Tips on aging vinegar

Reginald SmithAll About Vinegar, Making Vinegar, Recipes & Tips, Uncategorized8 Comments

For those who have made their own vinegar, or have bought some they want to age and refine, aging vinegar is the easy part though patience is a must. Vinegar can age almost indefinitely if stored right. Traditional Chinese vinegars are aged 3-6 years, traditional Balsamic is aged from 12-25 years and sherry vinegar can be aged for similar long periods before bottling.

During aging, a lot of complex chemistry goes down. One of the most important reactions is the slow reaction of acetic acid (as well as other acids) and alcohol to make esters which impart flavor to the vinegar. To do aging right, remember a couple of key rules:

  1. Age the vinegar in a sealed container that the vinegar can fill as completely as possible. You want minimal airspace. Airtight containers or wooden barrels are a near must though barrels need to be filled completely with no surface area for an additional mother to grow and carry on more fermentation.
  2. Use additives or flavor enhancers sparingly. For example, if you want to add herbs or spices to age in the vinegar, you don’t need a huge amount. A couple of sprigs of thyme or a tablespoon of dried herbs/spices can go a long way in one gallon of vinegar if you allow it to age for months. For oak chips or cubes, use the amount on the package for a similar volume of wine. Boil a couple of minutes before adding to remove harsh tannins. You may want to remove the chips or cubes after a while if you think the oak flavor is heavy enough so sample it every week or so. You can continue aging without them.
  3. Make sure you age enough vinegar to both use and age. If you consume an aged barrel of vinegar in 2 months but age the vinegar for six months, you need 3 barrels aging at any given time, preferably separated by 2 month intervals. This also assumes you are fermenting new vinegar every two months. In general, the amount of vinegar you use in the time new vinegar is aging is how much you need to have aging continuously to not run out.

8 Comments on “Tips on aging vinegar”

  1. Thank you for clarifying how long vinegar should age. In the blog, you indicated that regular vinegar should be between 4 and 5% acidity and the mother should be on the bottom of the jar. All other articles just say 6 week or 2 months, etc. My vinegar is aging in glass jars covered with layers of cheesecloth covering the opening. However, I now have fruit flies in the vinegar. What else would you suggest I cover the vinegar with? In the 6 months that it has aged, I have lost about 1/2 the volume in the container. Is this normal? What would be the best thing to strain the vinegar with? Thank you.

    1. The time period varies for each vinegar fermentation but it is not truly ready until the acidity is right (>4%). pH can indicate relative safety (pH 3.5 or below) but can’t be converted directly to acidity. Fermentation can be 6 weeks to 2 months, usually on the shorter side for subsequent batches using the same mother.

      If your vinegar is done in fermentation, you should be aging it in an airtight jar. Leaving it uncovered will cause the acidity to drop since the bacteria begin consuming acetic acid once the alcohol is exhausted. If you are just aging done vinegar, close the jar with a lid.

      For fruit flies, they aren’t harmful but if you don’t remove the larvae they will just grow and breed. The eggs may still remain though and could be a problem. They can get into any container if the cheesecloth is not on tight or if the the cheesecloth is porous and not tight enough.

      The reduction of volume to due evaporation is due to it being exposed to air for so long. An airtight closure once fermentation is done will prevent this since aging should only reduce volume if you are aging in barrels over the course of years like balsamic.

  2. Thanks for the nice website, it has great information.
    Some questions I hope you can clarify:

    Is light (or lack of light) important while aging process?

    Is it better/worse/no difference to age in individual bottles (i.e. 1 liter) vs in a large container?

    Your vinegar is aged first, then pasteurize it? I assume the ‘living’ part of vinegar is important in aging? Does pasteurizing stop the aging process? How do you pasteurize your vinegar?

    If you age as you suggest above for several years and not pasteurize, can a mother still grow when you begin using it?

    1. Light is not important for aging and sunlight during aging could be detrimental depending on how the UV interacts with the vinegar. Keeping it in a closed opaque container with as little air as possible is the best strategy.

      There is no difference in the size of vessel for aging, just make sure you size it so it is as full as possible and there is the least air space available. You do not want additional fermentation during aging and if there is no air, fermentation will not occur and a mother will not form. Pasteurization should be the last step before bottling.

    1. Hi, I need a bit more information. For example, what did you start with, did a mother ever form, and how long has it been fermenting to start.

  3. Hello,

    Love, love, love this website. Very helpful. I’ve made a pear/fennel vinegar that fermented for about 2 months. I just strained out the debris, saved the mother and tasted it. The flavor is wonderful, but it’s fairly mild, watery and doesn’t taste particularly acidic. I tested the PH and got a 2. So, it’s acidic. It just tastes watery. A few questions:

    1. Will the flavor intensify as it ages?
    2. Should I leave the mother in for the aging process?
    3. Any other tips to get a stronger flavor?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Kaylie, thanks for your comment. A pH of 2 is really low for vinegar and the acidity should be very sharp if this is correct. Are you using strips or a meter? If strips, how narrow is the color range (it is hard to get firm accuracy with some types). If a meter, has it been calibrated with test solution recently? I am just saying a pH 2.0 vinegar must bite and even burn. Send it to a wine lab to measure titratable acidity or use our services to make sure before you use it. Regarding your other questions:

      1. Yes, the flavor will intensify and become more complex with aging.
      2. No, remove the mother and store it separately for the aging process. (Mother storage guidelines)
      3. Besides aging in as airtight a container as possible with little airspace, there is not much else that can be done. I wouldn’t leave the fennel in since the flavor should be mostly absorbed after 2 months.

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