Grapefruit Sage Vinegar

Last winter I made my first vinegar with Kate Payne, author of Hip Girl’s Guide to the Kitchen, while in Austin TX. I was an experienced winemaker, and luckily never had a wine go acetic on me, which is a common mishap for the novice winemaker.

When I arrived at Kate’s, she brought out an array of homemade vinegars accompanied by sparkling water, and we tasted each. I brought an organic grapefruit from Arizona and smudge sage from Oregon to turn into vinegar. Though Kate was concerned the high acidity of the grapefruit might stunt fermentation, after researching, we decided to double the sugar to assure plenty of edible interest for the microorganisms.

Vinegar is also known as acetic acid, the primary bacterial component. It adds a complex, acidic flavor and has many uses in food, from salad dressings to sauces to deglazing a pan to making canned pickles. In fact, we call canned pickles pickles because vinegar introduces tanginess—a tanginess that originates from fermentation.

Vinegar is simple: the primary ingredients are sugar, water, and air—fermented to alcohol and further fermented with the addition of acetic acid bacteria. The addition of air introduces Acetobacter (acetic acid bacterium), but I recommend inoculating with raw vinegar for more consistent and reliable flavor. You can source raw vinegar from your local grocery store. Brag apple cider vinegar is a brand that contains live, active bacteria and yeast.


Kate sent the recipe notes for each of our vinegars last month, and I’ve been excited to share. Mine turned to a fine vinegar for cooking and shrubbing. Kate claimed she and her wife downed it as bubbly booze! You are welcome to enjoy yours either way.


Yields 1 quart, 1-3 months


1 quart water

1/2 cup sugar (note we doubled because of acidity concerns)

1 grapefruit

1 tbsp crushed sage

1/2 inch ginger

SCOBY or raw vinegar (optional)


one qt glass jar


tea towel and rubberband

1) Bring 2 cups of water to a boil on the stove top. Add sage and ginger to the water and let steep for 10 minutes.

2) Strain sage and ginger and dissolve 1/2 cup of sugar in the hot tea.

3) Shave 2 tbsp of grapefruit rind, add to sweet tea. Squeeze juice from the grapefruit into tea.

4) Transfer sweet tea to quart jar and 2 tablespoons of shaved grapefruit rind and squeeze all the juice of the grapefruit into the tea. Top off with water and cover with a tea towel and rubber band or a plastic Ball-jar lid.

5) Place a tea towel and rubber band on your brew and let sit for a month or two. It will have a period of being bubbly and boozy before it crosses over to the vinegar side.

6) Let the mixture naturally ferment for a few weeks. Once the ferment shows signs of activity and has a boozy scent and flavor, after 12 weeks, simply let it ferment wildly or add the optional raw vinegar to minimize the possibility of off flavors.

7) The warmer the temperature and larger the surface area exposed to air, the faster it will acetify. The final fermentation for one quart can take anywhere from 1 to 3 months.

8) Once the alcohol is fully converted to vinegar, store it in a sealed container. Oxygen will cause the vinegar to spoil. If you are patient enough, you can age your vinegar for a year or two, which I like to do. The flavor develops deeper, richer flavor notes with age.

My vinegar matured in one month, I used raw vinegar to speed it up and bring consistency. This is mostly because things on the bus get shaky, so an open container for too long can be a little much to look after.

If you would like to enjoy yours on the boozy side, taste regularly during the fermentation process to see when you like the taste best.

E-mail me if you have any questions:


Water Kefir

We take tibicos, more commonly known as water kefir, very seriously on the bus. Tibicos is a starter culture composed of opaque little beads of lovely that produce lactic acid, ethanol (small amounts), and carbon dioxide when reconstituted in sugar water. It is believed to be born on the pads of the Opuntia cactus, native to Mexico. We more lovingly refer to our “grains” as tibi.


Not only does this culture produce one of the most delicious fermented beverages, but it is also the highest maintenance culture of our collection. We have three water kefir cultures each unique in scent and taste – our first from Avalon Organic Gardens & EcoVillage, an intentional community in Tumacacori, AZ, the second from a woman in New Orleans, and our third from Hex Ferments in Baltimore, which was a culture they received from author Sandor Katz.

This post serves to discuss maintenance and how to keep your tibicos healthy. I’ve found that these feeding guidelines keep kefir bubbling through hot summer heat as well as through the winter. Keep in mind we do not have refrigeration on the bus – these tibicos cultures have weathered temperature extremes and remain happy, so we’re hoping to shed light on the way tibicos responds to the love you give it.

Important note here! Dairy kefir and water kefir are not related. Although results may be interesting, and possibly even delicious, this does not mean you can reversely feed your water kefir dairy and your dairy kefir water to keep them in good health. However, I encourage you to experiment if you’re curious. I don’t, however, recommend experimenting unless you have extra of your culture to play with.


1 tbsp tibicos

1 quart water (hard water & spring water are best – avoid water with chlorine)

½ cup unrefined organic sugar

5 thin slices of ginger

½ crushed shell of egg

1 tsp of molasses

1) Add sugar as you heat your water and thoroughly dissolve sugar.  At this time you can also add the ginger. I like to slice my ginger thinly to expose as much surface area as possible. Add molasses too and stir.

2) Allow time for the water to cool. You’ll want the temperature to be 100 degrees or less (comfortable to the touch) before adding to your tibicos.

3) Combine tibicos with water mixture.  Add your half crushed egg shell. Cover your container with a cloth and rubberband or use another method to allow air flow.

4) In a day or two, depending on temperature and other conditions, you’ll notice fizz on the top layer of your water mixture. Your tibicos is feasting.

5) OPTIONAL: Secondary Fermentation Add more sugars. My favorite is to add fresh pressed apple juice with Cinnamon and licorice after the grains have been brewing for a day in sugar water. I let the grains get groovy with the apple juice until it’s to my liking, then I bottle my elixir in sling top bottles and refrigerate. Before it ferments further, bring to potlucks and woo the crowd!

6) When you aren’t making delicious elixirs, add other nutrients to your tibicos, especially if it’s stressed. I use water strained from red beans, and add sugar as I would with regular water. The tibicos perks up within a matter of hours. Make sure to store yours in the fridge with a loose lid (I use plastic ball canning lids) when you’re not conducting experiments, and then feed once a week to keep it in good health.

6) Taste and smell your tibicos regularly. Every culture is different. Get to know yours and how quickly it ferments while in storage – in and out of the fridge.


Practice different combinations with your water kefir. You can simply purchase a natural fruit juice (no additives or preservatives) at the store, add your grains, and then adjust the sweetness with sugars for your grains to eat through.

If you have any questions, you can also send an e-mail:

Happy fermenting,