Make your own vinegar


“Any of the live culture vinegars that I’ve tasted are always, like, way, way better in flavour than the ones you buy…” Chef Craig Grozier of Fallachan Dining is sharing the details of a recent project – a range of experimental foraged vinegars. “You can’t blame stuff that’s been processed and pasteurised! But things with live cultures just have a way better taste, because you haven’t killed the amino acids and all that kind of stuff that’s in there; there’s just a deeper flavour to them.”

Craig has been working with us regularly in Islay since 2015 [read a profile of Craig here >]. He is always having some sort of gastronomic adventure based on the ingredients afforded by the distillery or the island – using our whiskies’ malted barley for bread or koji, making garum from leftover fish bits, using sea water to make salt, or foraging heart-breakingly fine garnishes from the forest floor. Like the best of artists, he takes ordinary things, works them, re-combines them, and puts them back before you in a mind-blowing and moving way.

Recently, it was vinegars that took the full beam of his attention. “If you want to try new flavours, you can just do it yourself,” enthuses Craig. “You can buy a live vinegar anywhere, as long as it says ‘live with mother’. The mother is a living sort of culture, like a scobi [the natural layer that grows on top of kombucha]…” He holds up what looks like a wet wrinkly piece of cowhide in a ziplock bag. “So this’ll grow. In four weeks time, if this goes right, we’ll have huge mothers on top of these. I’ve seen ones about the size of a dustbin lid. My mate’s one in Berlin, his is like…” He gestures a foot and a half wide with his hands.

a vinegar mother

“If you want to try new flavours, you can just do it yourself”

How are vinegars created?

The principle is that you start off with a liquid that contains some sugar and some alcohol (see measurements below), and kick-start a conversion process by adding some live vinegar. “In layman’s terms,” says Craig, “Vinegar is just oxidised wine, so you want the oxygen in there. The acetic bacteria get in there and start producing acetic acid. And they’ll just keep doing that til all the sugar is gone, and as they do that your pH keeps getting lower and lower, as the culture develops.” You can just seal the jar with a breathable cloth to let the air in and wait 1-3 months. But to accelerate the process and to keep the developing vinegar really well aerated, Craig’s innovative solution is to employ a home-aquarium-style air pump. Watch the full video instructions on our instagram TV channel. >>

Once you get below a certain pH, certain bacteria, undesirable ones, can’t live in the liquid. This is what makes vinegar useful for preserving. He has a pH thermometer to get an accurate reading on that, but the judgement about when it’s ready just comes down to tasting it. “If you’re sitting at like pH3 or 4 you’re still going to have some of those nice natural sweetnesses. Your standard white vinegar is about 2pH. But anything below 4 is safe, basically.”

Craig’s foraged vinegars

Craig’s trial batches of vinegar pictured above had as their bases meadowsweet, sea buckthorn, garden raspberry, lord derby green apples, Port Charlotte heavily peated malt (used to make one of the distillery’s range of whiskies), and Islay ale made with Islay-grown hops. “‘I’m excited about the meadowsweet one just because it’s really almond-y. And we use vinegars for desserts. So like we make creams out of elderflower vinegar, but we’ve alway just infused vinegar with meadowsweet. So now we’re going the whole whole hog; this is another link!” Fast-forward a little, and from these trials, it actually turned out that the Islay Ales vinegar was Craig’s favourite, so he developed it further, until we got to try something stunning over scallops last summer.

His suggestion for people wanting to try to make vinegar at home at this point in the season is elderflower (see details below) or plums.  “Juice some plums. You want to leave some of the stones in there, with the juice, because that’s where the almond flavours are concentrated. (That cherry stone cyanide-y thing going on? It’s a compound called benzeldahyde, same as in the meadowsweet. Plums and stone fruits and meadowsweet and almonds are all in the rose family.)  Add some sugar, some spirit, and some live vinegar to that and then just leave it open for 4 weeks to 3 months, depending on your taste. Eventually the whole thing will become a vinegar, because you’ve already got a live culture in there.” 

Elderflower vinegar recipe

During lockdown, Craig’s been making elderflower (cordial) vinegar at home, which you could do with flowers you have picked, or shop-bought cordial.

“This is great to dress cucumbers, as part of a salad dressing, replacing lemon in fish dishes and added to yoghurt to make a nice savoury sauce for vegetables or meat.”

Elderflower Vinegar Ingredients
500g elderflower cordial
900g water
350g of 40% alcohol (a neutral, flavourless cheap vodka or gin)
350g organic, live apple cider vinegar (it is important that this is live, the bottle should read – live, with mother)

Ix aquarium air pump with air stone (this can be picked up on line for around £ I 0)


1. Place your water in a sterilised jar (this can be done by steeping in boiling water for 15 minutes and allowed to cool and fully dry).

2. Add all of your other ingredients then find a good spot in a cool, dark place near to a plug socket.

3. Once you have a temporary home for your vinegar, drop in the air stone until hits the bottom, seal the top of the jar over with a square of muslin or j-cloth, held tight with an elastic band. This is really just to keep out unwanted guests but still let the air circulate.
4. Plug in the air pump and leave for 7-14 days until you have a membrane on the top and a nice vinegary taste.This can be made to personal preference, the longer it is left the more vinegary it will become. Once you are happy with the taste of your vinegar, remove the air pump and strain into bottles, storing it in the fridge to slow down the fermentation.



Further Reading

A great article from Craig about the rose family

Rose Tinted Martini Glasses >>

More about Craig and his approach to new Scottish cuisine >>

Fallachan Dining >> 

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