Vinegar Gnomes

So our cottage-industry empire has expanded once again.

Back in October Peat said that he wanted a vinegar crock for Yule. I searched around and ended up getting a french oak vinegar barrel from oakbarrels.com. It's pretty spiffy. I also ordered some malt vinegar mother from beer-wine.com, since i figured we drink more beer than wine, and eat more french fries than salads. Hmmm... maybe that's why I'm two stone overweight. But anyway, as time went by, I think I became even more excited by the idea of making our own vinegar than Peat was.

I did a lot of research before starting out, but the main advice seemed to be to just not worry about it and let it do its own thing. It's basically like making wine or beer, only don't do all the things you usually do to keep it from turning into vinegar (leave it exposed to the air, don't sterilize things, etc.)

Anyway, the big day arrive and I gave the barrel to Peat, although admittedly at this point it was as much a present for myself as it was for him. We soaked it (although not for the full recommended time - it was just too exciting to wait!) and added the mother with a 750ml bottle of stout I made last year and some flat belgian ale left over from our Yule party. It barely covered the bottom of the 10 litre barrel, so I made up a quick batch of "feeder beer" - I just threw together some water, malt extract, yeast nutrient, and generic bread yeast in a 1/2 gallon bottle, airlocked it, and set it brewing.

At the same time, I found a 375ml bottle of watermelon wine I had started to make a few years ago. Then, as it was finishing in its bottle probably a year or so ago, Peat decided to place it on a high shelf behind some other bottles, and I completely forgot about it. Its airlock had run dry, and there was a definite vinegar smell coming from it. I decided why limit ourselves to malt vinegar? I found a nifty purple crock - about 2 - 3 litres maybe - and decided it would become home to the red wine vinegar. I didn't have any mother to put in it, but the watermelon wine seemed to be doing okay on its own. I added it to the crock with a few dregs of red wine left over from the Yule party, though there's still barely anything there (maybe 400ml in the bottom of the crock). I decided to do the same thing I had done with the malt, and made up a "feeder wine" to add to it. We didn't seem to have any juice, but I found some lingonberry extract that didn't contain sulfites and decided to give it a try - lingonberry extract, water, a little sugar, yeast nutrient, and bread yeast. (Hey, I'm not going to waste a packet of champagne yeast on wine I'm hoping will go bad.)

But was I satisfied? Not really. After about 20 minutes of sitting there looking at the two crocks and wanting to see them do something, but knowing that they wouldn't really do anything for weeks, I set about making up a third crock. A tall glass jar from Ikea covered with a napkin which I filled with a bottle of maple mead I made last year. It was really dark syrup, and I was hoping it would mellow over time, but it really hasn't. It might as well make good vinegar if it doesn't make good mead. I also fished out a bit of something gooey from the malt barrel and dropped it in there. I couldn't find any "mother" as such, but it couldn't hurt.

And so we waited... and waited... and every day we'd give the barrel a swirl or a shake and then wait some more.

Around January 4th I poured the feeder beer into the barrel. And waited. The wine smelled like vinegar but there was no sign of mother. The mead smelled like mead and didn't look any different.

So today I decided to take a look through the vinegars and see how they're doing. Holy crap! I was starting to worry that it wasn't doing anything, although it has been giving off a vinegary smell. I decided to do an acid test, though, just to see, and I couldn't get a sample! It was almost completely mother! I finally broke through on the side and got a sample - it's about 2.5% acid at this point. Halfway there!

The feeder wine has been bubbling up a storm, but I want to give it a little more time to stop bubbling before I add it to the red wine crock. There is definitely something going on in there, though there's still no mother.

The mead still doesn't smell like vinegar, but I was very happy to see a gross little ring of mother around the top of the mead. I stirred it in and shook the thing a little.

So anyway, this begins the chronicling of my adventures in vinegar-making.

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