Malt Vinegar vs. Beer Vinegar: Understanding and Making Both

Reginald SmithAll About Vinegar, Beer Vinegar, Making Vinegar, Malt Vinegar12 Comments

See more information on making malt vinegar here

Also here are some detailed recipes for homemade malt vinegar

Malt vinegar, condiment of the gods–at least with fish and chips. This revered condiment is enjoyed worldwide but primarily in the English speaking world: the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia, etc.. Its dark color and characteristic aroma and taste make it a mainstay of pubs as a favored condiment on fries (chips in the UK), chips (tortillas), or any other food.

What exactly is malt vinegar though, and how does it relate to its relatively unknown cousin, beer vinegar?

First, to understand malt vinegar you need to understand a bit about the traditional process of making beer. Grain, mostly barley but also other grains such as corn, wheat, or rye, is milled (crushed) and sparged with hot water to activate enzymes known as amylases that naturally occur in the grain. These enzymes convert the starch in the grain to sugar to produce wort, a sugary solution that is then further processed by boiling and the adding of hops to make beer.

The starter for malt vinegar is the sugary wort that is fermented directly to alcohol with yeasts without additional processing or addition of hops. Historically, only malted barley was used but in modern times up to half can be another malted grain such as corn or wheat depending on the requirements of flavor and cost. The yeast is pitched into the wort and is allowed to proceed until the resulting “low wine” is completely dry and almost all the sugar has been consumed. Once this malt low wine is finished, it is placed into vinegar generators and converted to vinegar. This is how almost all malt vinegars be it Heinz, Sarson’s, or others are made.

There are a few differences in the post-processing that differentiate American vs. British malt vinegars. American malt vinegars are typically just that–malt vinegar fermented from the low wine and adjusted to an acidity of 5%. This includes the brands of Heinz, London Pub (made in New Jersey by World Fine Foods), and Holland House (made in the US by Mizkan, who also now owns Sarson’s). Nothing else is really added.

The British style malt vinegars, typified by Sarson’s, usually add a compound for sweetening and dark color. For Sarson’s, that is malt extract syrup. Using a hydrometer, I measured the specific gravity of Sarson’s malt vinegar at 1.014, or about 4 Brix (4g sugar per 100 mL of vinegar)*. This helps give Sarson’s the richer texture and slight sweet taste that differentiates it. Some other malt vinegar companies around the world will add caramel instead of malt extract syrup; this technique is similar to that of balsamic vinegar manufacturers who can add caramel for color and taste as long as it is not “Traditional Balsamic” of Modena or Reggio Emilia. Some malt vinegar manufacturers historically added salt as well though this is no longer as common.

Beer vinegar on the other hand is just that–vinegar made directly from beer.

To make malt vinegar at home, you should start with liquid malt extract such as that you find in homebrew shops or online. Usually a 3.3 lb canister will yield 2 – 2.5 gallons of wort with the right amount of sugar to make 5% vinegar. Pitch the wort with your yeast of choice, wait for alcoholic fermentation to cease, strain out the yeast, and then add mother of vinegar to the low wine. After 8-12 weeks you should have good malt vinegar which you can age to your liking. You can also add salt, liquid malt extract, caramel, or other additives depending on your taste and color preferences

For beer vinegar, you can use whatever your favorite beer is and add mother of vinegar. You can add ingredients to beer vinegar as well but this is not typical in beer vinegars.

*Update: After obtaining a variety of malt vinegars and testing their sugar content I can confirm that UK malt vinegars (Sarson’s, Crosse & Blackwell) both have specific gravities around 1.014 (4 Brix) while US made malt vinegars are slightly sweeter with Heinz and Holland House (Mizkan) both testing at 1.02 (5 Brix). Roast barley malt extract is typically the additive used to provide color and sweetness. It seems besides the Sarson’s light malt vinegar most malt vinegars are not dry like their wine and apple cider equivalents.

12 Comments on “Malt Vinegar vs. Beer Vinegar: Understanding and Making Both”

  1. Hi
    I got barley malt by traditional way through germination.
    And I have got dried yeast ball and koji-kin
    Can I make barley vinegar by these ingredients?
    How do
    Thank you

    1. Hi, you should mash the barley malt using hot water (search for homebrew mashing and wort preparation on Google, lots of good guides out there) that causes the enzymes to convert the starch to sugar. Using a hydrometer you want to get a specific gravity around 1.06 but no less than 1.04 after your mashing steps. Then pitch in the yeast ball and have all the sugar ferment to alcohol (specific gravity of 1.0 or less; fermentation bubbling should stop). The koji-jin is not necessary since the malted barley should have enough enzymes to convert the starch.

      Once the fermentation is done you have ale and you should add about 1/4 by volume mother of vinegar (we sell malt mother of vinegar on Amazon and at many homebrew stores). A mother should form at the surface after several weeks and 2-3 months later you should have finished malt vinegar. Let me know if this helps.

    1. In general, the malt constituents are also present in the vinegar. That being said are you sure it is msg (the additive) or just the related amino acid glutamic acid in the barley? I doubt the concentration is high though I don’t have firm numbers.

  2. I’ve been aging some burgundy in it’s original dark green bottle since February, it hasn’t turned yet and my mother is active

    1. Is there a mother on the surface? If so then the problem may be if the wine was never diluted. High alcohol slows fermentation. Add about 1/3 the volume of the current wine in water and see if that helps though the mother will have to re-form if it sinks.

  3. My beer vinegar formed a mother that started sinking. It’s only been 12 days, I think the heat from summer made things faster. Does that mean the vinegar is ready. If not what do I do next, do I need to remove the mother before it sinks…

    1. No it does not necessarily mean the vinegar is ready. 12 days is a bit too short. It just means the mother got too thick and was no longer buoyant enough to stay afloat. Another should re-form in a week or two. Measuring the acidity with titration (such as from a wine lab) is the only true way to know it is done but typically if no mother comes back the alcohol is depleted. Then you can age it in an airtight vessel until you are ready to use it.

  4. I’ve heard that hay has a sweet aroma, I just read about how Malt Vinegar is made, so is it possible to make vinegar from hay in similar fashion to how Malt Vinegar is made?

    1. In general, hay is mostly cellulose, not carbohydrates, so you can’t (easily) make hay into vinegar. What would could try, however, is to add some hay to the mashing process for the malted barley (or the liquid malt extract) and keep it around for the alcoholic fermentation to add flavor. Then remove the hay before conversion to vinegar.

      Make sure it is clean hay and washed/boiled for 1 minute before use. I have no idea how this will turn out for you though. Good luck!

  5. Good morning
    I have a recovering alcoholic family member he has been sober for 17 days. He went through a weeks detox two weeks ago. He has now been prescribed Disulfiram on a daily basis to aid his alcohol abuse recovery he started this yesterday. My question to you is:
    As you know vinegar has alcohol content. So therefore all pickles & sauces are out of bounds ( all his favourite condiments) does malt vinegar contain alcohol, would that be safe to eat? Is there another alternative to the above sauces?
    Any advice you can give would be gratefully received.

    Regards
    Stevie Webster (Mrs)

    1. Hi Mrs. Webster, first I want to wish your relative a speedy recovery and long term success.

      Second, as far as banning vinegar as well as sauces and condiments it depends on how much alcohol could be considered an issue. The EU/UK regulations state no more than 0.5% alcohol by volume in vinegar. This is about 1/10th the alcohol of beer and 1/25th the alcohol of wine. If this is not considered an issue, malt vinegar will not be a problem. If this is an issue, have him use non-brewed condiment like is found in many fish and chip shops. This is flavored acetic acid made from industrial processes, not fermentation, and is alcohol free.

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