Starting vinegar without a mother

I’ve long been fascinated by the idea of making my own vinegar. In fact, the first copy I ever bought of The Art of Eating, now one of my favourite food journals, was issue 68, which I ordered specifically for its excellent article on homemade wine vinegar.

What’s held me back until now, though, is the lack of a mother. A vinegar mother is comparable to a sourdough starter: it’s a population of microorganisms used to improve your chances of getting good results. Commercial vinegar mothers can be purchased, but I’ve never been able to locate a Canadian source. A mother will also develop naturally in unpasteurized vinegar, but the only unpasteurized vinegar I can find is cider vinegar, and I’m too much of a purist to be satisfied by a cider-red wine hybrid.

So finally I decided to throw caution to the wind, and try starting vinegar without a mother. I took some red wine – Cave Spring Gamay, if you must know – diluted it to 10% alcohol to promote the growth of Acetobacter, and put it in a mason jar, being sure not to fill it more than halfway. (The process is dependent on having ample amounts of oxygen.) A screw-band and some cheesecloth to keep out fruit flies, and that was it.

According to the book Lost Arts, it can take as long as 6 months for the vinegar to be ready, but I can be patient. In the meantime, I’ll be dreaming of all the other kinds of vinegars I’ll make, if this works: malt vinegar, cider vinegar, maybe even some pineapple vinegar

Have you ever made your own vinegar?

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14 Responses to “Starting vinegar without a mother”

  1. I would be interested to hear what the outcome of this process was. If it doesn’t work, try the cider mother. I make vinegar from a mother that I got from unpasteurized cider vinegar. I tend to purism too, but even in the first batch (1 gallon) the impure origin was undetectable, and the batch produced lots of deep red gelatinous mother to use for subsequent batches. Years later, there may be a molecule or two of cider in my vinegar — if so, it may be the secret ingredient; my vinegar is better than anything I am able to buy.

  2. Matthew Kayahara November 8, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    As it stands, it smells slightly vinegary, but still more like wine than vinegar. I was skeptical about the 3-6 month timeline, but it may just take that long! If it doesn’t end up working, though, I may just give the cider vinegar mother a try.

  3. I make several vinegars (red, white, cider and ginger beer) but did have to start with Bragg’s. As I started with so little of it, it is virtually undetectable in all my vinegars. Even with the Bragg’s it took a long time (about 2 months or so) for my white, cider and ginger beer vinegars to start but only about a week or so for my red one to start developing a mother. The flavour of homemade vinegar is wonderful and so much more full-bodied than what you can buy commercially.
    Good luck with yours and enjoy!

  4. Matthew Kayahara December 1, 2010 at 9:24 am

    Thanks for the input, umbrellalady. I guess I know the route I’ll have to take if my “wild starter” experiment doesn’t work out!

  5. Did you get any vinegar from this yet?
    I made a red wine vinegar a couple of years ago; from what I remember it was just 1/4 c (or maybe 1/2 c) of bought red wine vinegar (from the Supermarket, no mother), filled up with red wine (about 2 c or so?). Let it stand about two months, covered with cheese cloth. It did eventually make its own mother, and was quite a good vinegar.

  6. Matthew Kayahara February 7, 2011 at 8:57 am

    Sadly, this vinegar failed. See my post here: However, using some live cider vinegar as a starter, I did make a successful batch, too! See here: I’m continuing to feed the successful batch, and the mother is now quite vigorous!

  7. Matthew, in your “failed” batch, was there a mother at all? Or was the mold growing right on top of the liquid? I’m making a merlot red wine vinegar right now. I just checked on it today after 6 weeks in a dark cupboard. There is some unattractive mold growing, but it is on top of the really thick mother which has also surprisingly appeared since I didn’t use any starter. I wonder if I can just scrape off the beginning of the bad mold. What do you think?

  8. Matthew Kayahara February 12, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    Mallory, my failed batch didn’t have a mother at all. Based on what I’ve read, a mother that’s been left for too long will eventually start to rot, so I wonder if that’s what happened in your case. Since the mother itself is merely evidence of a healthy acetobacter population (and not the population itself) I’d probably just remove the moldy mother and go from there. That said, it depends on how much mold there is; generally, I don’t mess around with molds, since some of them can produce carcinogenic toxins. When in doubt, throw it out.

  9. while it may be apparent to others I need to ask how you reduced the wine to 105 alcohol. Too simplistic?Everybody has to start somewhere.

  10. Great question, madeleine. The answer is, just add water! Take the volume of wine you’re starting with (say, 500 ml) and multiply it by the alcohol content listed on the bottle (say, 13.5). Then divide this result by 10 (for 10% alcohol) to get the final volume you’re looking for. Subtract your starting volume from your final volume, and the difference is how much water you need to add to get the alcohol down to 10%. You can also use a dilution calculator like this one.

  11. I was skeptical about the 4-8 month timeline, but it may just take that long! If it doesn’t end up working, though, I may just give the cider vinegar mother a try.
    i too

  12. I made my vinegar only with apples , great isnt it , if u are interested ask me at
    or just follow the steps: cut apples into 4 slices each . put in a jar . cover with clothe or whatever to prevent insect but not air. keep it for 1 month , or more, depends on tempreture , perfect tempreture is 26


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