How to Make Beer Vinegar

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beer vinegar recipe
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Beer vinegar.

Let those words hang in the air for a moment. Such a simple thing, so obvious… but chances are you’ve never seen it. Beer vinegar is a close cousin to malt vinegar, which you probably have encountered, at least with your fish and chips. The biggest difference is your base product.

Malt vinegar is made from malted barley allowed to kinda-sorta become an ale. Beer vinegar is made from finished beers of all types, and the character of those beers carries through in the finished vinegar. (It is the key to my recipe for Duck Breast with Beer Sauce.)

Book cover of North. I’d heard references to beer vinegar while reading lots of German cookbooks; it’s apparently a big thing in Bavaria. But I didn’t really start making it until I read Gunnar Gislason’s North: The New Nordic Cuisine of Iceland, which has become my favorite cookbook this year. Chef Gislason uses it because it makes far more sense to use a malt-based vinegar in Iceland than it does a wine or citrus-based acid — they make beer in Scandinavia, not wine. And forget about citrus, obviously. His recipe doesn’t really get into the details of what beer and why, so I started playing with it.

It’s freakin’ amazing. First of all, you have so many different beers to choose from. Vinegar made from Budweiser will be different from vinegar made from Guinness, or from an India pale ale or a porter or a lambic or a Belgian tripel… you get my point.

Red wine vinegar is pretty much red wine vinegar. Yes, there are good examples and bad ones, but there’s a certain sameness to them all.

The diversity of beer vinegar is more like that between red wine and white wine vinegar. Come to think of it, beer is even more diverse than wine.

And what’s more: Beer is the perfect medium to make vinegar.

If you’ve ever made wine vinegar, you might notice that some wines are simply too strong for the acetic acid bacteria to handle. I’ve been making red wine vinegar for several years and I always find that I need to dilute it with water to lower the alcohol content, otherwise the “mother” won’t take. Beer, however, is typically 3.2 percent to 12 percent alcohol, with most good ones around 6 percent or so. Perfect.

How do you make beer vinegar?

Easy. Get yourself a big, wide-mouthed jar, or better yet, a stoneware 1 gallon pickling crock, or hell, get a two-gallon crock if you plan on making lots of vinegar. Pour some beer in there and add a vinegar mother. The mother I just linked to is a nice, neutral one, but honestly it doesn’t matter if the mother came from red wine or white wine. They’ll all work. Only thing is that a red wine vinegar mother will be, well, red, and so you might not want to drop it into a nice, light-colored pilsner vinegar. I used my red wine mother for this dark beer vinegar and it came out fine. And notice that it changed color to match that of the dark beer?

What beer did I use here? Black lager. I’ve also made it with porter and with a pilsner. All very different, all very good.

Once you drop the mother into the crock, cover it with a towel and set it in a dark place at room temperature or warmer. I’ve done some at 100°F and they loved it. Vinegar needs air, remember, so don’t seal the crock or jar. And yes, it will smell like vinegar, so maybe the hearth isn’t the best place for yours. Holly is used to my “Hanksperiments,” and is pretty tolerant…

Don’t have a vinegar mother? Well, if you are sporty, you can let nature do it. Or, rather nature’s little vinegar helpers, the fruit fly. Yep. Keep the beer outside and let the fruit flies land on it. Once you see a couple dead ones on the beer, now you can cover the crock and continue on your way.

Fruit flies have acetobacter bacteria all over their feet, and will transfer that bacteria to your beer. Don’t worry: Once the vinegar is ready, it will be so acidic it will be safe to use. You might want to strain out the dead fruit flies, though…

Photo by Holly A. Heyser
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Now, wait. It takes a month or two for the vinegar to really be ready, depending on how large a batch you are making. Taste after a month. Also, watch for the mother to sink. That’s a good indicator you need to either finish this batch and start a new one, or add to this batch — it means the mother needs more alcohol to eat.

Strain the vinegar through cheesecloth or a paper towel into a Mason jar and you are good to go. I prefer living vinegars, so I don’t heat mine, but if you want to stabilize your vinegar, you need to gently heat it to 140°F, which is steaming, not simmering, and hold it there for 10 minutes. If you plan on giving vinegar as a gift, you should do this, otherwise you’ll soon have little baby mothers in the jars.

Another option? Strain the vinegar and put it in an oak barrel. Yeah, I don’t have  a barrel lying around either. There’s a cheaper way: Put the finished vinegar in a big jar and drop a bunch of oak cubes into it. Bam! Instant oak barrel. You want about a handful of cubes per quart of vinegar or so. Taste it after a couple months to see if it’s mellow and oaky enough for you. Your taste is your guide.

There you have it: The easiest vinegar you can possibly make, and one of the coolest.

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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78 Comments

  1. Thank you for the post! I made a batch of light lager vinegar and it came out great after five weeks. I see that I have three mothers in the jar. Which one do I use for the next batch? Or do I use them all? Thank you!

  2. Sir, you cannot say “Red wine vinegar is pretty much red wine vinegar.” It is far not so simple as you might think.
    Thera are varieties of wine sorts (no tonly red and white), so you also get typical sort characteristics into the finished wine vinegars specific to each sort!

  3. What if you use a beer that’s higher abv then 12. Like I’m thinking of using a 19 percent stout. Will the alcohol completely stop it or will it just take waaaaaay longer. Thanks!

    1. Jordan: Then you need to water it down. I’ve not had good success with making vinegar from ultra high ABV beers.

      1. Hi, the Noma guide to fermentation explains this in detail–if you get higher percentages of alcohol to work you end with a more acidic vinegar. I have found 8/9% to be max for a usable vinegar, above this is too acidic. I would suggest for the 19% beer to do 2 parts water, 1 part beer. Or, why not use tea? or something else that complements the flavour of the beer to water it down with.
        One other way, if you don’t want to dull the flavour of the beer is to reduce it with heat. Alcohol boils off first so you need to be careful, but I have done this with a whisky vinegar (worth trying, but expensive!).
        I have never done a beer vinegar, so fancy trying this with a black lager, and a wheat beer. Hank, what is your favorite beer to try this with?

  4. I started using the bottom of the glass end of the night beer to make a multilayered vinegar that I use in a lot of BBQing. Just keep an old clay pot in a cool dark place and add that list gulp from your glass. You’ll never miss it and you’ll have an abundance of free vinegar.

  5. I make a good bit of kombucha. Can I use the mother from my kombucha as a starter. Oh and by the way, I have your book, “Buck, Buck, Moose” and I absolutely love it!

  6. One question, can I use some mother from a bottle of vinegar sitting on my shelf to start this? Just add it to the beer?

  7. I love this idea…but have a question…can I keep adding to the beer, and have a never ending brew, does the beer need to be fresh, still carbonated,or can this be made from leftovers (I know who has leftover beer???), or stale older beer?

  8. I am a 75yr old lady whose grandparents had no sewage electricity water or even a battery radio. Their lives were consumed with preservation. An accumulator (a form of rechargeable battery but the size of half a car battery)
    Was used to fire up the radio??? Once a day for a few minutes for the news!!
    I digress!! I recall amongst many other titbits that my grandad would get drips of beer from the drip cup under the pump. There would be about a gallon. This would be put in a cask with sheets of brown paper and put in the dark cellar to become vinegar for their pickles etc.

    Chrissy

  9. Hank, this recipe of yours comes up when I google malt vinegar recipe. Will u ever post a malt vinegar recipe? I wanted it for the walnut pickles instead of cider vinegar but could not find a big jug anywhere, just one little expensive bottle. I’d happily make my own. Thanks 🙂

  10. Thank you very much, I have successfully made the beer vinegar using the fruit flies in the air. The slimy mother vinegar sank down after the 3rd week. Well, I was waiting until it reached its matured age, i.e. 1 month, but another thin film started to form. Should I wait further, or just ignore that film and sieve out the vinegar? I would like to keep the mother for my 2nd batch beer vinegar.

    1. Julia: I’d taste the vinegar, and if it is zippy enough for you, heat it to 140 degrees Fahrenheit to stabilize it — after removing the mother, for your next batch.

  11. You can heat sterilize vinegar if you want the process to stop at any point. I called a local vinegar maker and asked about the “slime” being “mother” . He confirmed it and said he would check his pasteurizer as they do not want the stuff to keep going after it leaves them as it may make it way to tart.

  12. The Bacteria that makes the acid will work fine if warm enough. But wine at 11-14 % ABV is tooo acid, so adding water is a good thing. At 14% simple add equal volume of water for a perfect acid content in finished product.

    Also you are very wrong about all red wine vinegars tasting the same. You must be buying the crap by the gallon, seriosly. Really good wine vinegar made from really good red wines all will taste different. I was once in the uninformed group, until someone gave me 3 different red wine vinegars made from varietals in California. They were all different. I have made several different kinds over the years and they all were a little different. You can also mix red and white or use 9% rose wines sweet ones or tart ones all taste different if you have the buds.

    I have oft thought of making a beer vinegar and perhaps I now will do just that!

    I look forward to perusing moere of your stuff. I loved the mustard articles!

  13. If you wanted to make this vinegar keep going (i.e. make more), what would be the best way to go about doing so? Strain out some of the liquid and then add more of the same beer? Strain out all?

  14. Cool stuff. I have a couple of gallons of failed (low alcohol, high unwanted esters) home brews and…. due to a bottle left open for a couple of months, quite a few mothers. I definitely see beer vinegar in my future! I thought it would be as easy as fermenting the mothers with more beer – and it is.
    My main caution around beer vinegar is the hops. You can’t just substitute beer vinegar for -say – malt vinegar. You have to take into account that the hop bitters will have a profound taste effect. I would always use cautiously and taste as you go.
    I do have one question – does the crock need to be open (thus exposure to more air) or can it be in a narrow neck bottle like a 2 gallon cider jar?
    Another experiment (I like your partner’s ‘hanksperiment’ idea. Yup that’s me all over) I’d be interested to try is what happens if one uses a kombucha scoby as the mother.

  15. Regarding the reference to Alaskan natives getting botulism from fermenting fish: instead of using leaves and branches to seal the fish, they used plastic sheeting. So instead of fermenting in an aerobic environment, they created an anaerobic one that allowed the botulism to grow.

  16. I used the bottom 1/4 inch from two bottles of Bragg’s (the wispy dregs that I assume are the mother) and poured them and two bottles of my favorite Two Brother’s ‘Domaine DuPage’ French Country Ale into a quart Ball jar 10 days ago and it smells fantastic. Still that sweet beery smell, but with a hint of cider vinegar. I can’t wait to try the final product sometime next month over some fried fish! Love the ‘Hankspiriment’ reference. My wife is used to mine as well, but I’m relegated to the garage fridge (which has turned into my beer and pickle fridge- a few of your winning Hankspiriments live there).