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 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 1–2 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: firstname.lastname@example.org.