Here is a question that I don’t think I can really answer completely: Why vinegar?
I know how I started. I was looking around for something else to do. I make glass things but let’s be honest, it is all modern glass. I don’t like lead came, can’t really paint, and I don’t have access to a hot glass setup. That puts most medieval glass out of my reach.
I make cordials. I like to think I do pretty well at it. But again, cordials are only sort of period and are really very easy to do. Alcohol, sugar, flavoring.
I started teaching a class (now a series) on cordials. But I wanted something more than how to. I wanted why. So the Sweetening the Spirit series (see class notes section) focuses on changing one variable at a time. The same cordial but let’s change the base alcohol. The same cordial but let’s change the sugar. I discovered I wanted people to think more.
I had bits of cordial left over. What to do with them? A sane person would have drunk them. I started planning a series of meads to do the same principle as my cordials. A basic mead but with different honeys. Let’s explore how a different honey makes a different flavor.
I had mead leftover. Again, a sane person would have drunk them. I started thinking about what else do we take for granted? What other ingredients are treated generically? I was probably at a feast or something when vinegar occurred to me. Recipes often call for vinegar but how much do people consider the type of vinegar? Stand back, I am going to try science.
I started making vinegar. But true to form, what vinegar should I make? I read about how to do it. It was pretty easy. It would happen by itself giving the right conditions. So I made four red wine vinegars and four white wine vinegars to determine which I liked best. Each tasted a bit different. My first vinegar class we compared the vinegar to the source alcohol. Cider and beer make vinegar even easier than wine. Mead becomes vinegar. Sake becomes vinegar. Even leftover cordials can be vinegar.
I had to admit by this point, I had an alcohol problem. I mean, I am sure Schnuck’s already thought I had one as I tended to buy at least one 750 ml bottle of some alcohol per week, often more. The trash collectors probably also thought I had a problem as several wine bottles and a 6 pack of empty beer bottles were often in my trash per week. It was worse than that. I would taste a great beer or read the ingredients of a weird beer and wonder, “what would that taste like as a vinegar?” I am still in the doghouse for turning Gertie’s favorite beer (a limited edition at that) into a vinegar. I have so far only found one thing that I can’t turn into a vinegar, Malort.
To date, I have made a wide variety of vinegars. Amongst the more unusual ones are: black fang mead, orange clove brandy, prosecco, and the mexican chocolate beer (I have no chance of spelling it right). My favorites and standbys are pinot noir, sauvingnon blanc, blue moon honey wheat, and stella artois apple cider. Yes, there are many times my house smells entirely of vinegar. I had plans for about a dozen casks but I only have two casks and that is good enough for now.
Any given time, I probably have at least a quart or two of vinegar I don’t know what to do with. I have given some away to the local cook guilds and will continue to try to keep the Midlands at least stocked with vinegar.
Now to go find another beer my wife loves and turn it into vinegar.