Jan/18/2011 09:08 AM Filed in: vinegar
This year we experimented with making cider vinegar in 5-gallon containers. Cider vinegar is certainly easy to produce, since it occurs naturally with cider exposed to air for enough time. However, you do need some helpers - yeast which turn sugar to alcohol, and a good mother - a specific bacteria that turns alcohol into acetic acid. If your cider is colonized by poor strains of these creatures, or by a fungus or some other kind of bacteria, you don't get good vinegar. Many mothers of vinegar produce off flavors rather than good ones, so to start with you must just put out a bunch of samples of cider and hope to catch a good strain. In previous years we brewed vinegar in 1/2 gallon and gallon jugs, ending up with a mother that we like - the vinegar it produces smells fruity and delicious. Last year, we seeded 5-gallon carboys full of fermented cider with this mother, and we are happy to say the experiment paid off. So, we are trying again with another few carboys. We hope to sell some of this in the fall.
In case you are interested in trying to make vinegar for yourself, the process is quite easy - at it's most simple, you just leave fresh cider out exposed to air, and wait until it is sour. Here are some steps we found that made the process more consistent.
1. put cider in a container with a relatively small opening, such as a plastic gallon jug or a carboy. We did try making vinegar in buckets, but had trouble with mold colonizing, and also the water evaporated at a higher rate. In any case, cover the opening tightly with a cloth, and keep the vinegar in a dark location.
2. you can use already fermented cider if you wish; if so, just begin the process by adding an airlock to the opening of your container. The possible benefit to this is less chance of your cider being colonized by something you don't want in there. Once the cider is done fermenting, it's time to expose the cider to air to continue the process.
3. If you wish to capture a mother native to your own space, simply leave your container (with its cloth cover) and wait. These bacteria appear to be quite abundant; all of our trials turned into vinegar after a waiting period. Your mother will produce a gelatinous growth in the cider. It's good to stir the cider some during this process - ideally every day toward the beginning in particular.
4. If you wish to use a pre-existing mother, you need a sample of some unpasteurized cider vinegar that you like. Many people on the internet use Braggs vinegar. Most of the guides I have seen online use a lot of mother, up to a 50-50 mix of vinegar and fresh cider. We have never had that much mother to work with, but a small sample of a good mother appears to overwhelm any other mothers that might colonize your cider. A few tablespoons of mother (the gelatinous stuff from a previous batch) or a glug of the unpasteurized, unfiltered vinegar will likely do the trick in a gallon jug.
5. Once there is a good growth of gelatinous stuff in your cider, you can start tasting to see if it's acidic enough, and whether you like the taste. I read somewhere that when the mother grows a skin on top of the vinegar its time to check it. This can take from weeks to months, depending on how much mother you started with, the temperature of the space your vinegar is in, and no doubt other factors.
6. We have found that the final product varies widely in acidity, anywhere from 3% to 8% in recent batches. No real idea why - it could have something to do with the apples we used in the cider or the amount of evaporation that happened. However, the 3% vinegar appears to stay good for a long time, and tastes plenty vinegar-y. You can get a pH test kit at a wine store that allows you to test for your vinegar's acidity, though you have to modify the instructions that come with it since vinegar is about ten times more acidic than juice. I am probably not going to use my vinegar to preserve pickles until we get more consistent acidity. But it's delicious in salad dressings, cole slaw, and other recipes.