Vinegar: Your own unique strain

by Green Deane

in Cooking Methods & Materials, Pickles/vinegar, Spice/Seasoning

Collecting Acid Bactar: Making Vinegar

You might not want to read this, but here is the nitty gritty on vinegar: All  vinegar — even the stuff you buy — got its start from the dirty feet of manure-loving flies, and it gets worse. Vinegar is the sewage of bacteria eating alcohol. And alcohol is the sewage of yeast eating sugar. Of course, we can clean up the nouns and verbs, skip the manure part, and say vinegar is made from alcohol and alcohol from sugar. Sounds nicer, doesn’t it.

Many years ago I was making a lot of wine and beer. Florida allows an individual to make a generous amount of beer and wine for personal use without running into legal issues.  With so much wine I thought about making real vinegar. When most people say they make vinegar what they mean is they  put spices et cetera into commercially produced vinegar. I wanted to make my own vinegar, from scratch so to speak. As it comes out, that is easy or a bit of a challenge, depending on how you want to do.

Here’s the easy way to make malt vinegar: Buy a six pack of beer with no preservatives, go to a wine supply store and buy a few ounces of mother, dump the mother into the warm, flat beer, put in a warm dark place, and soon you will have more vinegar and mother than you will ever need. Mother reproduces forever as long as you feed it so you need to only buy a vinegar mother once.

I did that for a couple of years. Got to know how the mother behaved, looked and reproduced. And since it came from a lab where the acid bactar was bred for vinegar production, the product was consistent all the time. The only problem was everyone else with the same mother was getting the same vinegar. I wanted a mother all my own, a strain of acid bactar that no one else on earth had (in theory.)  That meant I had to 1) collect it 2) make it into vinegar and 3) keep doing that until I found an acid bactar flavor I liked.  You should know that both yeast and acid bactar can “throw” bad flavors, so not all wild yeasts or wild acid bactars will produce good wine or vinegar. When you collect from the wild, it is the luck of the draw.

In hindsight part two and part three, making and testing, were easy. It was part one that was the most difficult initially, collecting the acid bactar. I followed all the advice I could read back then — no internet in the Dark Ages — and failed completely. No wine or beer I ever set out ever collected one bit of vinegar bacteria. Ever. I tried for nearly a year and got absolutely nowhere. It was a complete failure. I put the project in the someday pile.

At the same time I moved to a place that had some property and was organic gardening intensely. I started to have a significant problem with moths and the like that come in the warm Florida nights and lay caterpillar eggs. I read of a natural trap one could make so I made one. I few weeks after I hung up the moth trap I looked inside and noticed it had worked very well; a lot of dead moths and other insects. I also noticed something else: Some vinegar mother.  What I had failed to find intentionally was accidentally delivered unto me. I was just fortunate to recognize it when I saw it.

Sometimes it can look disgusting

I not only cleaned and kept that mother, I started another trap, then another. Of the three strains I got, one was weak, that is it made a very mild vinegar. One tasted awful, and one was good. I’ve had that third mother  more than 22 years. Maybe it’s time to find some more since I have moved a second time and might have even more interesting acid bactar is this area.

I refined my mother traps and ingredients as I went along and never failed to get a mother. This is the only place that I know of —until Internet copied, of course — on the internet where you can learn how to make a mother trap:

The classic vinegar pot for home production


Once the weather is warm — read the insects are active — get a one or two liter/quart plastic soda bottle. Two liter/quart is easier to work with later on. Into it pour a cup or two of sugar, and two cups of water. Also drop in one banana peel, all of it, when you’re done eating the banana of course. Add a splash of vinegar for aroma, a teaspoon will do but the vinegar is not necessary. Leave the top off the bottle. You can stretched a small piece of cheese cloth with an elastic over the opening if you like but it is not necessary. That reduces the number of bug bodies but you want big enough holes for the vinegar fly to get through.  Hang the bottle in the shade.  (If you put it on the ground the ants and animals find it too soon.) An out-of-the-sun house eve is good or a tree. Between two and six weeks after you hang it up you should see some phlem-like cloudiness in the liquid. That is the acid bactar forming a mother. Sometimes it can happen in as little as two weeks. Also, if you live where it rains a lot, you also should hang it somewhere in the shade where it won’t fill up with rain water. (What happens is the wild yeast on the banana peel turns some of the sugar into alcohol which is food for the bacteria that drop off fly feet. If you don’t have a banana peeling some raisins or organic apple peelings will work or wild grapes.)

Because the bright daytime environment is not the best for the acid bactar, the mother probably won’t be a hard mother (hard like some of the stuff you cough up when you have a chest cold.) Now you have two choices. What I used to do was cut open the bottle, fish out some loose mother, remove as many bug parts as I could, and put that mother in a new alcoholic non nitrate-medium in a warm dark place. Dark is important.  However, all you really have to do is strain the liquid though a paper filter or the like and use the juice to start the mother. It has the bacteria in the liquid. Either way in the new medium the bacteria will form a hard mother in a few weeks that will float on the top of the liquid while turning the liquid below into vinegar.

The difficult part is finding untreated wine to make into vinegar. It’s less of a problem with beer. Neither can have any preservatives or be treated to get rid of bacteria. It is not so much a problem with beer in that many beers have no preservatives. Wine is a different issue. You either have to make your own without any sulfides et cetera or buy it that way, often in health food stores called challice wine. Of course, you could make homemade apple cider — another article here — or make some beer. Either works well.

I intentionally made six-pack batches (about one gallon) of malt vinegar with my new-found mothers. It was cheap and easy to use one particular beer (Miller’s) so that way I could compare the flavors the acid bactar were throwing without having to contend with different flavors of beer. It takes about three months to get a real good zip to the vinegar. Then you bottle it and drop in some sulfide to kill the bacteria, or heat it to 140F but not hotter than 160F. Or not do that. You can use vinegar with live bacteria in it. But it will eventually get cloudy in the refrigerator or elsewhere.

I found the easiest containers to make one -gallon batches of vinegar in are the ice tea containers with a spigot on the bottom.  Then you drain off your vinegar and bottle it.

Collecting and making vinegar is far more iffy than wine making but there is great satisfaction in making your very own vinegar. If you have any questions, email me and I’ll answer them if I can.


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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

JJ VAN ZYL May 9, 2017 at 06:08

I would like to make my own guava vinegar. I have access to plenty of guava fruit and I would like to try my hand on this for a unique flavor. Can you perhaps assist me in doing this correctly?
Thank you.


Green Deane May 12, 2017 at 09:46

Hmmmm… you first have to make guava wine then make it into vinegar. That should not be difficult only make it with no sterilizing agents. Then use that to catch the vinegar flies.


Susan November 30, 2016 at 17:14

I just discovered a large mother in the balsamic vinegar we have and wondered if I could use it, and consequently discovered your site! Lots of info, learned lots!! What are your thoughts on using this mother in beer and should I? I have all these ingredients on hand, but I could find a nice wine as well but thought I’d try the beer.


Tab October 19, 2016 at 20:59

I found what I think is a mother forming in my hummingbird feeder. I put it in some fresh apple juice and it’s growing. Appreciate any thoughts on this.


Carl September 8, 2016 at 10:58

I have always failed at making vinegar mother, today I will try your method. When you say flies, do you mean just fruit flies, or any insects is ok? And is tap water ok?


Green Deane September 8, 2016 at 18:15

The chlorine in the tap water goes away so it can be used. And they’re are vinegar flies but you will find other bug parts in your collection container.


carl September 9, 2016 at 07:48

Thanks Green, I hanged two plastic bottles yesterday outside my window, one bottle is filled with old apple juice (that never made any mother), the other bottle is filled with fresh grapefruit, water, banana skin and a bit of sugar. Yesterday I saw a fruitfly going to the grapefruit bottle. I will let you know the results later.


Carl December 16, 2016 at 21:38

Finally I made it (after many failed attempts!). For all those who failed, here is my experience. Never try to save on the sugar portion. Use at least 2 cups of sugar, no less than that. I tried many attempts with small bottles, with fruit juices, a bit of sugar, a bit of banana skin, and always failed. So as a last resort I tried with a big bottle, 3 cups of sugar, banana skin, and tap water. After 3 weeks I saw very tiny filaments of mold, they were stuck inside the banana skin. Check carefully. They were small but they were enough to kickstart the other batches with a flat beer. Thanks again Green!


Green Deane December 17, 2016 at 17:26

Sometimes one has to coax Mother Nature to cooperate.

J D August 17, 2016 at 13:01

Great read! Can’t show it to my partner though. She’s threatened to clobber me if I show her any more mothers, I know that first paragraph would get her! I’ve been making vinegar for about a year. Started with some watermelon wine I made a couple years before. Got my first mother from the bottom of a pint of store bought ACV. Since then, I’ve made beers and wines from cherries, apples, jalapenos, poblanos, tomatillo salsa, and a few others, and converted to vinegar. Also did a batch with chopped apples in water with honey. Just put in a gallon jar covered with cheesecloth, in a dark room for a month or so.


matthew allen taylor June 29, 2016 at 03:35

So I am currently attempting to make a mother using your method. I live in coastal south texas where it is very humid. Will this hinder the mother process at all? Also does it have to be banana? I am trying it with orange peel, blue berries, and grapefruit rind as well as the banana (had lots of leftover fruits)(all different jugs). Also, about sulfites in wine: I work at a wine bar and often we have open bottles go bad. Obviously they mostly contain sulfites. There are ways to rid wine of sulfited using professional as well as at home methods. A couple drops Hydrogen peroxide will turn the sulfites into hydrogen sulfate in the wine. Do you know if that will still kill a mother? If not I could have an endless supply of high quality wines to make vinegar from. One last thing: I live, as previously mentioned, in an almost swamp-like enviroment. Mold groes easily here. Is there risk of these hanging jugs outside developing mold and if so, should I shake them up daily to reduce that risk? Will shaking hurt the developing mother?


Green Deane June 29, 2016 at 08:25

As long as the remaining chemical does not kill bacteria there’s no problem. Actually you can use organic grapes or raisin or oranges. It is the yeast on them that is important. The banana is just handy.


matthew allen taylor June 29, 2016 at 15:48

Thank you. 1 of the 4 jugs developed some white mold at the top this morning. It was the one that had the most exposure to the sun. I skimmed it off and shook it up hoping that would help. Also do you know of a way to develop a unique kombucha scoby strain? Thanks again.


Susan March 11, 2016 at 18:04

I live in Alaska and always have made my mother the old fashioned way, with time and patience. No matter what vinegar made it always takes time, but it is worth the wait. I did not know that you could buy a product to help produce the mother. How interesting. I will have to try malt vinegar, sounds nummy. Thanks!!!


AlyCrocker November 7, 2015 at 11:05

I’ve got to say, your site provides the most useful information about cultivating a mother of vinegar. I’ve been making vinegar for a couple of years now- starting with apple cider, various beers, then red and white wines and finally my favorite: maple-bourbon.
I’ve got a few questions… Mainly about ‘end of life care’.
When a mother ‘dies’ does she, the gelatinous glob, disintegrate? Or just become inactive while the disc stays intact? (I have have an inactive, intact red wine mother.)
And… Ought I weed out the original mother or the many babies she makes? (I have a very, VERY active apple cider mother.)


Green Deane November 7, 2015 at 12:29

It becomes inactive and eventually falls apart.


John October 29, 2015 at 19:43

I’ve just started making vinegar. Had great success with a number of beers and wanted to make some champagne vinegar. Got a case of cheap bubbly and put it in my gallon jar with some of the beer mother. Current beer batches forming new mother but the champagne is just sitting there, it tastes a little tart but has no new visible mother. Could it be sulfited? I don’t know if that outgasses, but tonight I poured it over through a funnel into a jar and back again and added new mother. Any ideas appreciated.


Green Deane October 29, 2015 at 20:28

It most likely was sulfited.


Vince October 8, 2015 at 15:15

Hi… Thanks for this article…. I tried to make my own ACV using crab apples and letting the natural yeast on the skins ferment… After two weeks it was not bubbling much, so I added some apple juice, syrup and bread yeast and voila!

That was a few weeks ago and it’s all rested…Now I’ve added some Braggs raw ACV to the mix…. My concern is that I’ve got a mix here and also a large volume of liquid (about 1.5 litres)…… Is this going to turn into vinegar?


Green Deane October 8, 2015 at 15:21

It easily could… it will take time, many weeks rather than many days.


Sunday September 20, 2015 at 07:01

Just out of curiosity, is it possible to preserve the Mother in any way shape or form so you can use it on future batches later?


Green Deane September 21, 2015 at 09:59

Preserve? I don’t think so… but you can keep it alive a long time, years in fact.


Agata September 27, 2015 at 03:10

You can dry the Mother and rehydrate it when you want to use it…


Emma May 6, 2017 at 19:02

Never woulda thunk of drying my mother. Been making acv for years with the same mother from a bit of heinz unrefined.

My mother is huge. I just decant from one jar to another and let the mother in first one. I also made kumbuchu with a piece but i am not impressed with kumbuchu. Have to do malt next!!!


nancy June 20, 2015 at 07:27

Thanks for the info. I live in jamaica and have been trying to make vinegar with our apples. I test mine with a pH pen and it read 1.1 is that ok.


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