Saturday, 13 January 2018

Homebrew vinegar

There's a lot of hype about apple cider vinegar out there, principally surrounding all the amazing health benefits that come with consuming it. No doubt there's a lot of truth to the claims, whether or not you believe the 'hand-waving' explanations of how it works. Getting the good stuff, however, raw and unpasteurised, can be an expensive proposition.

Around a year ago, a friend asked us, "Are you making your own vinegar yet?" Good question! Hadn't really thought about it. Not very much research was required to determine that we already had nearly everything we needed to give it a try.

In the beginning: strawberry wine plus apple cider vinegar

Basic process

Here's the deal: Acetic acid bacteria in a vinegar culture convert ethanol (alcohol) into, yes, acetic acid, which is the vinegary part of vinegar. Some of the cheaper shop-bought stuff is, in fact, just acetic acid mixed with water and possibly some colouring. A true, brewed, vinegar is a much more complex mixture, full of useful vitamins, minerals and those all-important probiotics, reflected in the culture that produces it. A SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) is what you want. This is a community of micro-organisms, derived from naturally occurring, wild populations, that work together to ferment products such as kefir, kombucha and vinegar.

Batch 3: apple cider. The SCOBY from the strawberry
vinegar is at the bottom and a new one is forming on top.
An easy way to obtain your starter culture is to invest in a quality bottle of raw, unpasteurised apple cider vinegar. The other key component is something alcoholic. If you're already a brewer of hedge wines or cider: bingo!

To start off our first batch of vinegar, we took two bottles of homemade strawberry wine (so 1.5L), poured them into a 2L bottle, added 1 cup of raw, unpasteurised apple cider vinegar, covered the top of the bottle with a clean cloth, and then left it quite alone for several months.

When next we looked, there was a fine SCOBY at the surface, which appears as a whitish and floppy disc of material. This is then retained for starting further cultures with fresh alcohol.

Using the stuff

Strawberry vinegar, in old malt vinegar bottles.
We bottled up the beautiful strawberry vinegar and started using it immediately. Given how widely apple cider vinegar is touted as a near-miraculous health tonic, we were interested to try consuming our own vinegar in the same way. Most suggest adding a spoonful of vinegar to a glass of water and this is what we now do, several times each day. It makes a lovely, refreshing beverage, with a pleasing tang to it.

As for the health benefits, well, we're both feeling good. I would certainly say that it seems to be very beneficial to the digestion. We also learned that poultry keepers have long recognised the benefits of supplementing their flock's water supply with a little brewed vinegar in their water supply. Our hens were just coming out of a heavy moult, had been off the lay for over a month and certainly looked as if they could do with a tonic. Within a month, and just at midwinter, they came back into lay. Coincidence? Who knows, but they certainly love their tonic and we're keeping it up - 1 tbsp into their 2L drinker daily. In case you're wondering if they drink that only because they have no choice, don't worry - they have several sources of water, including a small stream that flows through their area. They practically queue up to get to the tonic when it's put out.

We have since brewed a batch of gorse flower vinegar, also delicious, and have another batch of apple cider vinegar brewing now, from homemade cider. One advantage of brewing the vinegar from wine, as opposed to cider, is that you get a stronger vinegar (more alcohol = more acetic acid), which is useful if you wish to use it for pickling (minimum 5% acetic acid required).

Particularly if you're already homebrewing anyway, give this a try. The absolute deliciousness of homebrewed vinegar has been a revelation to us.

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