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With her in-depth guide, Kirsten K. Shockey takes readers on a deep dive into the wide-ranging possibilities alive in this ancient condiment, health tonic, and global kitchen staple. In-depth coverage of the science of vinegar and the basics of equipment, brewing, bottling, and aging gives readers the foundational skills and knowledge for fermenting their own vinegar. Then the real journey begins, as the book delves into the many methods and ingredients for making vinegars, from apple cider to red wine to rice to aged balsamic. Along the way, Shockey shares insights into vinegar-making traditions around the world and her own recipes for making vinegar tonics, infused vinegars, and oxymels.
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Edited by Carleen Madigan
Art direction and book design by Carolyn Eckert
Text production by Erin Dawson
Indexed by Christine R. Lindemer, Boston Road Communications
Cover and interior photography by © Carmen Troesser
Additional interior photography by Caroline Attwood/Unsplash, 119; Heather Gill/Unsplash, 208; J. Rose, Public domain/Wikimedia Commons, 21; Kanō school artist, Public domain/Wikimedia Commons, 18; © Kirsten K. Shockey, 40, 107 b., 109 b., 271, 274; © Narong KHUEANKAEW/iStock.com
Photo styling by Carmen Troesser
Text © 2021 by Kirsten K. Shockey
Ebook production by Kristy L. MacWilliams
Ebook version 1.0
May 11, 2021
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through sweet and sour . . .
and all the bubbling transformations in between.
An Invitation to Acid Alchemy
Chapter 1: Introducing Vinegar
Chapter 2: The Science and Alchemy of Vinegar
Chapter 3: Alcohol Primer for the Vinegar Maker
Chapter 4: Let's Make Vinegar
Chapter 5: Basic Vinegars from Cider, Wine, and Beer
Chapter 6: Vinegars from Fresh Fruits and Veggies
Chapter 7: Vinegars from Scraps and Leavings
Chapter 8: Vinegars from Honey, Syrups, and Juices
Chapter 9: Drinking Vinegars
Chapter 10: Vinegar as Medicine
A Primer on Growing Koji
More Books By Kirsten K. Shockey and Christopher Shockey
Fermentation, the ancient practice of transforming something raw into something heady and sour, opens up a whole new galaxy of flavor exploration. I am "flavor chaser," so this craft has grabbed me by the heart, soul, and stomach. It has also fed my voracious appetite for knowledge, encouraging me to spiral down wormholes of research, only to emerge with an even more insatiable desire to learn.
In autumn 2014—right before my first book, Bar Tartine: Techniques and Recipes, was published—I read Fermented Vegetables by Kirsten and Christopher Shockey, flipping from page to page with gusto, exploring untapped flavors and reveling in the Shockeys' playful willingness to experiment. Fermentation is an art of patience and curiosity, and although I had been deep in the maker's mindset for quite some time (Bar Tartine was often dubbed a living larder), the Shockeys became two of my greatest instructors.
The first thing a good teacher does is demystify a subject, or at least ease you in by explaining the basics before building on them. Kirsten teaches this way. With every book she's written, she distills the science into understandable language before applying the theories to practice. There is a gentleness to her style, making new ideas feel approachable and attainable, while arming readers with the confidence and foundation to experiment, so that they can become makers themselves.
How grand is it to let time and terroir transform ingredients into something wholly different and more dynamic than their fresh counterparts?
Kirsten is the type of maker who only comes along once in a while, caring so deeply about her craft that she's spent a lifetime devoted to it. Not only does she fully connect with the process from soil to plate, but she's made it her life's work to catalog, refine, and share fermentation methods so that we, too, can create our own electric and layered flavors. Her first books tilt toward the vegetable world, followed by a deep dive that showed her unwavering curiosity for grains, legumes, and koji. Savory pastes and mind-blowing sauces are the results of such tasty trials. Clearly her larder is as boundless as the craft itself.
So it was with sincere delight that I devoured her latest book, Homebrewed Vinegar. Within these pages, Kirsten shares her vast knowledge and love of vinegar, explaining how to make this nose-busting elixir and how to encapsulate flavors within it. Kirsten also explores the ancient wisdom of vinegar as medicine. From shrubs to switchels to oxymels, you're just a sip away from a more balanced self.
Vinegar making, until now, has always felt like a tonic enshrouded in mystery, an indispensable potion deeply revered, yet not fully understood. It is alchemy at its finest; a seemingly magical process of transformation and creation by combining liquid sugar—from juice to honey water—with microbes, oxygen, and time. From there the vinegar is just barely attended to. Instead, it's left to metamorphosize into something more complex and alluring than its building blocks.
Throughout the book, Kirsten takes us on a flavor journey, teaching us how to make vinegar from any number of different ingredients. Thanks to Kristin, my kitchen counter now has a continuous vinegar pot, into which I pour the dregs of wine and cider, and let time do the rest. I've made vacuum-sealed tomato vinegar (see recipe), which I use to dress the last of the garden tomatoes and to invigorate winter meals with the whisper and nutrition of summer. I combine lingering food scraps into vinegar jars—their flavor and color lending a lively jolt—while flowers imbue aroma along with offering extra yeast for wild fermentation. Using the techniques outlined in her recipe for wild-fermented floral vinegars (see here), I've already tucked dahlias from the garden into this year's first batch of apple cider vinegar. And while the wonders of autumn are under way as I write this, I admit I eagerly await spring, so I can infuse vinegars with delicate lilac buds (see Lilac Vinegar), the nostalgic scent of my childhood.
If you've ever wanted to learn how to successfully make vinegars at home, this is the guidebook of your dreams. I wish I'd had it as a road map all those years ago when I first started experimenting. After reading this book and following Kirsten's empowering guidance, I can honestly say that I, too, feel more confident in my vinegar-crafting skills. Thank you, Kirsten, for nudging me further down the fermentation rabbit hole. It's a deliciously dizzying path.
—cortney burns, author of Nourish Me Home
and coauthor of James Beard Award–winning Bar Tartine
An Invitation to Acid Alchemy
While most people are chasing the perfect sourdough holes and crackling crust, diving deep into the wonders of koji, or just discovering kimchi, vinegar is still one of the largely "undiscovered" and underappreciated members of the fermentation community's bag of tricks. Not to say that there aren't enthusiastic makers, but by and large there hasn't been a strong vinegar movement—yet.
Vinegar making for me has always been an aside to our cider making on the homestead. To be fair, my husband, Christopher, has been the cider maker and I have been the cider taker—or thief, I guess you could say. I prefer "acid alchemist." I shepherd acetic bacteria into both tasty and not as tasty batches of cider and wines to produce the family's vinegar. Vinegar making just felt like an aside—my sour to his sweet—something to build creative tension in our fermentation cave. This book came about in a similar manner. It was conceived of as a chapter in The Big Book of Cidermaking—a very large chapter—one-fifth of the book, in fact. I sheepishly dumped the chapter into the manuscript, and we sent the manuscript off to our editor. A few weeks later, we got an email from her with a subject line of "Can we talk vinegar?" and I knew immediately I'd not pulled the wool over anyone's eyes. The powers that be didn't think cider makers would want a complete guide to cider vinegar, given that most alcohol makers live in terror of acetic bacteria moving into their carboys or barrels.
The apple cider vinegar chapter was pulled from the book and allowed to take wing and explore all the possibility of acid alchemy. As soon as I started talking about vinegar, people started asking questions—turns out there are a lot of closet vinegar makers! By and large, the biggest questions were "Why are my vinegars hit or miss?" and "Why are some so weak that they have to be kept in the fridge?"
It was then that I realized this book needed to take the path of Fermented Vegetables. It needed to become a vinegar class. A class in which you learn how to facilitate, and then trust, the family of microbes we call acetic bacteria. It needed to give you projects that explored the A to Z of anything that could become vinegar—asparagus to wine—and the confidence to go freestyle and make anything you dream up.
Working with microbes, such a fundamental part of our DNA, has been lost and now found. To most of us who have grown up with messages about bad germs dancing in our heads, it is no longer intuitive to let something sit on the counter and transform under the influence of microbes. One fermentation project at a time builds confidence in this new relationship. It's not to say all projects will be great, because they won't. They won't all be tasty, and that's okay because you can always use them as cleaning vinegar. They won't all be right, but luckily when they are wrong, you will know—your five senses will let you know "this is off" (and the troubleshooting section at the end of this book will help). And when you do compost a vinegar project, the soil microbes will know what to do with it. That is the worst that can happen. That's not so bad, is it? Even better, nearly all your projects will blow you away and give you an entirely different perspective on what vinegar is and how delicious it can taste.
You've come to this book with some interest in vinegar. Is it as an alcohol maker? As a fermenter who wants to dive into another adventure with microbes? Maybe you love the power of sour. Or you want to use everything to its fullest potential. Or you are fascinated by the potential health benefits and making your own tonics. Perhaps all of the above. It is my hope that you are inspired to embark on your own journey, or continue on a current one, of collaborating with microbes. I hope you find nuggets that get your creativity flowing and that you innovate your own processes and flavors. Let's do this!
You either love it, or you've never given much thought to this ubiquitous sour liquid found in the pantry or under the sink in every household. It comes in two-dollar plastic gallon jugs and in shapely four-ounce bottles that cost upwards of one hundred and fifty bucks. Some folks use vinegar regularly, while others have to dig to the back of their pantry when a recipe calls for it.
Because vinegar is generally inexpensive and abundant, people tend to categorize it as either clear, cheap acid or "fancy" red wine vinegar. Simply put, not much thought is given to the wide variety of possibilities when it comes to the flavors of vinegar and what it can be made of. Every region of the world has its own unique alcohol traditions, made from whatever local ingredients are abundant (not just apples and grapes), and where there is booze there is vinegar. Just as each libation has its own flavor profile, each resulting vinegar comprises a combination of unique compounds that impart unique flavors—from subtle to robust. It's time to change the paradigm.
Our son was home recently for a visit and witnessed our houseful of jars, crocks, and barrels all in various stages of fermentation, most of them with the "mother" on top. (This is a peek into what deadline time looks like around here, but I digress.) He asked me, "Why bother? I mean vinegar is tasty, but why?" Although he's definitely in the cider camp with my husband, Christopher, he wasn't asking "Why vinegar instead of cider?" Like many people, he thinks vinegar is cheap and that it all pretty much tastes the same.
I'm sure he was sorry he asked. My eyes lit up, and I took him along for an acid trip through the jars. I dipped a tiny ladle into jars containing vinegar made from fig leaves, IPA, porter, chocolate, turmeric, wild fruits—flavors he never imagined preserved and acidified, ready to add the final sparkle to a dish, like a fine finishing salt. Did I convince him he should try making vinegar? Doubtful. (Let's be honest, though: He doesn't have to any time soon, since he has my larder at his disposal.) But he was blown away by all the flavors and did see that all vinegar doesn't taste the same.
Discovering vinegar fermentation led me down the proverbial rabbit hole, but not right away. The first 10 or so years of making vinegar was just another part of cider making. It was only in the past few years that I realized that, much like in all my other experiences working with microbes, there are methods and traditions to making vinegar. Understand the basics and once you start to play, the field is wide open. You see, anything with fermentable sugar can be made into vinegar (yes, even something like soda pop).
That was the beginning of my vinegar obsession . . .
That was the beginning of my vinegar obsession. Sugars are present in so many fruits, vegetables, and grains. (If there is starch, it can be broken down into sugar, which you see in malting and koji making.) I discovered flowers and their wild yeasts could ferment ciders when added to apple juice. Suddenly, the esters and subtle notes of flowers were available, too. The door was blown wide open!
When I started testing recipes for this book, the world of ingredients became unlimited, and it was difficult to know where to stop. Vinegar making is such a universal, versatile way to preserve, and I find the potential is limitless. After teaching you the basics, I've tried to include enough variety of flavors and techniques to give you a tour of what's possible. Some of the most exciting vinegars I've made have started out as "scraps"—peels, pits, overripe fruit, stems, and other items that may otherwise have been thrown away. I want to introduce you to ways you can use vinegar as a tool to turn your home kitchen into a full-utilization kitchen, to minimize food waste. My hope is that you use your experiences to explore your own ingredients and ideas to come up with completely unique vinegars.
Legend has it that Hannibal used vinegar to dissolve boulders in his army's path and that Cleopatra dissolved an opulent pearl in vinegar, which she then drank in a lavish move to win a bet with her lover, Antony. But the power of sour we're talking about is all about flavor, food preservation, and digestion. Acidity is an important element in food. The acidity and enzymes in vinegar not only help us digest our meal, but also bring out some flavors while balancing others. Acid brightens foods—giving them a little sparkle on our taste buds, which awaken to all the tastes the meal is delivering. It will enhance a sweet dish by making every bit refreshingly sweet, but will also cut something that is overly sweet. Acid makes the flavor of fats pop as well, and it conveniently washes the oils from those fatty foods off your tongue, so that you will keep tasting the vibrancy of all the flavors, including the subtle ones. In this book, I hope to take you further, to convince you that using vinegar is not just about adding acid to your dish but about creating dishes or drinks that will also showcase the vinegars themselves.
One of Our Oldest Condiments
This simple, universal larder staple happens by way of a two-step fermentation. The process is not complicated, but also not as undemanding as the modern price of distilled white vinegar would lead one to believe. Honest vinegar involves quality inputs and plenty of time.
Vinegar production turned up on the culinary scene along with alcoholic brews, as these two ferments go hand in hand. For thousands of years, vinegar happened in the same way—whether on purpose or by accident—slowly, over time. The history of the word in the West would lead one to believe vinegar is the result of an oversight: The French term vin aigre ("sour wine"), which comes from the Latin vin acer (also meaning "sour wine"), certainly sounds like wine gone bad. In China, where writings about vinegar appeared more than two thousand years ago, the word cu (pronounced sooh) is used both for vinegar and as a way to describe feelings of bitterness.
An Essential Ingredient in Ancient Kitchens
Accident or not, vinegar became an essential ingredient everywhere from the humble kitchens of peasants to the palace kitchens of kings. It is central to bringing forth flavor; a splash of acidity will bring life and balance to almost any dish. It has also been an important medicine throughout history and has long held an important role as a way to preserve food. In this book, we'll breeze through many millennia in the history of vinegar in just a few paragraphs, but for a fascinating read looking at the global history of vinegar, you should read The Eternal Condiment: Unearthing the Science, Business, and Sometimes Rollicking Story of Vinegar by Reginald Smith, whom you will also meet below.
Meet the Maker
Reginald Smith, Supreme Vinegar
Reginald Smith is a hobby vinegar maker turned vinegar entrepreneur. His passion for vinegar began innocently enough in 2011 when he came home from Christmas vacation to find that his first home-brewing project—a batch of maple wine—had a vinegar mother on it. Today his company, Supreme Vinegar, is the only supplier I've come across that sells high-quality vinegar mothers to fledgling vinegar makers. The company's website serves as an educational resource for vinegar makers as well. If you find yourself drawn into the world of vinegar, I strongly suggest you read Reginald's blog, The Eternal Condiment (see https://supremevinegar.com/the-eternal-condiment-vinegar-blog/), in which he generously provides a rich source of information, history, and recipes for the "acid curious." (In fact, the kitchen-counter Boerhaave method [see here] was his idea.)
I originally contacted Reginald when I became curious about vinegar made from whey. Having been a cheese maker, I was intrigued by the idea. In South Tyrol, Austria (think Alpine meadows with big, brown-eyed cows wearing bells), dairy is a staple, and traditional artisan whey vinegar is a delicious amber product. Reginald had recently imported some and sent me a bottle to taste and said he would share some of the yeast.
The sugar in whey is lactose. Like all sugars, it will produce alcohol if you have the right yeast to consume it. This yeast is Kluyveromyces marxianus, which Reginald had recently obtained from the USDA Agricultural Research Service Culture Collection. (They will send cultures for free, if you have a company or are associated with a research institution; see Resources).
My own attempt failed miserably—as in, nothing happened. The whey did not turn into alcohol or go bad. I never knew if it was my mistakes or that the yeast starter had not appreciated the cross-country journey and was DOA. I did a little research, but ultimately didn't have the bandwidth at the time to work it out.When Reginald and I talked later, he said his endeavor had produced a cheesy vinegar.
The positive outcome was that I'd met Reginald and learned a little of his story. His path to artisan vinegar maker and scholar didn't take the straight route from that first accidental maple vinegar, however. Reginald was helping an uncle in Ghana develop and market hot sauce from his farm but realized that there was no domestic source of vinegar. His research led him to Lawrence J. Diggs's vinegar book (see Suggested Reading) and old industrial production manuals. From this research, he designed a two-gallon vinegar generator with picnic coolers. The hot sauce never became a product, but Reginald was all in. In 2013, he studied with Helge Schmickl, Austrian coauthor of The Artisanal Vinegar Maker's Handbook, built his own vinegar generators, and six months later was a small business owner of Supreme Vinegar.
Reginald designed his own equipment and began making vinegar that no one else was producing, using whole foods—mostly fruit or pure fruit syrups. His first product was an ancient flavor: Middle Eastern date vinegar. He continues to seek new flavors. His current interest is in rice vinegars; he's harvesting wild rice to work with. He still sells that original date vinegar, in addition to seasonal and special offerings like rose vinegar, gluten-free malt vinegar, and watermelon and pineapple vinegars, as well as mothers for red and white wine vinegars, malt vinegar, and rice vinegar.
Vinegar is a significant staple around the world for all the reasons listed above, and because it is easy to make—it happens on its own with any kind of sugar in a liquid that yeast turns to alcohol. Remnants of Neolithic wine were found in the Zagros Mountains in Iran dating back to 6000 bce, so we can bet these folks had vinegar then, too. The Babylonians made date vinegar. And according to tomb records from around 1500 bce, the Egyptians allowed their barley beer to turn sour. At around 1000 bce, the Babylonians and the Chinese started making vinegar pickles. It is written that Jinyang had large-scale vinegar production in place by 479 bce, and a vinegar maker could ascend to a prestigious position as the royal vinegar maker. Babylonians also gave us shrub, a vinegar-based drink I'll talk more about later in the book (see Shrubs).
During China's Tang dynasty (618–907 CE), there were diverse vinegars prepared with ingredients like wheat, rice, and peaches, and infused with kumquat leaves or peach blossoms. Other Asian vinegars were derived from grains and beans—such as the Chinese Shanxi vinegar, which is made from sorghum, wheat bran, peas, and barley. (See more about the process of Freeing the Sugar: Starch-Based Vinegars.)
"This comprehensive, well-researched collection of recipes and methods reveals the history, versatility, and flavor complexities of this ancient ferment. Whether you're looking for ways to avoid kitchen waste, convert various alcohols to acids, or maximize seasonal abundance, this book provides an approachable guide to the science and magical alchemy of vinegar making. Kirsten Shockey transforms a wide range of ingredients into a unique reflection of time and terroir using universal fruits and ciders, seasonally playful flower blossoms, and even jewel-hued purple sweet potatoes. With additional methods to customize the process, this book will keep your pantry flush with vibrant options for flavor, nourishment, and culinary creativity." - Sarah Owens, author of Sourdough
“Homebrewed Vinegar is as scientifically rigorous as it is historically rich. Kirsten Shockey’s elixirs will satisfy curious chefs, home cooks, gardeners, and citizen scientists. She is the real vinegar mother, holding our hand as we discover microbial mysteries and the deliciousness of transformation.” - Dan Barber, Blue Hill
"Kirsten Shockey is one of our greatest fermentation educators. Homebrewed Vinegar is as thorough, accessible, and clear as her other wonderful books. This book completely demystifies the process of making vinegar and will surely inspire many fermenting jars in your kitchen." - Sandor Ellix Katz, Author of Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation
“Kirsten Shockey continues to inspire and amaze, because she not only teaches us the history, science, and technique of fermented foods, but also somehow manages to make it extra enchanting, through the bold exploration of flavors on the edge of our consciousness. In this way, this book will teach you how to make quality vinegar more thoroughly than almost any modern book on the market, but it will also fill you with creative wonder about an ingredient you may have once taken completely for granted." - Meredith Leigh, Author, The Ethical Meat Handbook and Pure Charcuterie
“To say that Homebrewed Vinegar is anything but a fantastically researched, mind blowingly comprehensive, and very approachable book is an understatement. Kirsten does it again with this book, as she has with her previous ones, by showing you all the ins and outs to making vinegar. With her as your guide you’ll be able to make any vinegar that your mind can dream up. She will entangle you with her love for fermentation from the beginning and inspire you to do the same with others. This book definitely holds a prominent space on my bookshelf and will do the same on yours.” - Jeremy Umansky, larder master, author of Koji Alchemy, and owner of Larder Delicatessen Bakery
"I'm so excited to see an acid aficionado, such as Kirsten Shockey, show us that there's no limit to what vinegar has to offer—and making acidity accessible to all, at home and abroad.” - Michael Harlan Turkel, award-winning food photographer, cookbook author of ACID TRIP: Travels in the World of Vinegar, and host of The Food Seen podcast on Heritage Radio Network, as well as Food52's Burnt Toast
“I adore vinegar and have many bottles of different kinds —even banana vinegar—and quince vinegar is definitely on my list of those to make. I really like Kirsten Shockey’s latest book on brewing vinegar at home—a lot. It’s thorough and considerate and she tells you exactly how to proceed. There’s no reason to think that I—or you— can’t make vinegar too.” - Deborah Madison, author of In My Kitchen and An Onion in My Pocket
“With this new book Kirsten Shockey continues her work of helping us understand and harness the power of fermentation. With an eye, and a palate towards ever expanding our tastes and methods this one goes into the canon immediately.” - Harry Rosenblum, author of Vinegar Revival and co-founder of The Brooklyn Kitchen
- On Sale
- May 11, 2021
- Page Count
- 296 pages