Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How to make malt vinegar from wheat.

Welcome to the ancient art of malt vinegar production. If you enjoy cooking with Mother Nature you'll like this project. We are making malt vinegar from wheat berries. Mother Nature puts on a real show of colors and warm earthy smells as we make this great tasting vinegar.

Things you need to know.

There are a few things to consider before making a batch of homemade vinegar. Most importantly, vinegar making is a true test of patience. It takes about 6 weeks to convert wheat berries into vinegar. It will be another 3 months before the vinegar mellows from aging. Vinegar making is for the stouthearted. During the process we encounter frothy foam, gooey gray sediment, a thick white translucent glob ("mother"), and various strong natural smells. All are necessary parts of the process. There is also a likelihood that vinegar flies and vinegar eels will show up. Finally, while Mother Nature is forgiving, we need to follow each step closely and use our best kitchen hygiene practices.

There are three distinct stages to create this vinegar. First we will convert the starches in the wheat into malts (sugars.) The next two fermentation stages will convert the sugars into vinegar. In the first stage of fermentation yeast will convert the sugars into ethanol. In the second stage acetobacter will convert the ethanol into acetic acid, vinegar. The first stage of fermentation is done in the absence of oxygen and takes about a week. The second stage is done with oxygen and takes about 4 weeks.

So, relax and enjoy the show as Mother Nature creates great tasting malt vinegar.

Things we will need.

Here is a list of items that we will need to follow this recipe.

1 ¼ cups wheat berries. About ½ pound.
¼ tsp active dry yeast
1 cup raw unfiltered vinegar. This can be found at your local organic grocer.
1quart Mason jar with a lid.  We are not canning so any Mason type jar will work.
Candy or meat thermometer that can measure in the 130 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit range.
6 in. square of light weight cloth. A large coffee filter will work as well.
A discarded Clean t-shirt. Cut out the front or back of the shirt to make a square rag.
¼ in wide rubber bands. (No. 64 rubber bands by office supply standards)
6 qt stainless steel sauce pan
Either a coffee grinder or a wheat grinder capable of cracking wheat
Small fan
Cookie sheet
Household chlorine bleach

Things we will need to do.

  1. Starting.
Accumulate all the items on the list.

  1. Sprouting and drying. This will take 2 to 5 days.

We need a specific enzymes for converting starch to sugar. This enzyme will be in the wheat after it has sprouted. Wheat berries sprout quickly and easily at room temperature, 68 – 70 degrees Fahrenheit. We use the mason jar as a sprouting container. Place all the wheat berries in the jar. Rinse them with cold tap water. Fill the jar with cold tap water. Allow the wheat to soak at room temperature for 12 hours.

After the 12 hour soak, drain off all the water. Rinse again with cold tap water and drain completely . Place in a cupboard with a cloth cover. Rinse and drain every 12 hours. We will need to rinse and drain more frequently if the temperatures are higher than 72 degrees. Once the sprouts are about the length of the wheat berries it is time to stop the spouting by dehydrating them. It should only take about 24 – 48 hours after the first rinse for the sprouts to reach the right length.

The sprouting process is complete when the sprout is the same length as the grain.  These sprouts are ready to be dried.

The sprouts need to be dried quickly and completely. We can use a fan to speed up the drying process. Place the sprouts on a cookie sheet. Now place a fan blowing on the sprouts to dry them out. The wheat must be completely dry. This could take several days. Do not use a commercial dehydrator or your oven for this process. These higher temperatures will alter the process.
  1. Grinding the malted wheat. 5 minute process
Use a grinder to produce the consistency of coarse cornmeal.

  1. Making the wort and starting the first fermentation. 3 hour process

Before making the wort we need to prepare the Mason jar. Fill the clean jar with water and add about 1 tablespoon of chlorine bleach.
We need to prepare the grain bag. Lay the t-shirt rag out flat. Make a mound of the ground wheat in the middle of the rag. Lift the edges of the rag to make a bag. Tie the top of the bag with a rubber band or piece of string. The bag should be much larger that the pile of wheat.
Now we can make the wort. Wort is the sticky sweet amber colored juice from which the vinegar will be made. Pour 1 quart of water into the sauce pan. Use a spoon to measure the depth of the water. We will need to remember this depth later. Now add another three cups of water. There should now be 7 cups of water in the pan.

Place the bag of wheat in the pan of water. Turn the heat up to medium. Hold the candy thermometer in the middle of the liquid. Continually and slowly stir water and bag until the water reaches exactly 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Immediately remove from the heat. Place the lid on the pan.

Remove the pan to a counter and wrap it in a towel so that heat cannot escape. The wort needs to sit for 1 hour.

Now carefully lift the bag full of wheat from the wort. Be careful! It should still be hot. Allow the bag to drain back into the pan for several minutes. Place the pan back on the burner and bring the wort to a boil. The wort will need to boil for about a hour. When the wort is reduced to less than 1 quart we remove it from the heat. Measuring the depth of the wort with our spoon will tell us when we are down to a quart.

The wort needs to be cooled quickly. With the lid on the pan place the pan into a 9 x 13 cake pan. Please put hot pads under the cake pan: the wort is quite hot.  Poor water into the cake pan to about ½ the depth of the cake pan. Do not remove the lid until the next step. When the pan is lukewarm it is ready.

We prepare the Mason jar by pouring out the bleach water and rinsing with cold water. Pour the wort into the Mason Jar. The liquid should be at least 1 inch from the top. Pour in ¼ teaspoon of yeast. Place the lid on the jar. If using a screw on lid DO NOT TIGHTEN. Leave the lid somewhat loose. I prefer to use the Mason jar lid without the ring and hold it on with rubber bands. The fermenting brew will create pressure in the jar that must be able to escape without fresh air entering the jar.  Place the jar in a bucket in a dark corner of the house. The first couple days of fermentation will cause the jar to hiss and leak out the top. We will need to clean out the bucket after the wort overflows. We don't want to attract unwanted visitors.

After a couple days the liquid will begin to separate. We will see gray goo at the top followed by white foam, amber liquid, and a gray sediment. It will continue to ferment for a couple weeks; getting a little less active each day. Let if ferment for at least a full week.

After a week the first fermentation is complete.  It is time to separate out the clear liquid and begin the second fermentation.

    5.  Starting the second fermentation.
Without disturbing the layers of liquid, loosen the lid a couple hours before you begin the next process. We want any remaining carbonation to escape. Slowly and carefully poor the brew into a bowl. We may want to poor the brew through your clean t-shirt rag to filter out particles. We want to leave about ½ cup in the bottom of the jar. The gray sediment and dormant yeast should remain in the jar.
Discard the sediment and thoroughly clean the jar and lid. Poor the brew from the bowl back into the Mason jar. Poor about ½ to 1 full cup of raw unfiltered vinegar into the Mason jar: It should be filled to within an inch or so from the top of the jar.  Place a peice of plastic over the top of the jar.  Leave a hole the size of a wine cork in the plastic for oxygen  to enter the jar.

Cover the jar and plastic with a small piece of light cloth and the Mason Jar ring or a rubber band. Place the jar in a warm dark part of the kitchen. It works best at 80 degrees Fahrenheit but will work at cooler temperatures as well. After a week or two we will see a white film forming on the top of the brew. Also, more sediment will fall to the bottom. We will know by smell when the fermentation is complete. It normally takes about 1 month for the fermentation. It will take longer if it is cooler in the house.

    6.  Aging.
Our vinegar is done. But, it is still sharp. It will take time for it to mellow. Strain the vinegar into a bowl. Thoroughly clean the jar. Poor the vinegar back into the jar. Put the lid on tightly. Place the jar in a cupboard for about 3 month. It will mellow as it ages.

  1. Enjoy.


  1. Wheat germination and sprouting works well at 65-72°F, 18-22°C.  If your temperature is much warmer you will need to rinse more often to prevent spoilage.  Above 80°F, 27°C, it will be difficult to prevent spoilage. The first fermentation has an optimal temperature range similar to sprouting.  However, the process is tolerant of higher temperatures.  The second fermentation will work poorly or not at all below 75°F, 24°C.  Because I live in a temperate climate, I can control the temperatures by batching the processes in different seasons.  The sprouting is done in the spring when indoor temperatures are just right.  I then store the dried malted wheat until the early summer when temperatures are better for the other processes.
  2. For your first batch of vinegar you are dependant on outside sources for the starter you use in the second fermentation.  Any raw unfiltered vinegar will contain the needed microbes.  After completing your first batch, however, you will have your own raw unfiltered vinegar.  Unless you chose to pasteurize your vinegar you will be able to use some your own vinegar as the starter for your next batch.
  3. Should you fall victim to vinegar eels you have two choices.  Either ignore them or filter and pasteurize them.  To filter pour the vinegar through your cloth.  To pasteurize, heat the vinegar to near boiling in a pan over the stove.
  4. The processes and proportions remain the same should you choose to make a larger batch.  I find a two liter batch to be an efficient home brew.
  5. Aging your vinegar has a wonder effect on the taste as well as the color.  The longer the aging process the better the flavor and aroma.  Two to three months is sufficient but a year is even better.  When exposed to a little oxygen and light your vinegar will darken considerable.  With time you will eventually get a dark amber color similar to apple cider.