulfites can impede the conversion process) wine combined with 8 ounces of water and pour it into the jar (too high an alcohol content can also impede the process so it needs to be diluted).  Then add the mother.  For apple cider vinegar you add a bottle of organic hard cider and the mother.  Put the cheesecloth (I recommend 2-3 layers) securing it with rubber bands.
The conversion process takes about 3 months depending on the conditions where you keep your vinegar.  The warmer it is the faster it converts.  You don’t want it overly hot (like in a boiling garage in the middle of the summer) for you can kill the mother. 
Feeding the Mother:  Until the vinegar begins to convert you want to hold off on regular feedings so as to not overwhelm the mother.   Also I added my liquid with a funnel trying to direct the liquid to run down the side of the jar so as to not disrupt the mother.  I’ll include my notes that show my intervals of adding liquid, though I added more liquid to mine about once a month.  Continue to feed it the same amount you started with each time until you are getting vinegar (or at a minimum ensure the wine is always diluted with half the amount of water).  I was very regimented at first but do it when I think of it now that I have a good size batch to draw from.
When ‘feeding the mother’ I use a funnel to direct the liquid to run down the inside of the jar if possible so as to not dislodge the mother (if that happens however, a new one will grow)
My notes of when I added more liquid to the red wine vinegar (on the left) and apple cider vinegar (on the right)
You will know the batch has converted by tasting it.  You will also smell the vinegar.  It’s not very strong but notable.  You can leave the vinegar in the container and just draw off what you need.  Some people prefer to drain a batch, pasteurize it by heating it and bottling it.  You can infuse it with herbs as well (in a container separate from the main batch).
Why Make Vinegar?  Because the taste is recognizably better than purchased vinegar.  Plus YOU made it.  Isn’t that the best part?  Some say it’s a great way to use up wine which does not get consumed (that seems an oxymoron to me; ‘wine’ ‘not consumed’).
POTENTIAL ISSUES
Fruit Flies.  Depending on time of year and where you live, fruit flies may come to visit.  They love vinegar.  Three layers of cheesecloth, tightly secured to the jar opening will keep them out.  I had a mass visitation this past fall and resorted to putting out small bowls with a bit of vinegar and a drop of dish soap in them which did the trick. 
Proper air circulation:  While the process is beginning really pay attention to the conditions where you are keeping the vinegar and the smell.  If you get an acetone smell, check to ensure you are getting enough air circulation.
Evaporation:  I’m not sure this is really an issue but something to watch and prompt feeding the mother.  I noted when decloaking my red wine vinegar for photos a ‘recession line’ where I noted evaporation.  I had not added liquid for awhile and being winter it’s dry and the heat is blazing.  Just keep a watch on that and add more liquid if needed.
The container/brand of my red wine vinegar mother and evidence of evaporation inside the vinegar jar (note the area above the liquid where prior liquid has receded)
WHERE TO BUY
The Mother:  There are many online sources:  LocalHarvest and Amazon.com both sell them.  Beer brewing and wine making shops usually sell them (in Boulder Hop To It on Valmont and their sister store in Denver Stomp Them Grapes both sell them). 
There is a store that stands out for me though due to the expertise, willingness to help and selection:  Northampton Beer and Wine in Massachusetts (click for link).  I have phoned them a few times with questions and 5 minutes on the phone was as good as any book or workshop.  They are an extraordinary online and brick-and-mortar resource.  They ship and have many cool items for sale.  Check them out.
Glass Jars.  My first jar was a gift stemming from reading an article in Savuer.  It is from an infusion jar maker and was about $50.  It is undeniably beautiful though my second jar I purchased at World Market for $19 (Pier 1 usually has them too) and has served me well.   (To check them in my photos the more expensive jar has the red wine vinegar in it and the World Market jar has the apple cider vinegar.  Both come with glass lids which I don’t use for vinegar making).
Starting additional Batches from your Mother:   The guys at Northampton Beer and Wine told me that once the mother has dropped from the top of the batch they are not as potent but also do no harm (if they get in the way of your spigot draining vinegar just take them out but leave the top active mother).  If you were to want to start another batch you can cut part of your active mother (the uppermost one in the jar) along with some of the vinegar liquid and start it in another jar or give it to a friend.  The mother you use part of will regenerate or another will form in your batch.  They also shared in many cultures the inactive mothers are cut up in salads or other dishes for their believed medicinal properties.

Comments

  1. says

    I actually said, “Crazy!” out loud when reading this. I'm inspired. Who knew making your own vinegar was relatively easy?? Great post!

  2. Bethany ~ Sustainable Food For Thought says

    I've been wanting to make vinegar for a bit now… I especially love being able to use up lingering bits of wine, etc., to make a lovely product and lessen the need for purchases at the grocery store. Thanks for the great post!

  3. says

    I have some vinegar questions for you: I had trouble finding a mother when i got started in January, so I just dumped in the last of my Braggs Apple Cider Vin with mother. 6 months later the acetone smell has since dissipated and it smells like real deal vinegar, tastes like it to. I'm assuming it's all good, but would appreciate any affirmations to this as I did not use a mother that looks like the ones in the pictures.
    I'm also curious about the residue in the vinegar. Do you strain yours?

    • MikeY says

      I am getting back into vinegar making as the homemade wine I made is getting old. The local stores did not have any mother in stock; so I used Bragg’s organic apple cider vinegar with Mother. I came to the conclusion that the Mother is dead. I ordered online and am now trying that.

      • says

        I have only made mine with purchased Mother’s which I’ve found locally and online. Good luck! You’ll have a great batch to welcome the greens of spring.

  4. says

    Hi j4estl! I did not see a way to email you which might be the easiest to discuss this. Please feel free to email me through my blog (top right margin) or at boulderlocavore@comcast.net.

    Did you add hard cider to your Braggs cider vinegar with mother?

    I don't strain my vinegar. I keep it in the glass jar with spigot, continuing to feed the mother and draining off converted vinegar as I want to use it.

    Do email! Would love to know more! Toni (Boulder Locavore)

  5. Anonymous says

    Just starting to make my vinegar, in a large glass bottle with a spigot ( about a gallon, open with a cheese cloth on top.

    I am putting 3 bottles of homemade red wine with 16 oz of Bragg Apple Vinegar with the MOTHER in it. Question how long should I let it stand before thinking I will have vinegar?

    Do I need to anything else but wait?

    Thanks in advance for your suggestions and advise.
    Jim

    • says

      Hi Jim. I'm afraid you are traveling outside my area of experience. In my research each type of vinegar takes a different type of Mother so typically Cider vinegar and Red Wine vinegar would be made separately. I originally purchased my mothers and have divided them for friends who have successfully made a specific type of vinegar from them.

      I don't know about making vinegar from homemade wine but would think it would be fine. Your container set up sounds perfect. Normally you would start with a much smaller amount of liquid which begins to turn to vinegar in about 3 months depending on temperature conditions (can be longer), and you'd 'feed 'more then. Starting with such a large amount of wine might delay the vinegar conversion some. Tasting and smelling it will let you know what is going on.

      I might suggest calling the vinegar guys in Boston that I cited in the article for counsel on your particular case! Sounds like a great experiment!

  6. says

    YES! I have been mulling over this project for years, thinking “surely it's not that hard to make vinegar,” but never got around to doing the research. The best thing about urban and rural 'homesteading' projects is that there is always another one to try.

    Curious if you've come across anything that indicates making your (our) own balsamic vinegar would work in the cold north.

    Thanks for the simply written explanation of the process. I am absolutely going to try this. I'm from Montana, but moved to Quebec City about 1.5 years ago, so there is plenty of wine to be had. And, they are quite proud of their local wines and apple ciders, justly so. My primary challenge will probably explaining that I'm looking for a “vinegar mother” to local homebrewing shops, but in French! :)

    I write about our food and personal transition experiences at fruit.root.leaf: http://fruitrootleaf.com/. Maybe you'll find something that strikes your interest there, too.

    Bethann

    • says

      Hi Bethann! You really must do this. It's very easy. Also when I started my first batch it was winter in Colorado. The cold slows the process but doesn't halt it; unless you plan to move into an ice house of course.

      I have not looked into Balsamic vinegar which I love. It would not be something in the mainstream vinegar making community or I feel sure to have run into it. I did alot of research before and during the early stages of starting this. You've piqued my curiousity however and I'll have to go looking.

      I really don't think you'll have an issue with searching out a mother at the brewing shops in Canada. Most of the tales of triumphant and fascinating success with this I heard about were from France. Including cutting up the mother and eating it on salad. They're hip, the French and I'm sure you'll find that resident in Canadian French too. But just in case: la mère de vinaigre (thank you Google translator).

      Thanks much for your link! I will definitely check it out! Toni

  7. Ed says

    Very interesting! One question, you state that “I use a funnel to direct the liquid to run down the inside of the jar”. Do you mean that you want the liquid to run down the “sides” of the jar? I'm asking because the pictures appear to have the liquid landing right in the middle of the jar.

    • says

      I do mean try to have it run down the inside of the jar walls rather than directly onto the the mother if possible (when feeding the mother after it is established).

      Candidly Ed what you are pointing out is a fabulous business opportunity; developing a funnel with a 120 degree angle spout! Essentially the mother prefers not to be disturbed. If you pour liquid directly in the middle or without mitigating the stream with something like a smaller funnel, I've found the primary mother dislodges and floats down. There really is not a negative impact as another mother will naturally grow.

      Several layers of mothers can interfer with the siphon when trying to draw off the vinegar once it's done but that's all. It's more of a preference of mine. Also the liquid when I was putting in through the decanting funnel in the photo was also going down the side of the bottle but it was not as visible.

      • Gregory Eleser says

        Why not just attach a piece of plastic tubing to the funnel that goes below the top mother and then add the wine. It would go in under the mother, problem solved!

        Greg

        • says

          Great idea Greg! The Mother does not like to be bothered at all and does spread to the circumference of the container. Even this clever idea may cause it to dislodge but if so a new one will grow; no harm done.

  8. Ed says

    Thanks for the clarification! They already make funnels that do what you want. Just google “wine decanting funnel” and you'll get a good start on finding what you want. Search amazon.com for “Wine Decanting Funnel With Filter Screen” and you'll find one for under $9.

    • says

      Actually Ed that is exactly the funnel type I used in the photos. I think in my case the size of my funnel and container provide the end of the nozzle does not extend quite far enough to allow the liquid to run down the inside of the container fully. It works fine though. Despite the mothers dislodging it's not had a negative affect on the vinegar.

      Thanks for looping back and the tip!

    • Ed says

      Bummer. There is a funnel that has a much longer spout (I have one) but I've only seen it sold with a decanter. There are other funnels that are longer than the one I mentioned, but are more expensive.

      Here's a thought. Go to the hardware store and buy a short piece of clear plastic tubing to extend the length of your funnel. This would work even if you had a conventional straight funnel. No need to invest in another specialized piece of equipment.

  9. Rachel Anderson says

    Hi,

    I am just making sure I understand this: the apple cider vinegar has to be made with hard (fermented) cider, not fresh apple cider/juice? I press a lot of apple juice each year, but I’ve never fermented it. Can the cider vinegar be made from unfermented apple juice? Otherwise, I’d have to buy commercially produced hard apple cider, which costs more than vinegar, and turn it into vinegar…. what source do you use for your hard cider?

    Thanks so much!

    • Toni | Boulder Locavore says

      Hi Rachel. Yes you are correct; making Apple Cider vinegar in this method must be done with hard cider NOT pressed apple cider. It has to do with the conversion of the bacteria in the mother into a SCOBY which converts to vinegar! J. K. Scrumpy’s is the brand I’ve used which is organic. I believe it comes in a 22 ounce bottle and I paid around $8 for it. Depending on the time of year you begin, the vinegar begins to convert after about 3 months (faster the warmer the surrounding temperature is). Then feeding the mother is not necessary that often depending on how much you want to make and how fast the mother is converting to vinegar (you don’t want to ‘overwhelm’ it by feeding too much too often).

      I can tell you why I make it even with the expense you mention; it does not taste like any apple cider vinegar I’ve ever had, even remotely. It is almost an apple cider balsamic tasting vinegar. It’s heaven! I like making my own but I use it for more special purposes. Were I doing bulk canning for instance I’d buy a larger less expensive source.

      I have only made vinegar this way but I’m sure you could research online to see if you can make it with your cider OR phone the resource I list above in Boston. They are fantastic and whenever I have a question they are happy to help. I trust them as an end-all-be-all authority on this!

      Good luck and let me know if you find a method to make it with unfermented cider.

  10. JO Foster says

    Hi – I have been making and using my red wine vinegar for a couple of years now. I have too much so have decided to bottle it up for friends for Christmas presents. Do I need to sterilise the vinegar by heating it up? Do I need to sterilise the bottles which have little rubber seals on? Do I strain it ? More importantly how long will the vinegar last in its new bottle? I don’t want to decant it too early – very grateful for your thoughts
    By the way – it is lovely as I had the ‘mother’ from a very small village in France and it has been going for centuries as far as I can tell !,

    Thanks

    Jo

    • Toni | Boulder Locavore says

      Hi Jo. My apologies over the delay in responding. I think pasteurizing vinegar is a topic of debate. Some will maintain it is healthier if you DON’T heat it which will kill some bacteria and nutrients. Of course the purpose of heating it IS to kill some bacteria. I personally don’t heat my vinegar. I think if you are concerned I’d keep it in the refridgerator but I’d encourage further research to find what you are comfortable with (emailing the vinegar supply shop in Boston I cited in my post for instance).

      I DO think sterilizing bottles is good it allows starting with a clean canvas if you will. I personally don’t strain my vinegar but that’s personal choice. I don’t include any of the mother in vinegar I pass along unless I’m sharing some for someone as a starter; then I include part of the mother and some of the vinegar. I think vinegar lasts indefinitely. I think it might lose some taste over time but to my knowledge it does not ‘go bad’.

      I hope this helps. There are so many opinions about handling vinegar, much of it I’ve found is really personal choice. I love the source of your mother. Lucky you!

  11. steve manganello says

    I just started my first batch of red wine vinegar. I added 16 oz of raw vinegar 8 ozs of water
    and 16 ozs of red wine I put it in a gallon jar and placed it in the boiler room of my home.
    can very high tempetures ruin the making of the vinegar?

    • Toni | Boulder Locavore says

      Hi Steve. First when you say you added raw vinegar, is that with a mother? I think you need the mother to perform the fermentation. To your question how hot is the room? My understanding is that you want it warm and consistent but if it is too hot I believe you can negatively impact the process. I make mine in my laundry room which is small but has heat and air conditioning. I did not keep my eye on a batch this summer and it completely dehydrated, evaporating the vinegar and killing the mother! Was a sad day and taught me a lesson!

  12. Greg says

    I started my red wine vinegar a couple weeks ago. I followed the directions on the package, and I just came across this page today. Unfortunately, the container it is in does not have a spigot, I was wondering if it would be ok to move from my current container to a new one, or would that really disrupt the process?

    • Toni Dash says

      My experience is that these batches are pretty robust. My guess would be that if you move the batch the active Mother will most likely dislodge, though if you leave the batch undisturbed in the new container a new one will grow and everything will be fine. With mine each time they are jostled the active Mother layer floats to the bottom and within a few days a new one forms.

  13. Charisa says

    Dear Toni,

    We are obviously soul sisters. I love that you have a worm farm. Thank you for this great article. I’m attempting to stop repinning the awesome stuff you pin, but it’s just too good! Have a beautiful day!

  14. says

    Thanks for the info! I had this page saved and wish I had reread it before I placed my order with Amazon. Would have been able to run by the local shop in Denver and save time and money on shipping. Maybe I’ll go there anyway and get a mother for red wine and start that first while I’m waiting for the white wine mother.

    We’ve got a couple of bottles of decent and cheap pinot grigio that I’ve been dying to convert to vinegar. I’ve been buying bottles of pinot grigio vinegar for salad dressing and a girl could go broke doing that.

    • says

      Be sure you use the correct Mother for the wine type you are using. I believe there are white wine mothers though I’ve only made red wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar. Have fun!

  15. Susan in Alabama says

    Thanks so much for the awesome pictures. I am about to get started making vinegar and to have your pictures of a container with the “layers” of mothers that have dislodged probably saved me a lot of grief when that happens to me. Your info is spectacular also, I believe anybody could do this from your instructions. (I will let you know if I am an “anybody”) This adventure is a continuance of my hubby and I starting out making wine, which lead to growing our own grapes to make our wine. Next came honey, and yes we now have honey bees. The vinegar has come about because I am now drinking a glass of water with a spoon of honey and a spoon of vinegar every morning and it has made great differences in my arthritis and my blood sugar is going down. So we are now ready to make our own vinegar and plan on making it from some of our wine in the near future. Thanks again for your info.

    • says

      Susan with your history you will have absolutely no trouble with making vinegar (and will be so glad you did). The Apple Cider vinegar develops such a wonderful sweetness almost like a balsamic vinegar. Nothing like what you buy in the store.

      I appreciate your generous feedback on my post. I did at the end run it by my expert friends at the store I cited in Boston who are professionals in making wine, beer and vinegar and got thumbs up and gold star so it’s accurate. I tend to have a billion questions when I endeavor something like this so tried to concisely cover anything that might come up!

      Good luck (though I’m sure you don’t need it) and looks forward to some fantastic vinegar in a few months!

  16. Nick says

    Hello, I have some questions.
    I have made my own apple cider vinegar from the cores and peels, the problem is the cores keep floating over the water, is that a problem? the part that floats over the water has developed something which I am not sure if it’s the mother or the mold.
    Nice blog!!
    Thanks a lot.

    • says

      I’m sorry Nick I’ve only made Apple Cider Vinegar in the method described with hard cider. You might contact a distilling supply store that carries vinegar mothers to ask about your method and issues. Good luck!

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