Vinegar Files

So, Ya Wanna Make Vinegar From Leftover Wine, Eh?

Overheard:
“Kim, what the heck is that gob of goo?” Or, “You’re Stinkin’ Up The Kitchen Again!” (geo t.)

Every now and then the topic of how to make vinegar from leftover wine pops up in casual conversation amongst us winos and foodies. Having been involved in vinegar-making for over 20 years I have amassed a nice little collection of articles and, of course, that wondrous gob of goo called Mother of Vinegar you seen on your left. (Click images to enlarge)

In a circa 1990 Detroit Free Press article, “Leftover Wine Can Make a Fine Vinegar,” then wine critic, Christopher Cook wrote, “It’s enough to make a wine lover cringe. All those bottoms of wine bottles that end up being dumped down Detroit sinks because they sat around uncorked a few days.” Well, that doesn’t happen too often around here at Gang Central, thank you very much!

Over the years, my crock of vinegar has been blessed with the dregs of incredible wines left over from large tastings. Every time I empty the bottom of a bottle of wine into the crocks I smile, knowing that the crock has thanked me.

Any Zinfandel, Cabernet, Merlot, etc. will do although there are vinegar sites out there that warn you not to use wines with added sulfites but I’ve never had a problem with that.  Once the wine is transformed (sometimes taking 6 months or more) the resulting vinegar is intense and with a smell so overpowering it indeed stinks up the kitchen – but it’s a good stink! Here’s how I started all those years ago…

Since I didn’t know of anyone who had a crock or a barrel of vinegar which contains the slimy Mother of Vinegar I let my fingers do the walking and found a hardware store on the east side of Detroit which specialized in wine-making supplies. (It has since closed.) They also stocked the  mycoderma aceti, the bacteria culture, used to make vinegar. It came in a jar and was clear, like water. I purchased it and a crock and was on my way.

When I arrived home, I dumped the bacteria culture into the crock along with two bottles of wine.  Over a period of three months I watched the wine transform into vinegar.  The transformation began when a hazy veil covered the liquid.  The veil is referred to as bacteria zoogloea. Undisturbed and relying on oxygen, the zoogloea forms on the surface of the vinegar to protect the contents underneath. As it grows it becomes leather-like but upon touching it you discover a slimy, slippery yet solid rubbery gelatinous mass  – like raw liver. If left undisturbed it will keep growing and could eventually take over the entire container. Allowing alcohol additions to wet the surface of the zoogloea cuts off oxygen. It will sink to the bottom lifeless allowing another to form to protect the contents (description partially taken from Brian J. Helsaple’s A – Z vinegar glossary which is no longer online).

Mother of Vinegar is defined as a slimy, gummy substance made up of various bacteria — specifically mycoderma aceti — that cause fermentation in wine and cider and turn them into vinegar. Known as mère de vinaigre in French and sometimes simply as “mother” in English, its growth is best fostered in a medium-warm environment (60°-85°F). The mother should be transferred to a new mixture or discarded once the liquid has turned to vinegar.

The Internet has several sites describing various ways on how to “properly” make vinegar and for all intents and purposes, they all work even if they seem to contradict each other.  One way is to set up a barrel, crock or jar with a funnel fit snugly into a plastic tube. Let the funnel sit on top of the jar or the barrel’s bung hole being careful to ensure that fruit flies cannot enter.  You may need to use cheesecloth. The idea here is let the mother grow on top, never disturbing it, while you feed fresh wine into the funnel. The resulting vinegar is removed via a spigot at the bottom of the barrel/jar/crock. This is great for testing the quality of your vinegar or drawing off finished vinegar without disturbing the mother. However, sludge may develop over time at the bottom of the container plugging the spigot.

Another way is to just keep adding fresh wine on top of the old mother which will cause the mother to sink and regrow on top.  You’ll need to clean out the old sunken mother once or twice a year.  If you don’t it will eventually fill up the jar leaving no room for liquid and it will “rot.” It shrinks and gets a sort of crinkled black edge.

I have used the second method for 20 years and currently have about 35 gallon jars and crocks squirreled away in my cupboards. I also have three oak barrels and a large Italian demijohn with a spigot and funnel/tube system which works well.

Once the vinegar is deemed ready (by taste and smell) I ladle out the resulting vinegar and strain it through several layers of coffee filters if I think it needs it.  This technique of removing any sludge or bits of floating Mother works well. The vinegar is dark and intense and better than anything you could buy in a store. If I’m careful with the ladle to not disturb the sludge at the bottom the vinegar will not be cloudy

DO’S and DON’TS

After your crock is established, try to feed your Mother every other week or so with a glass or two of wine.

Let your Mother breathe.  A linen napkin or cheesecloth works well if you are using a crock or jar.

Throw out or give away the slab of Mother once it sinks to the bottom of your crock.

Don’t add fortified wine (port, sherry, etc.) to your crock unless to add water to dilute the high alcohol content.

Other interesting tidbits:

You can use a slab of Mother from red wine to start a crock of white.  Some sites say that this won’t work but it does.

In an April 14, 1991 New York Times Magazine article “The Good Mother” by William L. Hamilton, Hamilton dumps both red and white wines into his barrel. Others say “don’t do that.” I’ve done it with no resulting problems. But I tend to keep red red and white white.

Feel free to ask questions below in the comments box.  On our old site when I originally published this article over 10 years ago I had hundreds of comments and words of wisdom but, alas, those are gone now.  So, let’s start over here.

Cheers,

Kim Adams

185 Responses to “Vinegar Files”

  • Sherry PC:

    I have a question about mixing the kinds of wine. I notice that you refer to extra glasses of wine after a party. Does it matter if you mix, say Merlot and Pinot? or other kinds of red wine together? When it’s time to add more wine later, does it matter if you add something else then?

    • Kim Adams:

      Hi Sherry – I feed my vinegars with whatever I have on hand. It does not matter if you mix grape varieties. Most of my crocks and barrels have a variety of wines in them but if I have enough of any one variety I will make a single batch of say, merlot, zinfandel or whatever. If you have a lot of pinot noir which is a lighter, more delicate style red wine it would be nice not to mix it with something heavier like a merlot or a zinfandel. The result would be a lighter vinegar as opposed to something big and brawny. I like both styles.

  • Born on the Farm:

    MAPLE SAP MOTHER: as the name implies I WAS born on my farm….Having harvested every corner both domestic and wild, I have a wonderful mother from our maple sap. The sap ferments to clean the 100% stainless steel syrup pans from the season end(April) to October. I have never had the time to harvest the mother, or it has been contaminated by insects. This year the pans were covered enough that the mother is sparkling clear. I have made gallons of vinegar from plain Apple juice from our Macs for years. I have never used a mother as a starter. I do not want to waste this so have started a jar of wine vinegar with a glob of mother. My question is I have a quart(litre) Jar and never enough wine to start more, so how can I store this mother to keep it viable. If it is easy to store I will be kicking myself I did not keep more…..could have had a gallon or more to share:( But as it has been for decades its lining the forest floor! Thanks in advance for your tips.N:)

    • Kim Adams:

      Lucky you!! My guess is that you could fill the jar to the top to create as little air space as possible and place a tight fitting lid on it so it does not breathe. You might have to buy a bottle of inexpensive wine. :-) BTW: I’ve made some pretty good maple syrup vinegar using store bought maple syrup, unpasteurized wine vinegar and a little dark rum to add some alcohol which eventually ferments out. It goes really well on vanilla ice cream, baked squash, roasted chicken and salmon.

      • Bob:

        Oh Kim, that sounds so interesting. My wife is going to hate you if I end up making maple syrup vinegar! Two sour dough bread yeast containers and vinegar in our small kitchen already! Bread and pizza dough in the fridge.

        I think \"Born on the Farm\" should keep it alive by maintaining a small active batch of what ever vinegar he/she intends to use it for (apple juice). It\’s not much work. Won\’t keeping it in an air tight jar for an extended period slowly kill it?

        Cheers!

        Bob

        • Kim Adams:

          LOL, Bob! The recipe for the maple syrup vinegar is in the book Ideas in Food. Highly recommended. As for killing the mother in a closed jar, no, it won’t die, it just goes dormant. I’ve purchased vinegars from Italy that did not indicate on the label that they were unpasteurized and they sat on my vinegar shelf unopened for over a year (I have a lot of vinegar) :-) Once opened they developed a mother due to the air being introduced. I also put my left over mother in jars, top them off with fresh wine and seal them up so I can use them months later when I might need them. Works every time.

  • lizzi:

    Hi Kim, My husband found a bottle in the pantry, it was originally supposed to be wine, but then turned into vinegar, How can I upload a picture?
    Thanks for any help
    Lizzi

    • Kim Adams:

      Hi Lizzi – you can’t. I have that function turned off so we don’t get spammed with images. You can email it to me and I can post it for you. gangofpour at gmail

  • Elmer Garcia:

    I took a look at my old batch of Vinegar and it smelled and tasted like the real thing. I had started this batch in the spring, I opened up a bottle of my homemade wine, drank a glass and replaced with some braggs applecider vinegar & mother. I covered with a nylon over the bottle and let sit until 11/2.
    I poured a 2 cups into a mason jars and put in a water bath for 30 minutes at 170 degrees, Then sealed. Tasted ok, but it was made with cheap wine, so it is not the best stuff.
    I noticed the remainder of the vinegar had little pieces of what looked like the mother floating about so I took the remainder of the bottle and poured into an old whiskey jar and added 2 cups of homemade wine and tucked away.

    Now if my big batch, using good wine and a store bought mother would be as productive!!!

  • Bob Graham:

    Hi,

    What is the PH range of red wine vinegar? I know I read that on your site somewhere but couldn’t find it. I have many people asking for my vinegar so I want to step up my game and buy a PH meter and at least place the “Approx. PH” on the label. PH meters price and complexity rise quickly with PH range.

    Thanks!

    Bob

    • Kim:

      When I had my vinegars tested I was given an image of a pH scale from 1 to 14 with 0 being most acidic and 14 being most alkaline. 7 is neutral. My vinegars tested in the 2.8-2.9 range with the exception of the maple syrup vinegar which came in at 3.01. These vinegars were tested in a food science lab at a culinary school. I was told that a range of 2.80 to 3.05 is normal.

      • Bob:

        Hi Kim,

        That sounds like a normal range. I usually don’t dilute the wine once there is sufficient vinegar in the jar to dilute the alcohol by itself. Therefore, I will use filtered or distilled water to maintain the PH range. I like stronger flavored vinegar (more wine than water) and that runs 6% maybe 9% if aged long as I do also.

        So, the less expensive PH tester!

        Thanks!

  • Elmer Garcia:

    is there any harm in switching the vinegar batch from a 2 gallon plastic jug (w/ spigot) to a 2 quart glass jug?
    I dont want to disturb the mixture, but the plastic just is too big to effectively store and keep warm.
    I figure while I am making the switch I would feed the mother. it has been 2 months from the start.
    Any harm in feeding 16 oz of wine and 8oz of water? (which is what the directions on my jar of “mother” indicates is the correct ratio.)

    • Kim Adams:

      I see no harm in doing either. While you are at it make sure you add a lot of air to it. Use a blender if you have to or stir it really well. Then leave it alone.

      • Elmer Garcia:

        I dont have a blender, but I can use a whisp.
        Do you take the “mother” out before blending it?
        Or do you whip her up with the rest of it?

        • Kim Adams:

          I do not take the mother out. If I use the stick blender trick I blend it all (or mostly all) together. I make sure that the liquid part of the container receives a lot of air blending it into a foam. It greatly increasing the rate of conversion.

          • Bob:

            Yeah, this will sound a bit geeky but I use an inexpensive small aquarium pump with a med coarse air stone. I recommend a silicone tube, not much more and they last forever. Under $20 total and that’s the last you may need to buy (except air stones). I recommend removing the airstone/tube from the vinegar with the pump running and set in room temp or cold water to avoid vinegar solids/mother from settling into the stone. It will bubble clean in 5 minutes.

            I maintain yeast so I use the pump (without a stone) to inject air after it’s set in the fridge for a while to help kill off the sour do-bads.
            I added oak to my setup: photo of my office bookshelf for low and slow vinegar (expect 4-6 months for mellow cabernet vinegar.

            http://home.comcast.net/~moscuba/site/?/page/Cooking/&PHPSESSID=d5ecbc6a8bcd800f295aeb112175614b

  • Debbie:

    Hi there! Sorry- I made a mistake on the date… I started it on Sept. 8th (just about 11 days ago). Thanks!

    • Kim Adams:

      Hi Debbie – sounds like it’s working. Leave it alone for a few months. Once it gets established you could add a bottle of wine and a half a cup or so of water. You can keep growing in size from then on.

      • Debbie:

        Thanks Kim! I don’t need to stir it right? Because that will disturb the “mother”? I only have it in a small crock- guess I will need to put it in something bigger if I need to add a bottle of wine in a few months? Thanks!

        • Kim Adams:

          Yes, leave it alone. If you think it’s not working fast enough, say in a month you don’t see further development, use a stick blender or a counter top blender and whiz the heck out of it. Leave it alone again for another month. I use a lot of wide mouth gallon pickle jars. They work great.

          • Elmer Garcia:

            Pickle jar is a brilliant idea, I go through a jar a week. Right now my batch is in a 2 gallon jug with a spigot. It is a pain to find storage space!
            I am stealing your idea and swapping containers when I go to feed!

            • Kim Adams:

              Elmer, I have about 25 one gallon jars, several half gallon, several 2.5 gallon glass containers, two barrels, a very large crock with spigot and a demi john. I like the gallon jars the best.

  • Debbie:

    Hi! I am making my first batch of red wine vinegar. I started it on Aug. 8th with 1 &1/2 cups of red wine and 1/2 cup of Bragg’s vinegar. It is sitting in a crock with cheesecloth on top. I noticed there is a film on top (which I am assuming is the beginning of the “Mother”. but do I need to be adding more wine to this mixture? And- if so how much wine and when? Thank you!

  • Diana:

    I have a large mother of vinegar in a ceramic cruet I purchased in Italy. It is large enough to bock the whole when pouring vinegar. Is there any way to get it out? Also, my husband didn\\\’t realize it was there and rinsed the cruet so now its just in water – did he kill it?
    Thanks in advance for your advice.

    • Kim Adams:

      Hi Diana – I really don’t know what affect the water will have on it. If you can stick a slender knife in the cruet and try to cut it up to get it out you could always dump it all in a quart jar and add some wine to it to see if it develops over a period of months. Let us know what happens.

  • Elmer Garcia:

    How do I know when the mother has been established?
    I started a batch on 7/25, 16 oz wine, 8 oz water. When I checked yesterday there was no film on the top. It does look like the mother grew a little, but that could just be me hoping.
    When do I add another cup of wine?
    When I add a cup of wine, do I also add a cup of water?

    • Kim Adams:

      It’s too early yet to see anything happen. Give it a month or so. Add more wine in a month or not. I generally let things go for three months before I add anything. If you add water, just put in a glug or so.

      • Elmer Garcia:

        Since my basement was starting to dip into the 60′s and 50′s during the night I decided to move my Vinegar into the house.
        The issue I have is keeping it away from any of my wine making.
        I ended up wrapping it in a plastic bag, putting in my liquor cabinet. I then placed a heavy insulated rain coat around it to keep it warm.

        However after nearly 2 months I still have no film at the top. I do however have the smell of vinegar and it appears that the mother is growing, slowly.

        I intend to feed in a month, 2-8oz cups of wine & 1 cup of water.

        Think I am on the right track?

        • Kim Adams:

          Sounds good, Elmer. Make sure that the plastic bag does not lock our oxygen. It needs air.

          • Elmer Garcia:

            See I was instructed by the Beer & Wine Supply out of Massachusetts, who sold me the mother. That leaving to the top off will cause it to evaporate before it turned to vinegar.
            Since I have my culture in a gallon + container there is plenty of room for O2 in there, especially since I open it up every other week.
            Should I not follow their advice? And should I pop the screw top off and let it air out?
            maybe this is why it my vinegar is taking too long to convert.
            Then again I am being really careful as I dont want the vinegar to potentially affect my wine making.

            • Kim Adams:

              Well, that’s a first. I have not seen that advice in all of my years 20+ reading about how people make vinegar. I don’t have any experience with making vinegar the way you describe. Perhaps someone reading these posts does it this way and can confirm that it works well. Of course there will be some evaporation but it’s not significant by the time the conversion is complete, usually about 3 months. I hesitate to give advice especially with your wine making close by. You should just experiment and find a method that works best for you. This stuff doesn’t happen fast – it’s slow. If you want to speed it up use an immersion blender and blend the heck out of the crock to add lots of air.

  • Elmer Garcia:

    This is my first attempt at making red wine vinegar. I am using a homemade chianti has the base for the red wine vinegar. I should purchase the mother and follow the directions I had found online.
    Directions called for 16 ounces of red wine the mother and 8 ounces of water. After two weeks I was instructed to add up to 7 cups more red wine. Now three weeks into this I see no movement, no film and the mother has sank to the bottom. Fearing that either the sulfite them in my wine or the alcohol smothered the mother I added two more cups of water. It is currently in its container with the nylon stocking rope over the opening and it’s in the cooler is a nice dark place. My fears that’s the mother was never affected anyway because it had sank down to the bottom immediately.
    Is there anyway to correct this mess before close down the drain or should I just start over?
    Or should I just leave it alone where it is and check back on it three months from now?

    • Kim Adams:

      That’s a lot of water to add in the beginning and then later and depending on the starting alcohol percentage of the wine you might not have needed to add any water. The mother will always sink like that when you add liquid but it will create more over time so that’s not an indication that it’s not working. Your homemade wine may also have too much sulfites if the person was heavy handed with the campden tablets or other stabilizers.

      If you have a stick blender stick it into the container and blend the heck out of it – mother and all. Blend till very foamy. It needs lots of air. Cover back up and put in a warm area and wait a few months. If nothing develops then I’d start over.

    • Elmer Garcia:

      So, I ended up dumping my first batch, too much wine. I read the wrong directions and followed them.
      I have since bought a new mother. I started with 8 oz of water 16 oz of wine.
      I have it in a gallon container, and sitting in a igloo cooler in my garage. My concern is that is is at 76 degrees and should be hotter.
      I can place it up in my attic which is probably 90 to 100, but my attic is mostly insulation. I guess I could put it in a brown paper bag and put the lid on it!
      It has been 4 days and there is now film starting on the top of the liquid, should I be concerned?

      I have learned in my wine making to be patient, I will have to learn to be patient withmy vinegar as well.
      I am just not content until I know it is moving in the right direction.

      • Kim Adams:

        I think 76 degrees is just fine. Leave it alone for a month and see what develops on top. You should use the stick blender technique if you think it’s converting too slowly. The sign of film is good although 4 days is pretty fast to see something like that in most cases.

  • Denise Kendall:

    This is our first attempt at making vinegar. We followed the directions that came with the mother and used one bottle of red wine, some water in a glass jar covered with cheese cloth. It is in a warm part of the basement. After two months a blue mold formed over the top. Is this normal? Safe? What did we do wrong?

    • Kim Adams:

      Hi Denise – no it’s not normal but it does happen from time-to-time. I would throw it out and start over. Is your basement mildewy? Mine is very mildewy in the summer and I do not put any vinegars down there. What kind of wine did you use and how much water did you put in it? Was there a lot of evaporation? Where did you get the mother?

      • Elmer Garcia:

        I decided to move the vinegar from my sealed cooler in the garage to the back of a closed cabinet.
        While I want to make sure it stays away from my wine making, I also figure this will be warmer, since the temp in the garage can fluctuate a little too much!

  • I have been making red wine vinegar for years. My 5 liter container is now filled almost halfway with old layers of Mother! Is it possible to freeze some of it to thaw and use later? I have thrown away quite a bit but would like to keep some for other batches that I’m not ready to start yet.

    And regarding the acetone questions: I was told that his is a normal thing and to just give it more time. I find my batches take a good 3 months to properly “vinegarize” and that the acetone-smelling stage just means it’s not quite ready yet. Give it time, and when that smell goes away, your vinegar should be ready.

    Cheers,
    Diane

    • Kim Adams:

      Hi Diane – I have read that you can freeze it but I’ve never tried it. Remember – the slab of mother is just a by-product of the conversion process. The “mother” is in the liquid just as much as it’s in the slab of cellulose (if your crock creates one – not all do). As long as you have unpasteurized vinegar you should always have a supply of vinegar to make more.

      As for the acetone issue, I do not agree that this is normal. Yes, it takes about three months for conversion but there should be no smell like acetone or finger nail polish remover or how ever one describes it. If this happens it’s referred to as a stuck fermentation. In my nearly 25 years of making vinegar I have had maybe 5 containers smell like that. It “might” go away with extended aeration and adding some water. Here’s an article on the subject. http://www.obsessionwithfood.com/2009_07_01_blog-archive.html

      • Hi Kim,
        Thanks for responding. I decided not to freeze my mother and just let it be until I get around to starting another jar, giving it away, or just throwing it away. I have nearly a dozen slabs, so I need to do something with them soon!

        As for the acetone, I wonder if different methods are more likely to produce it? Even the article suggests that the acetone aroma esters are a natural byproduct of the conversion process and that the aroma indicates a midpoint in the process. I wonder if, by always “topping off” the jug with fresh wine, that keeps the entire batch more at a midpoint since there is always “fresh” wine to convert.

        I fill my jug and then leave it alone for 3 months, with the lid askew so the mother can breathe. Any acetone aroma has always gone away given enough time, and I’ve never had a batch I had to toss. Interesting topic of conversation…

        Cheers,
        Diane

        • Kim Adams:

          Hi Diane – you and I make vinegar the same way. While most of my containers are left alone I do check them for evaporation and top off within that three month period if I think they need it. Thanks for the comments.

  • I am new at making vinegar from red wine. My first batch was doing well with a thin layer of mother forming across the top, and it was tasting pretty good. But now, after a few weeks, I’m getting a strong nail polish – acetone smell. What happened? Is it recoverable or should I start over?

    • Kim Adams:

      Hi Robert. That’s a good question – I’ve had this happen a few times to my crocks and they have corrected themselves (to a point) over time. However, there are two schools of thought. One is to toss it out and start over. The second says to give it a lot of air by whisking and it might correct itself. Here’s a good article to read on the subject. Good luck! http://www.obsessionwithfood.com/2009_07_01_blog-archive.html

    • Hi Robert,
      I have been making red wine vinegar for years and almost all of my batches go through and “acetone” phase. I was told that his is a normal thing and to just give it more time. I find my batches take a good 3 months to properly “vinegarize” and that the acetone-smelling stage just means it’s not quite ready yet. Give it time, and when that smell goes away, your vinegar should be ready.

      Cheers,
      Diane

      • robert:

        Another question: If you give away some of your vinegar as gifts, do you pasteurize it first it kill the bacteria it or just let it be? And if you do, do you heat in the gift bottles or as a big batch?
        Robert

        • Kim:

          Hi Robert. Yes I do – only because most people are grossed out if the mother starts to regrow in the bottles. I also infuse a lot of my vinegars with herbs by bringing it to 160 degrees and holding it there for about 20 minutes. Then I let it cool overnight, filter and bottle.

          • I’m learning new things all the time from you guys! Never, ever thought to pasteurize my vinegar. I give away tons of it and just warn people it might turn globby. Nice to know there’s a way to prevent that!

            • Kim Adams:

              Thanks, Diane!

              • Robert:

                So…My first batch of vinegar, using my homemade zinfandel wine came out pretty good (after getting past the nail polish stage)….at little sharp but good. I’m thinking the next batch I want to spice it up a bit. Any suggestions? maybe adding peppercorns, or juniper berries or rosemary??

                • Kim Adams:

                  Hi Robert – here’s what I do – I put the vinegar in a pot on the stove and add whatever herbs, peppercorns, mustard seeds, etc. to it. I bring it to no more than 160 degrees and let it steep at that temp for about 15-20 minutes. Don’t let it boil. I then cover with a lid and take it off the heat and let it sit there over night. I strain the following day and bottle in a sterile bottle. If it’s too sharp, just add a little water – taste and add more water till you like it. Let me know how it works out.

      • Stephen:

        Perhaps I can be of some help here.

        I have been making my own homemade red wine for three years. A few months after I started my first culture the batch smelled very strongly of acetone. Some websites I read said that you must discard the vinegar. Other websites say that it simply needs more time to convert the acetone chemicals into vinegar.

        I decided to save my batch and I am very glad that I did. A few weeks afterwards the entire acetone smell went away. Now my vinegar is outstanding. It has gotten better with time and now is the superb vinegar that everyone told me about when I first started thinking of making my own.

        I believe that the acetone is simply an incomplete conversion of alcohol into vinegar, and if you wait more time the mother will complete the conversion.

        • Kim Adams:

          Thanks, Stephen. That does happen sometimes but not always. One good trick is to use an immersion blender and blend the heck out of it giving it a lot of air. Doing this a few times over the course of a couple of weeks works quite well.

  • Tim:

    Hi…I, too, am new to making vinegar. I have a wood cask with a bottom spout and started about 6 months ago. I have drained about a quart, a little at a time, of the best red wine vinegar I have ever had and stored in a canning jar. After pulling out some vinegar each time I added more wine…then waited a couple of weeks to repeat. However, my cask is getting full and I think my mother is taking over as you described. I am confused about my next steps…I think I am supposed to: 1) pull out the mother, 2)drain the cask and filter vinegar through a coffee filter. Then what? Store filtered vinegar in bottles or do I pasteurize first? Cut off a piece of mother and start over with new wine or dispose of mother and order new mother? Rinse out cask or leave with dregs? Throw away or give away remaining mother? I am so confused. I appreciate any help you may offer. Thanks.

    • Kim Adams:

      Hi Tim – you can pull out the old mother from time-to-time. Just throw it away or use to start another barrel or jar or give some away. If you don’t it’ll eventually clog the spigot as it sinks and then you’d have to clean the whole barrel out. You would put the vinegar back in it. No need to pasteurize or filter. Some people do pasteurizer when they bottle it so that the mother doesn’t regrow. It’s up to you. Remember, all of the liquid has the active culture in it – it does not have to look like a slab of mother to make vinegar.

      • Tim:

        Thank you! That helps. I now have 2 quart mason jars full of really good vinegar and a barrel reloaded with some of the vinegar, a portion of the mother, and new wine. Life is good!

  • Bit:

    Hi.

    Thanks for this article.

    I have a ‘mère’ grown on home-made applejuice. It comes from France.
    Pitty though; I rarely use apple-vinegar.
    Do you think it is possible to use the ‘apple-mother’ to start a red wine one ?
    I allready startet one, but it doesn”t show any change. ( 3 weeks ago now )

    thanks.

    • Kim:

      Yes, it is possible. It’ll take longer than 3 weeks though. What was your ratio of wine to vinegar?

    • Bit:

      “My ratio wine to vinigar ” ?

      I just have this ‘mère’ of apple-juice, and only did put the mère ( 8 square cm ) in the red wine. Left overs from great old wines ( no additions )
      So I didn’t put vinegar to it. Just some comming attached with the mére.

  • tnbeelady:

    I started a red wine vinegar in a quart jar and it’s time to move it into a toasted barrel I purchased. I didn’t see where you added a percentage of water to your wine before adding it to the barrel. Even the instructions from the barrel maker said to add water. What’s your take on that procedure?

    • Kim:

      If you are using a high alc. percentage wine, say, 13% and up it might be best to add some distilled or purified water. For every bottle I would add a cup of water. I’ve done it both ways – with and without. Both work but there is a lot of info out there that says the mother bacteria does not like high percentages of alcohol so it’s best to dilute it a little bit. I hope the hole in the barrel is big enough to get the mother out when and if it grows to mammoth proportion. :-)

  • Lisa:

    Reading over your instructions again, Kim. I notice you say you wait for the mother to sink to the bottom of the jar. Is that how you know your vinegar is done? Also, have you had vinegar that went from vinegar to something beyond? Loosing it’s bite? I thought I experienced this but the mother had not fallen to the bottom. I combined it with more fresh wine and it seemed alright again.

    • Kim Adams:

      Lisa, you know it’s done when it tastes like vinegar. :-) . I don’t recall saying wait for it to sink on its own because that rarely happens. I did say that once it has fallen I tend to starts siphoning off. That’s because the way I make vinegar, with topping off over a period of weeks or months, the mother does fall and the vinegar is ready. I can see where that is confusing so I’ve edited it.

      If left alone it just keeps growing and getting thicker eventually taking up the whole container. See the white slab above in one of my photos. The slab falls to the bottom for a couple of reasons:

      1. Topping off the container with wine and smothering the mother. The weight of the fresh wine caused it to sink.
      2. Jiggling the container can cause it to sink.

      When it sinks it’ll grow another. Mothers that sink should eventually be pulled out because they breakdown and they take up space in the container when what you really want is liquid.

      Yes, I have had vinegar that went from wonderful to weak and somewhat insipid. I recall reading in Lawrence Digg’ vinegar book that over a long period of time the acetic acid breaks down and returns to water. I’m not sure that’s what happened with mine. Anyway, I’ve done what you have done and have gotten good results – on a few rare occasions I just dump it out. I have so much vinegar fermenting that it’s not a big deal if I toss out a gallon.

  • Peggy:

    Hi Kim,
    Can you tell me how I can save my “mother” for a later batch of vinegar? I want to take a little break, but would like to keep it alive to convert into apple cider vinegar at a later time. Thank you for any advice you can give!

    • Kim Adams:

      Hi Peggy. You could move the mother slab and some of the liquid into another container and top with some hard cider. I do this with a lot of my white wine slabs. I simply put in a jar and top with white wine to the very top leaving little air space and then sealing the jar with its top. The mother will refresh itself when you need it.

  • Kelly:

    I am trying to find a vinegar crock with a spout near the bottom. Any idea where I can get one? I live in southern Ontario, Canada.

  • Lisa:

    Hi Kim,
    I have lots of questions. I started the vinegar process back in July of this year. I have been successful so far, the “mother” has grown on the top and it was smelling like vinegar. When do I know it’s done? What I did was purchase an oak vinegar barrel and transferred everything in there with some more wine. I am waiting for a new mother to appear. How long do I keep it in the barrel? Could it take on too much oakiness if left too long? After it turns to vinegar I assume there is a period of time where you stop feeding it and allow it to age in a closed container? Would this be correct? Also, have you tried to make a balsamic vinegar? I am in the process of trying that also.
    My grandfather made homemade vinegar with our family’s homemade wine. I loved it. I am trying to make something similar. Unfortunately, my grandfather died and no one else continued the tradition …. until now. My dad says my grandfather put in pasta to turn the wine??? Have you heard of such a thing?

    • Kim Adams:

      Hi Lisa – my answers are below:

      When do I know it’s done?

      When you think it tastes like vinegar. I usually wait 3-5 months. Taste it!

      What I did was purchase an oak vinegar barrel and transferred everything in there with some more wine. I am waiting for a new mother to appear. How long do I keep it in the barrel?

      As long as you want. But if you have a well developed mother, you will want to pull it out at some point because it takes up room. See my photo on this page of me pulling out the mother on my barrel.

      Could it take on too much oakiness if left too long?

      That depends on your tolerance of wood as a flavor. But yes, it could. I hate over oaked wines but like a little oak in my vinegar. Use the barrel to flavor then get it out of there into a neutral container.

      After it turns to vinegar I assume there is a period of time where you stop feeding it and allow it to age in a closed container? Would this be correct?

      Yes. You could pasteurize it so that the mother stops growing or just cut off its air supply. Some people let it age for a year.

      Also, have you tried to make a balsamic vinegar? I am in the process of trying that also.

      No. That would be impossible based on what I know about making balsamic. I have neither the correct grapes nor the ability to cook the grape juice and age it over a period of years in numerous barrels going from larger to smaller and with different wood properties.

      My dad says my grandfather put in pasta to turn the wine??? Have you heard of such a thing?

      Yes. Some people float a piece of bread on top. There’s something about the yeast in pasta and bread that feeds the mother but I can’t speak to the science behind it. I’ve never done it.

      Good luck and keep in touch!

      • Lisa:

        Thank you for your reply, Kim. If you pasteurize the vinegar (140 degrees) does that kill off any health benefits?

        Also, I am assuming aging the vinegar will improve the flavor?

        Do you prefer one grape over another for vinegar?

        I am using zinfandel because that is what we use for our homemade wine.
        For some of the people asking about a “mother” starter. A health food store is a place to try. Many times they sell an unpasteurized red vinegar in bulk. I was at one and saw the “mother” floating on top and asked to have it with a little of the vinegar. They were more than happy to give it to me (even though they thought I was a little crazy for wanting it). It cost me less than $2.00 and worked great, as opposed to one I purchased on-line for $27.00 w/shipping and never developed.

        • Kim Adams:

          It probably does if you buy into the health claims of raw vinegar but I am neither a scientist or a nutritionist – just a humble vinegar maker. You can go to the Bragg’s site and read what she says about it. There’s plenty of info there.

          Aging makes the vinegar more mellow – less sharp. Some think that’s an improvement.

          I do not prefer one grape over another. I use anything of quality that I get my hands on and I get a lot of very high quality wines both red and white. I do like to use fruit wines like cherry. You can really taste the fruit in the vinegar.

      • Lisa:

        Hi Kim,
        I just bottled my first liter of red wine vinegar … yeah! I had it in a barrel for about a month before bottling. How long do you age yours before using? Also, I notice your “mother” is so thick, mine is like a flat pancake. Is that from the age of the mother? Will my mother get like that with time. I am thinking every time I disturb it, it has to start all over again. Some things about this still aren’t clear????
        Thanks for any clarification you can send my way.

  • Kim Adams:

    Hi Mike – while I’ve never had this problem and can’t speak directly to it, but on page 165 of Lawrence Digg’s Vinegar book he writes “If the larvae of these flies get into your vinegar it could deteriorate the vinegar. Aside from this, they are little more than an aesthetic nuisance.” I would keep checking over the course of a few weeks to make sure you got them all.

    Here’s a link to his book:

    Vinegar: The User Friendly Standard Text Reference and Guide to Appreciating, Making, and Enjoying Vinegar.

  • mike doyle:

    Kim, Thanks so much for the blog, I am a newbee vinegar maker and have a question for you. I am about 4 weeks into my first batch and although I covered my crock with cheesecloth I found fruit flies (6 or 7) and about a dozen little worms? on the side of the crock above the mother, I cleaned them out and let the flies go free then re-covered the crock. I tasted the vinegar and it seems ok so far but has the presence of the flies and worms killed my vinegar?
    Thanks, Mike

    • Lisa:

      Regarding fruit flies …. I have found a white cotton or linen secured with an elastic band works much better than cheesecloth. They seem to get through the cheesecloth. Also to get rid of the fruit flies put a piece of banana in a cup, make a paper funnel with a tiny opening at the end. Place the funnel in the cup, but not touching the banana. The flies are attracked to the smell and get in but have a hard time finding a way back out.

  • Kim Adams:

    Hi David – I don’t remember what I said but that sounds about right. You could probably get away with adding another cup of wine. Start small – grow big. Good luck.

  • david:

    I am looking for a recipe, so to speak, of how to use Braggs mother of vinegar to start my “mother” Pls…
    you sent me one about a yr ago but i’ve since lost it :(
    1 cup of Mother of Vinegar and two cups of wine?
    David

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