Our ancestors didn’t use the same pasteurized, filtered vinegar that we tend to use today. They used vinegar that had a living and possibly beneficial bacteria culture in it called acetic acid bacteria (it converts ethanol (alcohol) into acetic acid, the sour component of vinegar). Studies suggest that some acetic acid bacteria strains have pro-biotic properties, including possibly helping with some cancers. I’m not sure these claims are widely accepted in the medical community, but I know of no harm caused to people by acetic acid bacteria (save that it can ruin a perfectly good bottle of wine!).
Though it isn’t mentioned in the first book, the Steemjammer family makes their own vinegar, of course. They make it from berries, apples or other fruit they pick in the late summer or fall. In this post, we’re going to discuss red wine vinegar, because it’s probably the easiest one to make. In fact, it’s incredibly simple.
After reading many how-to sites and consulting with a local brew shop (that supports vinegar making and cheese making), I decided on the following method.
You will need:
One bottle of Two-Buck Chuck Cab (Charles Shaw Cab. Sav. red wine, though almost any red wine will do).
One bottle of living culture vinegar. I bought a specialty bottle (12 oz) of red wine vinegar from the brew shop, one that had a living acetic acid bacteria culture in it. You can also buy a mother or mother of vinegar – a really weird looking, skin-like piece of bacteria culture. Or you can hope to capture a wild acetic acid bacteria in your house (I don’t recommend that, however). They say Braggs vinegar, a widely available living culture vinegar, works fine making red wine vinegar.
Bottled or filtered water.
A sterilized funnel.
Clean cheese cloth and a rubber band or string.
A sterilized jar (I use a large pickle jar).
Okay, so Two-Buck-Chuck is not a bad wine for the price and makes good vinegar. If you’re rich and picky, maybe you want to get a BV or similar brand, but I really wouldn’t splurge here. After all, you’re ruining the wine to make vinegar. Why not keep the cost down, especially when Two-Buck-Chuck makes really good vinegar?
In a nutshell, all you do is pour the wine into your jar, shake the living culture vinegar, and add some of it – and let it sit for a few weeks to a few months in a dark, room temperature place with a piece of clean cheesecloth over the top (it needs air).
The main variables – do you dilute it? And how much vinegar to add?
The first time I did this, I used all 12 ounces of the living culture red wine vinegar because my red wine had sulfides in it, and those kill bacteria. In fact, they’re put in wine to stop it from turning into vinegar! So, you have to add enough bacteria to “wear out” the sulfides. I have no idea how much that is, and that’s why I used so much. If I ever figure out a minimum amount to use, I’ll post it.
Because I used so much vinegar, I diluted my batch with a half bottle of clean, filtered water (you don’t want chlorine killing the bacteria, either). I used a rubber band to hold a double-layer of cheesecloth over the jar and put it in a dark shelf over the refrigerator, because it was winter (and that spot stays closer to 70 deg F than other places in my house).
About 2 months later I had a wonderful red wine vinegar. It was really strong, but it had a lively flavor that was far superior to any store bought, processed vinegar I’d ever had. And it was cheap compared to store bought vinegar, too! There were all sorts of things floating in it – pieces of bacteria that form mats or colonies. They look awful but are harmless. You can filter your vinegar through a strainer or coffee paper, and I doubt it gets all the microscopic bacteria – but if you want that, don’t risk a coffee filter. Just pour carefully back and forth until you have a batch that’s mostly free of gunk.
You can reuse this to make more. Also, at some point you need to seal or refrigerate your vinegar to help it last longer. If left unsealed, it will dry up, and it risks getting a nasty bug growing in it.
If you’ve never had fermented vinegar before, I suggest trying a small amount, first – or try some living culture vinegar from the store. You can put a drop on your wrist first and see if you get a reaction. Then, taste a single drop and see if you get a reaction (in both cases wait a day or two). If you worry about this or have a health issue, it would be wise to consult your doctor, first. I know of no health issues from or allergies to vinegar, but you never know – they could exist. There are many sites on homemade vinegar, too, and they detail how to make malt, white wine, apple cider, and champagne vinegar.
This is really easy, and I find it satisfying. If there is a health benefit, that’s great, but I mostly do it for the taste. Good luck!