Sunday, 6 May 2012

Beer vinegars

Vinegar is often not considered as anything more than part of a vinaigrette and malt vinegar is the poorest member of the vinegar family normally seen sitting on the chippy counters and shaken on soggy chips. The bottle of Sarson's I grew up with was never replaced and it didn't need to be. Self preserving and of limited use, it was only brought out on the rare occasion that Dad brought home cod and chips on a Friday night.
I'm interested to explore the uses of malt vinegar and to do this I have to go beyond that old bottle of Sarson's.

Malt vinegar, also known as alegar, is made by fermenting beer into acetic acid. Most commercial malt vinegar is made from a simple beer and matured to mellow out the harsh qualities. In theory any alcoholic beverage, and therefore any beer, could be used to make vinegar. In my new spirit of innovation and discovery I thought I would see if different beers showed their malt and hop characteristics when vinegarised.

Any time I try a new food project I consult the Ideas in Food book by Aki Kamozawa and Alex Talbot. I was interested to read that they made some Guinness vinegar so I based my experiment on their recipe. I picked two beers that I thought would create interesting and contrasting flavours, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Fullers London Porter. As well as a source of alcohol, to make vinegar you need something to feed on it. For this I used a bottle of unpasteurised Aspall malt vinegar which should contain a healthy culture of acetobacter. Aki and Alex use either a wine or cider vinegar but I didn't want to impart any extra flavours so the character of the beer could come through. I split the bottle between two sterilised jars and then topped each up with one of the beers. I tasted the beer vinegar mixes at this point and and I really liked them (I think I've been drinking too much lambic), then as per the instructions in Ideas in Food, I tied some cheese cloth round the tops and popped them in the airing cupboard. Two weeks later the beer smell had mostly gone and was replaced with the pungent smell of vinegar. Easiest recipe ever!

When tasting the vinegars for the first time I was glad to see that there is a big difference between the two. While both vinegars have a more complex flavour than the mother vinegar, the porter vinegar has retained more of the beer flavours than the pale ale. The porter has kept its nutty, burnt wood qualities and has a deep almost aged after-taste. I can certainly imagine making some pickles with this and perhaps adding it to stews and pasta sauces to balance dishes. If I make more I would certainly like to age some to see how the flavour develops over time.

The pale ale vinegar has far less pronounced characteristics of its original beer. I was hoping for some big hop flavours but these seemed to have dissipated leaving behind an interesting but clean and sharp vinegar. I have only used it in vinaigrettes but these have been delicious.

This process is so easy I'm surprised more people aren't doing it. It is definitely something to consider for batches of slightly ropey homebrew!

So try it out. All you need is a bottle of beer over 5% abv, a bottle of unpasteurised vinegar and a jam jar.

On another note, soured beers, like lambics and Flanders red ale, can be used instead of vinegar in cooking. I love the idea of a kriek dressing for a duck salad or a Russian River Supplication in place of sherry vinegar in Spanish style dishes.


Kavey said...

I had no idea that malt vinegar was made from beer!
Have come across cider and wine vinegers, so don't know why I never thought of this.
So intriguing, thank you!

3wise monkeys alnwick said...

Good effort you can also freeze beer just before it expires and use it for cooking with, for gravy and stews...

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VinegarMasters said...

Glad to see someone else got bitten by the beer vinegar bug. We've actually started making a variety of "exotic" vinegars using off the grocery shelf bases. Today I'm working up a batch of Yuengling "black and tan". Our experiment with Colt45 came out perfectly and Red Stripe produces a great taste as well. Whiskey is a little trickier, but well worth the effort.