Although this process is easy-peasy, there is a term that you’ll see here that you might not be familiar with - “the mother” (or scoby, mushroom). This refers to the jellyfish-looking blob that resides in a “live” vinegar. It is in fact a cluster of cellulose and acetobacter bacteria, which love to eat the alcohol in your hard cider, and in return, produce acetic acid which gives vinegar its signature tang. The mother is your friend, and if you give her what she needs, you can keep a mother culture going indefinitely.
The quick and easy method for making your own Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)-
You will need-
1 clean quart jar
3 cups hard apple cider
1 bottle of store-bought organic ACV with the “mother” (Bragg is the brand I use)
1 rubber band
8x8 piece of cheesecloth or muslin (folded in half and half again to be 4x4)
Clean and rinse your quart jar very thoroughly. Remember we’re setting up an environment for bacterial organisms to thrive in, but only the ones we want, so be sure to wash any lurking bad guys out of there first.
Pour your hard cider into the jar. Next, add ½ cup of the store bought ACV, including as much of the mother as possible.
Place your cheesecloth across the top of the jar and rubber band it into place, then store it in a dark, warm place. (Mine is in the back of the cupboard above my stove.)
Forget about it for at least 6 weeks.
I fish mine out of the cupboard and start “sniff” testing it after 6-8 weeks. The longer you let it go, the better, so long as your vinegar-in-progress doesn’t show any signs of being invaded by contaminants. If, upon checking in, you see no signs of the mother, re-inoculate your cider with still more of the store bought ACV and give it some more time. Usually, once the mother is well established, it is pretty easy to keep “her” happy with fresh infusions of alcohol. (On this method of placating mom, the mother and I are in hearty agreement.)
A taste test will let you know without a doubt whether or not your vinegar is done. For the seriously scientific, you can also purchase an acid testing kit (sold at wine & homebrew stores) to verify acidity. Most commercial food vinegars are diluted to about 5% acidity. My vinegar was closer to 6% and while still being totally safe to use, oh, what an eye-watering difference that 1% makes!
When your vinegar is done to your liking, strain the finished product (no more that ¾ of the jar’s worth) into yet another clean jar or bottle with a firm sealing lid. This is your finished product. Now, go back to your mother jar, and fill ‘er up again with your alcoholic spirit of choice, put the cheesecloth covering on and send her back to her dark and cozy hiding place for another couple of months. The rate of conversion from alcohol to vinegar is directly proportionate to the surface area of the mother, so age your cider-come-vinegar in the largest diameter vessel you can reasonably manage for a faster turnaround time.
The taste of your homemade vinegar depends a lot on the taste and quality of the cider/wine/beer that you start with, so if you want to guarantee a great vinegar, splurge a little on a bottle of your favorite cider or wine. Or, if waste not, want not is more your speed, use the collected dregs from various bottles of wine or cider and give them a go with the mother. Why not?
We make our own wine, cider & beer here on our little farm, so we always have a ready supply for my vinegar experiments. I have made ACV and rhubarb wine vinegar with our homemade wine & cider. I’m looking forward to “vinegarizing” some dandelion and rosehip wines soon, and want also give malt vinegar a try with my husband’s home brewed stout, if I can ever manage to sneak a little away.
Additional tips –
*Use a glass or lead-free ceramic vessel for aging and storing your vinegar. Plastics can etch and harbor bacteria or leach funky flavors into your vinegar.
*I use a plastic screw-top lid on my finished vinegar, so as not to have corroded metal-flavored vinegar.
*A clean, folded kitchen towel or paper towel can be used in place of the muslin/cheesecloth, as long as air is able to pass back and forth through the cloth while your vinegar is converting. Mother needs to breathe!