Quickly Make Vinegar: The Semi-Quick Process for Making Vinegar (The Boerhaave Process)

Reginald SmithMaking Vinegar, Vinegar History17 Comments

Read the full book on the history of vinegar, Vinegar, The Eternal Condiment available on Amazon!

Vinegar making is many things: fun, educational, delicious, healthy, and an ancient tradition. I have made many posts about making vinegar at home and the traditional process, often called the “slow process” makes the most flavorful and well-rounded vinegar. The downside is the time: minimum is usually three months starting from a minimal mother and starter. Six months total for complete conversion is not uncommon.

As I have discussed previously there are things that can be done to speed up fermentation: increase the surface area of your mash to air so you get a bigger mother and faster fermentation or increase the temperature to the sweet spot of 75 – 85 F. Even taking these steps though, you are typically still looking at 3 months minimum for full fermentation.

Quicker methods of vinegar production typically require equipment such as pumps and sparges which are at least a few hundred dollars of investment. So what else can one do?

It turns out there is a way that can cut your vinegar fermentation down to as short as a month, or in some cases even quicker (note: some readers have notified me theirs is done in as soon as 10-14 days). This is accomplished by the adoption of an old process that has not been in use since the late 1700s/early 1800s. We can call it the “semi-quick process” to distinguish it from the industrialized quick process but it is historically known as the Boerhaave Process.

The Boerhaave Process

While the process is eponymous with Herman Boerhaave, the Dutch physician and scientist that lived in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, he was only describing a process that had been long practiced in France and described in an earlier article in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1670. He did not invent the process himself.

The process is relatively simple but ingenious. Two casks are built, both with false bottoms (see pic below). Both casks were filled above the false bottoms with rape, or the twigs from vineyards after the grapes had been harvested for winemaking. Next one cask was filled completely with wine while the other was only filled with wine to the level of the false bottom (1/3 to 1/2 full).

Cask setup as used in the Boerhaave process.

The workers would then, once or twice per day, draw the wine out of the full cask (to the level of the false bottom) and transfer it to the previously mostly empty cask. After about a week or two the casks would begin to heat up and a clear vinegar smell would emerge. There would not be a mother of vinegar accompanying this transformation, at least not as first. After 3-4 weeks you could have complete conversion to vinegar.

How does this work and why is it so fast? Remember our comments earlier on how the way to speed up traditional vinegar fermentation is to increase the surface area of contact with air. The rape in the casks provides a huge surface area, many times greater than just a surface of a liquid, and this massive surface area gives a lot of contract with air for the alcohol to ferment into vinegar. This surface area using twigs or wood curls was what later powered the first industrial process for vinegar manufacturing, the Schüzenbach Process using packed generators (known as the quick process).

So how can you do this at home? The good news is that it can be done cheaply and easily to speed your vinegar fermentation in the home or restaurant. I will guide you through the process of setting this up on your own.

Semi-Quick Process at Home

Of course you don’t need casks, glass jars or food grade HDPE plastic buckets will work fine. You also don’t need to worry about a false bottom in my experience.

The first setup below shows me making wheat beer vinegar for myself using two 1 quart glass jars and grape stems from grapes we bought for eating at home. Instead of throwing out or composting the stems, you can stuff them into jars to help you make vinegar.

A wheat beer vinegar experiment using grape stems.

Alternately you can use oak spirals, easily obtainable on Amazon or through a local home brew store, to both act as the fermentation surface and provide wonderful oak aging and taste to your vinegar.

A semi-quick process setup using oak spirals in two half gallon pails

In both methods you have the following steps:

1. It is best to sterilize either the stems or oak spirals before use. Steeping them in boiling water for 2 minutes does the trick and gets the bitter tannins out of the oak spirals.

2. Fill both vessels with grape stems or oak spirals. Fill one jar with raw vinegar with mother. One of ours or another brand both suffice. Let the stems/oak soak in the raw vinegar for an hour and then transfer the raw vinegar to the second jar or bucket to allow those stems/spirals to soak. This step infuses your packing with vinegar bacteria that will be the workhorses of your fermentation.

Infusing the grape stems with acetic acid bacteria

3. Now you are ready to start. First, figure out what to do with the raw vinegar. If you want to combine it with your alcohol keep about half a jar worth and store the rest. If you want to start from scratch, pour out all the raw vinegar and store it for later. You can re-use it. Next get your alcohol you want to convert be it hard apple cider (alcoholic, not regular cider), leftover wine (remove sulfites with ½ tsp of hydrogen peroxide per 750 mL of wine—do this in the bottle before combining with the mother), beer, or even mead.

Make sure your alcohol strength does not exceed 10% ABV so for most wine you probably want to cut it in half with water to lower the alcohol. Fill one of the jars or pails completely with the alcohol. For the other, fill it about ¼ full.

Pour the alcoholic liquid from the full jar to the ¾ empty jar. About ¼ jar should be left at the bottom. Cover both jars or pails with cheesecloth or a cloth that is light enough to let air exchange but keep fruit flies out. Keep in a warm place, between 75 – 85 F (25 – 30 C) preferably but as long as you don’t go below 60 F (15 C) or above 90 F (32 C) you should be ok.

4. Now comes the diligent part. This method is quicker but it is not as hands off as the slow process. Every day—at least once per day—transfer the liquid from the full jar to the empty one as you just did above. That’s all you have to do, transfer it. This allows the packing in each jar to successively have time to breathe and use oxygen to convert alcohol to acetic acid. You can actually speed this up by doing it twice per day—preferably once in the morning and once in the evening. This gives each jar’s packing a 12 hour cycle. Up to four times per day will make the process proceed even faster.

The method in process (paper towel just shown as example; use something sturdier)

5. For the first 1-2 weeks, it will look like you are wasting time and nothing is happening. Typically around week 3 you start to get a vinegar smell and from then it proceeds faster until you should have conversion in about 4-5 weeks on the first run. Successive runs should be about a week faster since your packing is now full of vinegar fermenting bacteria.

6. After a while, you may get mother growing on the packing. This is no big deal but for this process, the mother is a hindrance, not help. Just remove it by hand or wash the packing in water and get it going again.

7. Once your vinegar is done, of course you can use it immediately but for a smoother and richer flavor, it is best to age it. Age it in a sealed barrel or jar that does not allow oxygen in. 30-60 days can be sufficient or even a year depending on how gourmet you want to be. If you like how it tastes from the get go, you can start using it and it will age as it sits in your pantry.

Now for packing you can use anything that won’t hurt you and won’t give an unpleasant taste. You can probably use wood chips for smoking though I haven’t tried this and cannot recommend it one way or another. You can even use sticks from outside. Just make sure to sterilize everything in boiling water before the first go. After that, the vinegar keeps it safe from harmful bacteria.

This method can be scaled up. For example. If you want to make 5 gallons of apple cider vinegar using two pails, you can do that. You just need more packing. You also need to find out how to transfer the cider between pails if you don’t like lifting 40 lbs repeatedly. Siphoning should work fine in this situation.

Vinegar is a complex yet rewarding process. Hopefully this helps those who have had trouble with the slow process or just want to speed up their production of vinegar for personal or culinary use.

17 Comments on “Quickly Make Vinegar: The Semi-Quick Process for Making Vinegar (The Boerhaave Process)”

  1. I was suprised to see someone outlining the Boerhaave method and shares the same obsession with vinegar making!
    I just wanted to share my research on the subject.

    On top of the false bottom they used a bed of freshly cut young vine branches with leaves. Followed by the grape stalks. The frequency of changing occured once per day and was commenced once the vinegar had started to ferment after the second or third day. The initial fermentation depended on temperature and the quality of the grape must from the initial pressing.
    In summer the primary fermentation would occur over 15 days or so. The secondary conversion took longer and depended on the strength of the alcohol and temperature.
    Occording to my sources* there are two similar methods. Méthode de Boerhaave and Méthode Flamande. The Flemish method differed primarily by using the grape pomace, wine lees and acrid vegetables like horseradish, mustard seed and wild dandelion greens….. plus used wine barrel wood pieces to accelerate the acidification by means of tartaric acid and other fermentables in the barrel wood. Plus this aided in clarification.

    * Manuel du Vinaigrier, Fontenelle 1827.

    1. Great stuff! It is a good intermediate process for those who don’t want to get the equipment together for the quick process. I never knew about the Méthode Flamande though I have Fountanelle’s book. Art du Vinaigrier by Francois Demachy is where I got the two barrel picture in the blog post from.

  2. while preparing apple cider vinegar , apple cider was poured into a glass carboy and forced air was applied for 12 days from air compressor but we did’nt get the desired result…as u mentioned that open surface with maximum contact of air will make the process faster but in our case the result was opposite. what do you think may be the reason for this?
    and kindly inform us about the use of tartaric acid in acetic acid fermentation.

    1. Hi, there are a couple issues here that I think are blocking fermentation:

      1) Was this regular sweet apple cider or hard cider with all the sugar fermented to alcohol? It should be the latter to make vinegar
      2) The surface area to air does matter, but forced air applied to the jar or to the cider will not help. The reason why is just pumping air in with a pump or compressor doesn’t necessarily allow all the air bubbles to dissolve in the cider. To do this, you usually need high pressure and circulation like in the commercial acetator systems. You should look into using a packed generator (the vinegar manual by Schmickl and Malle) or increase temperature if you want to speed fermentation. The best ambient temperature is 30 C.

  3. i am a student with a project of turning a local fruit into vinegar. the fruit averrhoa balimbi is the fruit i am using. can i still use grape stem on the semi quick method you had discuss?
    please i need help i only had one and a half month to do it

    1. You can use the grape stem but recently I have seen others use wood chips with greater effect. For example see this Reddit post.

      Follow the same directions and you should be done in 10-14 days. Make sure you use yeast to ferment it to alcohol first!

  4. Hi, thanks for your comments. I just discovered this useful website.
    I have a problem.
    My apple cider vinegar has vinegar eels (nematodes), do you know how to get rid of/kill them with out pasteurizarion?

    1. Depending on the volume of vinegar, first try filtering it through a coffee filter. If there is too much to make this practical, seal the vinegar off from all air (airtight) for at least 3 days and they should die off.

  5. Thanks so much for you answer Reginald. I really appreciate your time and dedication.

    Does it apply for a wood barrel ?( I can seal the lid completely, but not sure If the wood will breath and generate oxigen for the eels ).

    Or better to storage the vinegar in a glass container and seal it completely?

  6. This site is amazing. Thank you for sharing this precious knowledge. I just wasted 3 weeks going by the advice of an incredibly misinformed (and misinforming) youtuber whose recipe called for simply soaking apples and sugar in water and stirring. As a regular mead maker, their process made no sense to me, but 3 other sites had the same information, so I went along with their nonesense. Not until I could taste 0 acidity after three weeks did I use my better judgment and did more research, mercifully finding the treasure trove of vinegar knowledge here at supreme vinegar. I cant wait to let you know how it goes and to try some of your products.

    Respect and gratitude,


    PS- Ok, maybe these other recipes lack any experience fermenting anything, but I still wonder how on earth could they compare the bland, weak swill they’re producing with real vinegar and NOT only, think it’s remotely close to the target their shooting for, BUT ALSO think it is so good that they have the audacity to teach it to others. If I did my own auto mechanics and had a car that didn’t start and only rolled down hill, I wouldn’t think to myself, “Let me teach others how to repair cars.” I’m dumfounded yet ultimately grateful to be here. Cheers

    1. Thanks for the compliments! Vinegar has had a lot of misinformation for centuries unfortunately. Up until Pasteur’s work, people thought vinegar eels (worms that can contaminate vinegar) were necessary for fermentation. I hope to do my own Youtubing soon but until then I try to spread the knowledge the best I can in this blog!

  7. Using stems is a good idea, however alcohol floats on top of the wine. THIS is where you want to increase the surface area – not at the bottom of your jar. The acetic acid bacteria works on the TOP layers of the wine.

    1. Hi, thanks for the comment. When the jar is completely filled with wine, you are correct, the fermentation takes place on the surface area of the liquid in contact with air. This method allows the full surface area of the packing (grape stems, wood chips, etc.) to be used in the jar that is mostly empty. Increasing surface area in this manner speeds the fermentation.

  8. Hey Reginald. I started a framework batches of cider vinegar using champagne yeast. I wanted to do a control test with the same cider but using MOV. Well, I was misinformed and added the Mother to the batches before they were converted to alcohol. Help. It’s been two days and further research has revealed my error. Can I add yeast to them now? They’ve been sealed under an airlock for two day (since pressing) can I add campden tablets and kill the mov culture then yeast them? Do I leave them and see what happens? Just add yeast? Is there any hope in recovering them?
    Thanks for your lovely site!

    1. How much mother did you add relative to the cider? I fa lot then removing the mother would help since the acidity could likely be above 1% which kills of the yeast. Killing the MOV culture will not help. The best bet is to get more hard cider and add it in order to reduce the acidity. You could also add a mixture of water + distill alcohol that has an ABV of 5% but that may dilute the taste.

  9. Would using an air pump in a single vessel work? I have a low flow air pump I was thinking adding a constant source of small bubbles would work… thought?

    1. Is this adding bubbling air to a liquid or to packing material like mentioned in the post?

      If liquid, bubbling vinegar is a very inconsistent way to speed production. A lot of people online claim it and some may
      have success but the issue is oxygen absorption is hit or miss depending on the setup.

      If aerating packing saturated with alcohol and raw vinegar, yes it will speed things up.

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