Persona, SCA Life, Vinegar

Making a Vinaigrier – Part 2

In Pennsic Project, I started telling you about what I am going to do. Now to tell you about what I AM doing.

If I am going to portray a vinaigrier, I need a product to “sell”. I will be giving it away. So, step 1, make 5 gallons of vinegar.

I spoke to two woodworkers. If I end up with two wheelbarrows, great! But my local friend at least thinks he can do it. He found a nice piece of 14 ft, 2″ x 2″ red oak to make the frame of barrow out of. So that is coming along.

I started the wine. As Coresande asked, can’t you just go straight to vinegar? Alas no. There are inorganic ways of making acetic acid but the preferred way is changing alcohol to vinegar. Starting with a wine we will.

I purchased a wine kit box for ~$85. It makes 6 gallons of wine. That is almost 23 liters or 23000 ml. Or more to the point, ~30 750ml bottles of wine. On a good day, (no Trader Joe’s nearby), I can get Pinot Noir for $5.00 per bottle. More like $6 any more. That is ~$150 to $180 of wine. While the bottles are sometimes nice, it is about twice what the wine kit costs. When it is in season, I use Alexander’s Sun Country WIne Concentrate at ~$30 to make 2.5 gallons but it isn’t in season and I need to make this now. So you use what you can get.

Most of the stuff in the box is not useful to me. I am not going to “fake” oak my wine with chips. I don’t care if it is clear. And I am just turning it into vinegar anyway so potassium metasulfate isn’t needed either. But the juice. That is what we are after.

As with all brewing, sanitize your equipment. Pour the juice in the 6 gallon ale pail, add water, add yeast, add a little yeast nutrients, and it goes in a sort of warm corner for a few weeks. My starting SG was 1.1. In a few weeks, we will have wine. Then about a month after that, we will have vinegar. More of that when we get to that stage 🙂

Persona, SCA Life, Vinegar

Pennsic Project – Making a Vinaigrier

In The Short of History of Vinegar and Oswyn Swann , I start with the whys and wherefores of this. Here are the nuts and bolts.

To do this project, I need the following: a costume (garb), a wheelbarrow, a barrel, vinegar, and probably some way to tell people what I am doing.

I ordered a new doublet because I am like 30 lbs heavier than I was 20+ years ago when we all dressed in Ren Faire garb for a friends’ wedding. The old one is a little tight. But I have a flat cap, white shirt, venetian pants, tights, socks, and shoes. Garb is good enough.

I have ordered a 20L barrel and will learn to do some pyrography on the barrelhead. I just received the wine grape juice to make into wine to then make into ~5 gallons of vinegar. So that is done.

I have reached out to a few people about the wheelbarrow. That is moving forward.

I wrote this: What is going on here?

I will make a little carrier so people can pull the sheets out and learn what I am doing.

I need to make some banners. And if I am going to do it, I might as well make all the rest of the banners I need/want too.

The square is more representative for Oswyn of Baðon: Raedas Gewillum Fiðraþ – Plans Gives Wishes Wings. Literally, in Old English is says Counsel (Wise) gives feathers to (your) will. Close enough 🙂

Then Sanguinum Facit Ars. I really wanted it to say “It isn’t art until you bleed on it” but in Latin that is really awkward. So it literally says, Blood Makes Art. A bit vampiric but understandable. I do glass work. I cut myself frequently.

Lastly, Vinum Exhilarat Amici. The Worshipful Company of Vinters is a real thing. They are an old English “guild”. Their motto is Vinum Exhilarat Animum – Wine Cheers the Soul. Given that they are a real entity, I didn’t just want to “steal” or claim membership where I do not have it. That didn’t feel right. But I wanted something that echoes it. So Wine Cheers Friends. I like it.

The Azure Swan will be the name of my bar, an adjunct to Verena’s Drunken Duck. There may be times when I haul my own bar out but if the Duck is there, the Swan is part of the Duck.

Lastly, the tankards and tun are taken from the Wurmwald Brewers and Drinkers Guild.

I will post updates as they happen. I will likely start that wine next week 🙂

Persona, Vinegar

The Short of History of Vinegar and Oswyn Swann

I am excited. I have two personae. Oswyn of Baðon is who I am most of the time. He is a 10th century Englisc (Anglo-Saxon) from Bath. Through him, I do my service and Anglo-Saxon history. Oswyn Swann has been swimming (pun intended) around in my head but I couldn’t settle on who he was. Was he a wine merchant? That was my first thought. Was he a paper merchant? That didn’t work out. Was he a ciderman who runs a tavern? Maybe.

All this time, I am discovering what I love. I wanted to love paper but no. I love glass but I don’t do period glass and have no real desire to do so. I made cordials and had all of this leftover alcohol. What to do? I started making vinegar. And I resisted loving it, shamefully in darkened rooms grew to love it, and finally accepted my alcohol problem in the daylight. I do love it.

But let’s back up. I made a lot of cordials. For three straight years, I made every cordial I could think of. I have a four class series on making cordials. Most people were willing to take a cordial but occasionally, someone didn’t want one. They didn’t like sweet things. They didn’t drink. They preferred beer or wine. At one point, a good friend, somewhat joking (or maybe not) told me I wasn’t a brewer. And they were correct, I didn’t brew anything. And cordials, as we understand them, aren’t really period. Distilling is rare and difficult. There are few “period” cordials that aren’t medicines, etc. I needed to do something more period. I hit on vinegars. Then I decided that I would make my own wines and ciders to turn into vinegar. I had become a brewer and in my own terminology, an anti-brewer 🙂

In looking at into the history of vinegar, I learned it became “industrialized” in the 1380s in France. I then found an etching from the 1630s with a vinegar seller. I could do that. 1630 is just out of period but it is likely that this particular means of selling vinegar, door to door with a cask and wheelbarrow, had been true for a while. 1630 is close enough 🙂

Oswyn Swann is a vinaigrier (not sure the English had their own term). Swann is also a descendent of Baðons. Oswyn of Baðon starts a family somewhere around Bath. The first born male of each generation is named Oswyn for luck. There are about 600 years between the two Oswyns. The family maintains an estate in the countryside where their apple orchard is. So the Swanns grow apples on the estate, other family members make it into cider and Oswyn and his side of the family make it into vinegar. Now, French vinegar is all the rage as is French wine (had been for centuries and would continue to be for more centuries). Oswyn imports these things as well and sells them out of his shop on High Street in Bath. See map below. Some where near where the B is.

So I am excited that the persona is taking shape.

A brief history of vinegar

Vinegar probably existed nearly forever. Wild yeast turns sugar to alcohol; wild bacteria turns alcohol to vinegar. We have evidence of vinegar in Ancient China, Babylonia, and Egypt.

Helen of Troy is rumored to have bathed in vinegar to maintain her beauty. The Spartan made a blood soup made with vinegar. Hannibal supposedly broke rocks with heat and vinegar. Interestingly, Alexander is said to have done the same thing with heat and wine. Both stories are believed to be false because vinegar could only dissolve limestone and wine can’t dissolve anything. The doubters forgot about thermal shock. The liquid wasn’t important; only that it rapidly cooled the stones down and maybe got into cracks. But I digress.

Since Roman legionaires drank posca, a vinegar drink, and because this is Rome, there was probably a vinegar industry of some sort. We don’t know exactly. Agricultural manuals from Roman times tell us a little bit but we don’t have great information. We do know that the Romans valued the wine regions of Gaul. Burgundy becomes a major wine region from then on and where there is wine, there is vinegar.

Additionally, where this is wine, there is mustard. Mustard grows almost everywhere but it is purposely planted as a cover crop and as a companion crop to help reduce pests. To help protect their wine crops, mustard was also planted. This will be important in a moment.

Vinegar is also connected to alchemical practice.

Almost all alcohol can become vinegar so we get a lot of regional vinegars and it is easy to make at home. Whether it was another Roman industry collapse, we may never know. We do know around 1380, in Orleans France, they develop a process called the Orleans process to make vinegar on a large scale.

Again we back up a bit though. Prior to this, in Dijon, French wine becomes very popular and is a major export. They also start making mustard on a large scale. Orleans is on the Loire River which flows to Nantes on the coast. Orleans is also a little south of Paris with fairly flat terrain between the two. While it is certainly possible to go straight to Paris from Dijon, Orleans became a popular trading spot for both international shipping and for Paris. Land routes were favored until the early 1400s when Nantes was considered a favorable port. French wine would make its way to Orleans to be evaluated for where was the best place to ship it. Good wines might go on to Paris or to Nantes; lesser wines could be made into vinegar and then sent on those routes as well. Orleans became a center of vinegar manufacturing in Europe.

In 1394, the vinaigriers of Orleans form a guild which included mustard makers. The moutardiers of Dijon had their own guild by this point. By 1580, the vinaigriers of Orleans are allowed to form a corporation with a monopoly on vinegar. They are granted a coat of arms with a barrel, funnel, and cooper axes on it. Coopers were part of that corporation briefly until the next year when they are granted their own corporation. The vinaigriers were required to use barrels from the tonneliers (coopers corp).

By 1594, this corporation grew from 4 vinaigriers to 33. We get our first quality control law.

“if, the house of a master vinaigrier, are found barrels of vinegar which are slimy, rancid, or moldy, they will be seized and broken and the offender will pay a fine of one ecu (gold coin).” A jury of 4 members of the corporation were responsible for this inspection.

The inspections were needed because counterfeits were on the rise.

This is from 1630. This is how vinegar was sold to the public, door to door from a wheelbarrow and cask. Royalty would have contracts with the corporation for barrels delivered differently. As would large customers using vinegar on a “industrial” basis. But the average person in France, and presumably elsewhere in Europe, got their vinegar this way.

Swann is an English, not French, vinaigrier. His family makes vinegar but he imports wine for the Church and nobles and vinegar as well.

Things I need to make this work:

Wheelbarrow – working on it
20L barrels – have a source; just got to buy them
Pyrography for barrels – I know a guy 🙂
20 L of vinegar – I know a guy
a Shrub – I know a guy
A banner – just got to do it; I know some people
A Sign – just write on paper; explaining what I am doing
Costume – I have an inaccurate one I barely fit it; I will work on that.

SCA Life, Vinegar

Solera Process

There are two prestige processes for Western vinegar making, balsamic and solera.

The Solera process is named from the Spanish word for floor. The idea with this process is you are mixing the age of the liquid (in this case vinegar).

How it works is thusly (assuming it has been running for a while): Imagine a pyramid of wooden barrels. Let’s say three levels. In the top level, new vinegar is aged for 6 months. After 6 months, a quantity of vinegar is removed from the lower levels. A similar amount of vinegar is then put into the lower barrels from each of the higher levels. None of the lower barrels are ever emptied completely. So the vinegar aging in the bottom level is a mix of “new” 6 months vinegar, older 12 month vinegar from the middle layer, and “old” 12+ month vinegar that has been there for a whole. When it is bottled off every 6 months, that vinegar is mix of a variety of age vinegars.

The age categories are as such:

  • Vinagre de Jerez has a minimum of 6 months aging in wood.
  • Vinagre de Jerez Reserva has a minimum of 2 years aging in wood.
  • Vinagre de Jerez Gran Reserva is a new category with a minimum of 10 years aging in wood.

Now, it all has to start somewhere and that is where I am.

A few months ago, I started this vinegar and it is now ready to start aging. I think we got the sherry wine at Aldi or Trader Joe’s.

It is important to harvest your mother’s so you can use them again. The label isn’t right. I just reused the jar. I have a sherry mother 🙂

I bought and conditioned an untoasted 2L white oak barrel for this project. Here it is.

And it is reasoably full of sherry vinegar for the initial 6 month aging.

In 6 months, I need to have another batch of vinegar ready to start aging and a new barrel. 12 months from now, I add ~ half of “new” 6 month vinegar to half of this barrel. I should get another new barrel let this one age by itself. 18 months from now, I add half of the “newer” 6 month vinegar to the 12 month barrel and half to the 18 month barrel. 24 months from now, I have Reserva vinegar ready. And every 6 months after that.

Now let’s see if the fruit fly colonies will develop sentience by then.

SCA Life, Vinegar

Preparing for the ToA

I had the time and motivation so I decided to prepared for the ToA (Tournament of Arts). Next Saturday (Jan 11, 2020), about three dozen or so of the artisans from the Midrealm will head to Ayreton for the ToA. It is not a Tournament in the strict sense but it is a chance to display and talk with knowledgeable people about whatever you are doing.

For starters, here is my vinegar room.

Ok it is really my hobby room but most of it devoted to brewing and vinegar.

For starters, I needed to decide on what to display and I needed bottles. As Gertie likes to say, “the cobblers children have no shoes.” Or in this case, the vinegarie’s wife has no vinegar. I had to find enough samples for much of it but I succeeded.

I decided to go with 8 oz bottles when I could. For some vinegars, I could have used 12 oz bottles but for many samples, I didn’t have enough.

The top photo is the variety of samples from my tasting classes. Then off to wash bottles.

After the wash, I decided on what to display.

I have a mix of vinegars from alcohols I have made or commercial alcohols. I wanted to show a range of flavors and techniques.

Unless I say so specifically, the alcohol is commercial. From left to right, the Pinot Noir vinegar from the Pinot Noir I made, Prosecco vinegar, Sauvignon Blanc vinegar, Pecan Brandy Vinegar that I made the cordial, Coconut Vinegar that I made the coconut “wine”, Apple Cider vinegar, Apple Cider vinegar from a cider I made, Malt Vinegar, Sake vinegar, the two small jars stacked on each other are the Xocovez malt and the faux “balsamic”, then two different mead vinegar.

Then to decide on what else to bring.

Since I want people to taste the base alcohol, a bottle of the wine and apple cider. Some mustards made from my vinegar. A mother so people can see it. An example of the toasted oak barrels I use (this one doesn’t hold water anymore). And some documentation. I forgot to take a photo of the books.

So that is it. Twelve-ish vinegar. I need to buy some small tasting cups so a trip to Gordon Food Service is in order. I have a box of crackers.

It isn’t sexy. It isn’t flashy. But it is what I do. See you there!

cider, SCA Life, Vinegar

Ciderize – progress report on a lot of stuff

I started batch number of two of my cheap cider and added it to the blueberries last night. 2 gallons of cider over 3 pounds of frozen blueberries. I will let that sit for a while and see what we get.

I had friends try my cheap cider this weekend. The two who sampled it said it was good. The one prefers dry and liked it very much. It is dry despite my efforts to backsweeten it. The other also said it was good but prefers a sweeter cider. I will consider it a win.

I divided up the malt vinegar I had for those who wanted it. The Xocovez is different than I remember. Time is an ingredient you shouldn’t forget with brewing or vinegars. Gertie suggested I make more and then do my cask aging on it. I think I will 🙂

Started a new batch of malt with Blue Moon. 14 for a 12-pack was too much to pass up for new vinegar.

I figured out some character issues in my roleplaying 🙂

That is it for progress report for now.

cider, SCA Life, Vinegar

Blueberry cider

I finished the first round ciders. I set aside 16 oz bottle of each to be a sampling kit for my cider class. I then took ~ 1/2 gallon of one to make into vinegar. This is part of the “step back process”. The rest are for general consumption of my gaming group to improve what I am doing.

What do I mean by “step back”? I mean “can I take this process and make it a step closer to period practice?” Doing the Orleans Process on my apple ciders is a step back. Making my own alcohols verses store bought is a step back. There aren’t a lot of step backs in vinegar making. Once you are growing your own fruits and making your own alcohols, that is about it. I guess you could try to reverse breed back to a medieval strain of fruit. I suspect that is very hard and unless you can go back to Europe and figure out how to reset the soil chemistry 1000 years, you have made a close as you can get.

I started a new cider to make a blueberry cider. I think I have frozen cherries and raspberries I need to use too. Just like when I started cordials, I am in the “let’s play with this” phase. Make a ton of variants to see what I like and what works.

I still need to make “Froderick’s World Hopper” Perry. That is a goal. French pears and Indian spices. Looking at cardamon and vanilla I think.


What is my Passion?

I have been seriously thinking about things lately. And more importantly, why do I do it?

I will try to finish my paper project but I don’t love it. That is clear. Why? I find reasons not to do it. I believe my reasons to start it were wrong. I did it because I wanted to give something back but I also wanted something to sell. I don’t really want to sell things either. So we will see but that isn’t my passion.

Brewing is sort of a passion but only because I can turn it into vinegar. But again, there is a bad reason I started it. I was told I wasn’t a brewer because I only really altered existing alcohol. So I did ciders to prove I was a brewer. I know I have people who tell me I am still a brewer but this person’s opinion mattered so I wanted to branch out. Ciders did have connections to my passion though. It was very English (at least eventually). And it could be vinegar 🙂

Glass is a passion and I plan on getting back to it when I can learn some new styles. I need to be able to control my environment. I hope that enamel and cloisonne will help that.

So it turns out that vinegar, English history, cider, and glass are the passions. I will make time to do those things. Everything else takes a backseat. When it is time to make vinegar, I jump to it. I am willing to figure out the steps to “take it one step back” for that.

I am not sure why I resisted it. I did at least verbally. But I am willing to admit I like vinegar. I like making it. I like thinking about how to make more of it and how to make it better. I don’t know why but I do.

There is history as well. I have “mothers” that go back to the first mothers I used. I have generations of acer-bacteria.


Preparing for the Tournament of Art

When I was planning out which events I was going to go to, I wasn’t not at first going to go to 12th Night/ToA. I try to limit myself to one event per month but I am really failing this year.

I wasn’t sure what I would have available to show in the ToA. Ciders aren’t ready. Paper is not cooperating. My glass work isn’t period. That left vinegar. And I have shown vinegar many times but I have one ace left up my sleeve.

I have made a faux balsamic vinegar. The plan was to doing something really special at a Pennsic with it. I only have a limited amount of it. Whereas real balsamic takes years (at least a dozen) to make, my faux balsamic takes 12 to 20 months.

What is this stuff? It is my Pinot Noir red wine vinegar, aged and reduced in an charred oak cask. Roughly 1 liter reduces down to ~4 ounces. I have about 8 ounces of it. So, not a lot but hopefully enough.

That is my plan. I will bring my vinegar poster display, a variety of vinegars to taste and the faux balsamic with a warning to taste it sparingly.

Part of the ToA is good conversation and I can certainly have that. Part of it is feedback and direction. I am eager to see what comes out of this. Wish me luck!

cider, SCA Life, Vinegar

From A to V – cider and vinegar

Sometimes when someone asks me about vinegar, I mention how there isn’t much depth to it. It is a basic ingredient. It is like flour. Yes it is from time immemorial. You could get that special volcanic rock from Germany to grind the grain. But past that, it is grain ground down into a powder.

Vinegar is much the same way. It is a bacteria eating alcohol. It is hard to make it more complicated. Like varieties of flour, you can make it from a lot of different alcohols but at the end of the day. it is what it is.

Compare to one of my other hobbies, paper making. Paper making is also simple. But it has depth. This culture used this fiber, beat it this way, and cast it using these materials. A different culture used a different fiber, beat it a different way, and cast using different materials.

To add depth, I need to backtrack how the base materials are made. I don’t mean research, I mean agriculture. I have one example where I made the wine from canned wine grape juice. I was thinking of planting grapevines but grapes are picky. I then moved to ciders and apples. Apples come in faster and I can specify the variety grafted to rootstock.

But then I discovered that a friend of mine has apple trees and pear trees.

Still trying to identify the types. I have asked the Illinois Extension but no answer so far. I will keep hunting though.

I can take the apples, press them into sweet cider, make a hard cider, then make a vinegar. That is about as much depth as I can do with vinegar.

Actually, I can take it one more step. I have made a faux balsamic vinegar with Pinot Noir. I can do the same process with the apple cider vinegar.

So that is the plan. That is as complex as I can make vinegar. Starting with fruit, make the alcohol, make the vinegar, and reduce it to something like balsamic. Give me a year.