Food & Beverage

Last week, Jarod gave us some ideas of what to do with stale bread. This week he’ll be explaining how to turn old or undrinkable wine into a mother of vinegar, and then how to make vinegar from the mother.
About a month ago, I was fortunate enough to attend a dinner party given by Jarod. My boyfriend and I brought a bottle of wine to share, but were disappointed when it was found to be “corked” — a term given to unopened wine that has that vinegary, wet-dog-musty-cave taste associated with the presence of 2,4,6 Trichloroanisole. (While the cork is often thought to be culpable, other variables such as the barrel and storage conditions can also be the cause.) Jarod didn’t miss a beat, he grabbed the wine, added a splash of vinegar, put the cork back in and placed the bottle atop his fridge saying, “No problem, I’ll make it into mother of vinegar.”
“Mother of vinegar?” we asked, wide-eyed. “What’s that?” Mother of vinegar (MOV or Mother for shorthand purposes) is essentially a fermenting bacteria culture used to make vinegar — an acetobacter that develops in fermenting alcohol and converts the ethanol into acetic acid (what gives vinegar its sour taste) in the presence of oxygen. Fermenting bacteria can be found in other food products like kombucha, sourdough, and, well, in vinegar. 

Your old wine, 16oz or so for the Mother, and more when you make your vinegar
Vinegar, just a splash
Iodine, for sterilization
Storage vessel, such as ice tea container
Sterilized containers, for bottling your vinegar
Cheesecloth & rubber band
Ripe fruit, to feed your Mother
Optional: fine sieve, funnel, fruit juice
Make Your Mother
To make an MOV, take your corked or leftover wine (red is most common, but you can use white), and add a splash (tablespoon) of red wine or apple cider vinegar. Re-cork the bottle and put it somewhere dark and warm to encourage the bacteria to attack residual sugar in the wine and start the fermentation process. Temperature is not entirely crucial, but a good rule of thumb is: if you are comfortable, the MOV will be too. You want to ensure that light does not hit the bottle, as this will slow fermentation. This takes about 2 months. Be sure to leave the bottle totally undisturbed, so don’t move or check on it during fermentation or the process won’t work.
Note: If for some reason it doesn’t work, or if you just don’t want to wait 2 months for maturity, you can buy MOV in a tub from a wine supply store.
Slowly pour the contents of the bottle into bowl. Mother, when she is ready, is not very pretty. It should have bacteria strands in it, and be a bit gloppy. There will also be some vinegar here that you can filter out with a fine sieve or coffee filter into another bowl to transfer to bottle. But don’t throw any sludge away, this is your starter, your Mother. While not particularly appetizing, it is not harmful; just a bacteria chain hungry for your leftovers.
Make More Vinegar
Now that you have your MOV, you’ll want to feed it to make regular vinegar. Transfer your culture to a storable container with a wide mouth, like a crock. Another good vessel to use is a glass beverage container with a spigot, like for iced tea. Stainless steel is OK to use, but tin and aluminum are not; plastics are not encouraged. In the container, combine with your MOV some fruits that might be on the way out — berries, apples, pears and pit fruits are all good choices, even tomatoes. Whatever you add will contribute to the overall flavor, so be mindful that while a banana will make the entire batch bannanariffic and somewhat overwhelming, an overripe mango might be more your speed. Now add enough liquid (an inexpensive bottle of wine, or the dregs of the half finished glasses of wine you’ve been saving in your refrigerator) to cover the fruit you’ve given Mother. You can also use fresh fruit juices in addition to the wine. Store bought bottle juice is not a good idea as it has preservatives that inhibit fermentation.
Be sure the container is covered but can breathe (one idea is to securely replace the lid with cheesecloth), and put the mix in a warm dark place once again, checking on it every week. Continue to add liquid as needed. A bit of scum will form on top as the process continues. Just scrape it off before you add more to the mix. Again, this is not harmful, it’s just the bacteria creating it’s own perfect environment.
Note: When you add liquid, your vinegar will be diluted until the bacteria can catch back up, so if you’re in the mood for the sharp stuff, you’ll have to give the mix some time. I recommend tasting at 6 weeks and going from there.
Your Vinegar
Once the vinegar is to your liking, pour from the spigot and bottle it in small, sterilized, airtight vessels. Or if your container has spigot envy, just ladle and strain, then bottle. If you don’t want the sediment, filter again with a fine sieve or coffee filter. If you wish to pasteurize the vinegar (render the acetobacter inactive), you can heat it at 150˚F for a half hour in a clean pot — then you don’t have to worry about an airtight container. You can also add fresh herbs to the bottles if you like. This will not only make your vinegar look pretty, but infuse it with the yummy herb flavor.
Your Mother will continue to work and grow as you add to it. At some point you’ll have more mother than room for vinegar. Here’s the rub: you can share! Scrape some into a container and give some to your friends. This provides you the room needed to begin another batch and helps your friends with their own mother of vinegar.
Learn more about home-fermented starters in the pages of CRAFT:
CRAFT 01: Hard Cider, page 143
CRAFT 02: Kombucha Madness, page 101
CRAFT 03: One-Week Wine, page 102
CRAFT 04: Get a Rise Out of Sourdough, page 118
CRAFT 06: Fig Wine, page 111
CRAFT 06: Natto Beans, page 114
CRAFT 09: Red Wine Vinegar, page 111
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About the Author
Jarod Hermann is a recovering Chef living in San Francisco. He is now open about his food preferences and liberally applies them to his friends and family. He also plays musical instruments.