Who knew? All it takes to rustle up some delicious home-made vinegar is a little beer or wine, a clean jar, and some cheesecloth to let microbes in (for fermentation) and keep nasties out.
When I’m cooking, I find that a teaspoon of vinegar is often the missing link in a too-salty soup or overly spicy sauce. Also, a tiny bit of a fruity vinegar works just as well in dishes that I might be inclined to finish with a squeeze of lemon.
I started making vinegar with left over wine, generally stuff we’ve opened but haven’t enjoyed. I’ll often cook with it but sometimes I end up with too much, so hello vinegar! I just leave it to ferment in my kitchen et voilà!
You can easily check on the vinegar’s progress either by using pH strips or by tasting it. I prefer the latter method because as the vinegar ferments, any pathogens that make their way into the liquid will be killed either by the alcohol or by the acidity of the vinegar once the alcohol has transformed. I tend to age my vinegar for months rather than weeks as the flavour will keep developing as the liquid pulls in yeast and bacteria from the air.
Typically after a couple of weeks sitting on the work top in a jar, my leftover wine will stop smelling like leftover wine and start smelling faintly but familiarly like the vinegar. Finally, my outstanding ability to abandon and ignore is beginning to pay off.
Of course, once you’ve graduated from the most basic forms of vinegar-making, you can turn almost anything into vinegar. Aside from wine vinegars – red, white, sherry, or champagne – beer is a great starting point, particularly a beer that’s low in hops (since all that bitterness will remain in the final product) but high in sugar and alcohol (which will ferment quickly).
Even with a minimal amount of effort, essentially cracking open a bottle of ale, covering the top with cheesecloth, and waiting around, you’ll end up with your own unique vinegar. Two vinegars made with the same method, and even using the same original beer, can taste wildly different depending on the flora and fauna of their environment.
I use most of my home-made vinegar in my pickles – recipes coming soon!