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Grim's Tales: Ooh that smell!

You might have noticed by now that I have a plethora of hobbies. I have a friend who regularly says I can have a million hobbies and still find time to be bored, to which I say ... well, I guess it is true, so on to hobby one million and one.

Vinegar! Yes, vinegar. That strong-smelling acid you likely know as an ingredient in canning, and might be familiar with for cleaning or as a salad dressing. That is one of my newest hobbies, and luckily it is one I only need to spend very little time to accomplish.

You see, I have begun making my own vinegar. I started by collecting acetobacter from the dirty feet of vinegar flies. I did this by mixing some water with sugar and a banana peel inside of an orange juice bottle and setting it outside. I forgot it was there for a couple months. The end result was pretty gross, but there were signs of a “mother,” or a bacterial growth that turns alcohol into acetic acid (what makes vinegar vinegar).

So I sifted the whole mess through cheese cloth and poured the resulting, slightly cleaner goo into an iced tea jar with a spigot. To that I added some warm beer that had been sitting in the garage since two Christmases ago. I wrapped several layers of cheesecloth over the open top and used a rubber band to secure it there so it could get air but no more little beasties.

I set the whole thing in my basement where the temperature is constant, the air is circulating and the lights are low.

I expected it to take almost a month to see any results, but Eureka! It took only days to start smelling vinegar from the jar. In a few more days there was also a gelatinous growth on top of the beer. This is a firm vinegar mother, which you can actually cut up into pieces to use to start other batches of vinegar.

At this point I was still looking in disgust at the solids that had settled out of solution from my original banana, sugarwater and bug slime and the dark specks on the otherwise white mother. In addition, two days later the air circulation in my basement proved to be too slow and my jar started smelling like acetone (also made from acetic acid).

Because I someday wanted to have a vinegar I could use for food, I scooped out the mother with clean hands and dumped the rest of the mess down the sink.

I used scissors to cut the cleanest pieces off the mother, and rinsed them slightly in beer and water. I added two more cans of warm beer and water to my clean iced tea jar, and put my mother back in to start over. I will repeat this process one more time so I am satisfied that my vinegar has no undesirables in it. I’ll also be adding an aquarium aerator to keep the vinegar from turning anaerobic and becoming fingernail polish remover.

In the meantime, I am making a flavorless wine from two pounds of plain table sugar, a packet of yeast and roughly a gallon of water. When my mother is finally clean and ready I will transfer it to the wine and finally see if my vinegar is any good.

If not, I will collect a new acetobacter starter and do it again. The next step is brewing some flavored alcohols for more exotic vinegar flavors (the actual purpose of this project).

I am looking forward to trying my hand at rhubarb vinegar for vinaigrettes and jalapeno vinegar for a spicy tabasco-like topping. Vinegar is not just for pickling. Think marinades, vinaigrettes, even beverages. Imagine horseradish, tomato or even bloody mary vinegar.

Anything that can be made into wine or beer can be made into vinegar. I honestly don’t care how the wine turns out since I don’t drink and it is going to be made into vinegar anyway, but my friends and family will get the joy, or peril, of trying any of the wines I make if they desire.

If you have any requests, you know where to find me.