Tips on aging vinegar

Reginald SmithAll About Vinegar, Making Vinegar, Recipes & Tips, Uncategorized51 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.

51 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. Hi there, very interesting. I am thinking of getting a few wooden barrels.

      What wood should I choose and is a 1 litre barrel too small to age in?

      1. No barrel is too small to age in. Traditionally, people choose oak, often with the “medium char” which indicates how the staves are roasted to add additional flavoring.

        1. Hi, exciting, my 2 oak and one cherry 2ltr barrels have arrived. I have prepared them and filled the two oak ones almost to top. They have taps and a square door which is a bit roughly cut out of the top.

          For ageing should I try deal that door with a cloth or something so a new mother does not form.

          1. If you use a cloth, make sure it is weighted so that it does not allow air exchange. Use a heavier cloth with a piece of wood on top with the cloth slightly pushed into the hole.

  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.

  4. Hi.
    I am novice in vinegar making. Am making mulberry vinegar since 2 years and am trying to age homemade mulberry vinegar. I have stored it in airtight opaque glass bottles filled to the brim for a year now and have following questions;
    1. How long can I store mulberry vinegar?
    2. How to check whether the vinegar is free from all the alcohol or is there any alcohol remaining?
    3. What is the ideal pH for mulberry vinegar?

    1. Hi, welcome to the world of vinegar!

      1. You can store it indefinitely as long as the vessel is airtight. In Italy and Spain they have aged for 50+ years
      2. You have to use a distillation apparatus. If you have that, great. If not, send it to a local wine lab to measure the alcohol level.
      3. Unfortunately, ideal pH varies widely across vinegars and is not really informative. Acidity is better and mulberry vinegar should be at least 4% acidity. The sweet spot is between 4-6%. Again you can measure titratable acidity with a kit or at a wine lab

  5. Hi there,
    we have a lot of 2-year-old wine that has turned too acidic and we made some vinegar with it. Now we’d like to preserve it or age it. Does it make a difference if we bottle the vinegar in small bottles or keep them in large vessels (both air-sealed and filled until the very top)? Another question I have is how much it affects the fermentation if you open and close a bottle/vessel during the aging process.
    Thank you very much and keep up your great work!

    1. Hi, thanks for your comment! It doesn’t matter which size you age it in. Bottles or casks/vessels work equally well. Also opening and closing it briefly will not affect it as long as you don’t keep it open for days or weeks and then the fermentation will restart.

      One thing to remember is if you remove vinegar from the aging bottle or cask, the air space that is left if you do not refill it can cause another mother to grow and some brief fermentation. Not enough to hurt things in small bottles but in big drums or vessels enough air can be present to disrupt things if it is not really full (i.e. 1/2 or less).

  6. I have been fermenting vinegar for more than 35 years and am now retired. My “static” method made some very nice vinegars and I now have 19 International awards. It took me approximately 3 years to get the static method down to a science and I would be pleased to assist anyone interested. I sold my vinegar at high end craft shows as well as online. My business name was Mr. Vinegar

      1. Pleased to meet you also. Wonderful and informative site. You obviously know vinegar Reginald. I’ve retired but continue to teach “my” Static Method. It took me almost 3 years to establish a steady state static method when I started. Back then (more than 35 years ago) there was no assistance such as what this site offers.

        It was all trial and error and I eventually got it down to a very stable system. The other thin I noticed, most info, back then, was posted in haste from people who assumed they knew what they were doing. I have read most of your info submitted to guests and you certainly know vinegar.

        I believe I emailed you my method to you but it is designed for an “ongoing” process. where there are no startups from scratch. What I can offer guests is a few mathematical calculations that would come in handy if one wanted to blend spirits with beer, water or fruit juice to get precise values.

        I also studied the “mother” and discovered a very important aspect of it.

      2. A real pleasure to meet you also Reginald. Your site is the most informative I have ever seen and you definitely know vinegar! From the posts that I’m reading it appears that most are producing vinegar one batch at a time, preserving the mother and re-starting at another time.

        My process, which of course is static, was designed to be ongoing without interruption. I did have a method of how to prepare the vessels that I had working (12 by 26 litres each) for when we went on an extended vacation. I would put the entire volume of active vinegar in glass carboys and seal them tightly. I would prepare a small batch that I allowed to ferment until our return.

        Upon returning, I poured all of the vinegar that was stored in the carboys, back into their respective vessels. Since these batches were sealed tightly, much of the Acetobacter (cell mass) would have died off to the point where it would not reactivate the vessel in a timely fashion. I found that one table spoon of the liquid from the small batch poured onto the liquid surfaces of each vessel was enough to kick start the process and continue to ferment as if nothing had happened.

        That applies to an ongoing process.

        I’m retired but dearly miss the craft shows, the International competitions and assisting my devoted customers.

        Vinegar is one of the main components of mustard and I have been making small batches of mustard, experimenting with certain vinegars. If you love vinegar, you may also love mustard.

        Cheers and all the best to the vinegar makers on this forum. I can assure all of you, you are in good company on this forum with Reginald as the foremost expert in this field.

        1. Hey Mr. Vinegar!!

          Just want to say thanks for all of your great vinegar over the years. I just ran out of your maple vinegar that I’ve been cherishing for some time.

          Glad to see you are passing on the knowledge.

          Have you thought about an online vinegar course or Masterclass or YouTube channel to pass on some of your awesome vinegar experience. It would be some easy income and you are definitely an elite in the vinegar world. Just some thoughts.

          Thanks again!!!

        2. Hi Roger,
          I would be interested to hear more about your methods for vinegar production. Would you be willing to sell your material for production of vinegar?

          I have 15 fig trees and want to make a run on vinegar. Can you please help?

  7. I made grape vinegar from last years vine making leftovers. Acidity was 4. I was about to pasteurise when I discovered your site. I followed your advice and filled the bottles right to the top, I even skimmed the air bubbles on top. The vinegar was clear and had a lovely red colour. I sell jams at a village market and when summer came I took out the bottles from the box and discovered they all turned into milky/ cloudy red colour. They are in oil bottles with plastic sealed tops. Do you think this change happened because air got in? On the stall in hot days tiny amount seeps out.
    I sell them as they are. People love the taste, but I am really disapointed with the colour.
    Where do you think I have gone wrong?
    Also thank you for the very informative site you run.

  8. Hi
    I have begun a pineapple vinegar.
    Non organic pineapple
    Distilled water
    Raw brown sugar
    First i let it ferment in a closed cabinet then after 3or4 day it started to smell off so I took it out yet slightly covered the side with tee towel to keep out sunlight. Everyday I aerated the contents then covered with rubber band & coffee filter & covered again.
    It fermented for 20days before little white specs started to appear on top which was about 2 to 3 days after it stopped bubbling. I reacted.. I strained it with cheese cloth then put back in the large bottle that it fermented in once I cleaned it. Now I have very much head space & it smells good, some of the bubbles came back, looks like there is possibly a mother forming on bottom but I got nervous so it’s sitting in my fridge. I am unsure of what to do next.

    1. Hi, it is difficult to tell where the vinegar is if you don’t measure the acidity or alcohol. The typical sequence is have brewing (or wild yeast) ferment the sugar to alcohol (you should see plentiful bubbling). Once this is done you should have a solid mother, or at least a film, form on the surface with a progressively strong vinegar smell over time. The white specs may have been mother forming so straining and refrigerating it stopped fermentation.

      Bubbles forming mean there is still residual sugar yeast are fermenting so the acidity is probably very low. As far as a mother forming on the bottom, that cannot happen since mothers require oxygen to grown and only grow on the surface. What you see on the bottom is probably dead yeast (normal and not harmful).

      I would say take it out and see if it finishes bubbling and then forms a solid mother on the surface. If not mother forms on the surface, or if mold grows, dump it and start over after sterilizing the bottle.

      I am a bit concerned about the ‘off’ smell from the beginning which could have been bacterial spoilage. If you have any doubts or are nervous, I would start over.

  9. I intend to age up to 5 year red wine vinegar using oak barrel, but:
    1. Making process is the same with balsamic (Mean: transfer vinegar after 1 year to smaller barrel) or just cover the lid and waiting 5 years
    2. I also wonder the differences of Red grape vinegar and red wine vinegar. Are they the same flavor?
    Thank you so mục

    1. 1. If you want to age red wine vinegar long term fill the barrel completely and plug it closed to cut off air. Balsamic only fills it about 3/4 full and has some air contact in order to have some evaporation and concentrate the sugars. In regular vinegar you don’t want air since a mother will form again and begin lowering the acidity and eventually make it useless.

      2. This is a hard question since it depends on the grape you are talking about. If you are asking for example how Concord or Catawba grape wine vinegar tastes differently (and it does) then the answer is yes, atypical grape varieties yield a different flavor. However, if you are using common wine grapes it probably won’t taste that differently from regular red wine vinegar.

  10. I have inherited empty aged balsamic vinegar casks and would like to further age 12 year old bottled balsamic that originated from these casks. Is it possible to further the aging process using bottled balsamic vinegar. This will be for personal use only. My desire is to deepen the complexity of the current balsamic.

    1. If you mean store bought balsamic, that will likely not improve things. Aging adds complexity and the only time mixing vinegars promotes such complexity is when the other mixed vinegar is more aged than the current batch.

  11. Hello! So glad I found this. I have a 10L barrel I would like to age vinegar in. It has a spout. Is it possible to age it for say 6 months; pull some out (1 liter) and retop it off?

    1. Hi, this would work perfect. Just make sure you retop the aging vinegar with completed vinegar, not wine.

  12. Hi,
    I’m so glad I found your website. I was wondering can I fill up a brand new 1 liter oak barrel with 18 years aged traditional balsamic vinegar I bought from my local olive oil specialty store to further mature the vinegar in it? The traditional balsamic vinegar is currently in a tight sealed glass bottle. Thank you.

    1. Yes, you can do that. Fill the barrel up as much as possible and cover the bung opening with a cloth held in place by a small stone. It should age and evaporate/thicken over time.

  13. Hi,

    Thank you for sharing you knowledge! So much to learn from you.
    I have a question about aging. Say I want to age a fig-vinegar for 20 years and I want it to be smooth and syrupy like some good balsamico. I suppose it must have a chance to evaporate over time to become as syrupy. Storing it in airtight containers prevents this evaporation. What do you suggest?

    Thank you!

    1. I am sorry for replying so late but I was doing research on this. What you need to do is age it in an oak barrel laid on its size with a small cloth held by a stone covering a hole in the top of the barrel. This will allow slow evaporation and thickening. However, I would make sure the vinegar you start with is at least 30 Brix or so since you need the high sugar concentration to make sure the vinegar does not overoxidize over time.

  14. I purchased a glass bottle of red wine vinegar. Do I simply let it sit for a long time in the original unopened glass bottle?
    Also, can you make aged vinegar in a cured unglazed pot?

    1. Hi, if you leave it in the glass bottle it will age and develop taste profile over months or years. It won’t have the complex flavor from oak barrels but it will taste increasingly better. You can age vinegar in a cured unglazed pot, you just want to fill it as much as possible and then find a way to make it as airtight as you can.

  15. I’ve had balsamic (genuine balsamic from Modena) aging in a 3L barrel for nearly 5 years. When I bought the barrel new I soaked it for 2 weeks changing the water every 2 days (it was winter, if I’d done this in summer I would have changed the water daily or added a pinch of potassium metabisulfite), then filled it with tawny port and it sat like that for nearly 2 years before I decided to empty it and refill with balsamic. The water soaking pulled a lot of the oak flavour out, but by the time the balsamic went in after the port there was basically no oak flavour coming out at all.
    In Modena the process of preparing a barrel for Balsamic is called The Sgallatura. This is done to remove gallic acid present in the wood and can be done in several ways:
    • Fill all the barrels with boiling wine vinegar. Remove after 2 or 3 days and leave the barrels to dry for a few days. Is important to know that the wine vinegar cannot be used for other purposes and must be thrown away.
    • Fill all the barrels with water with 6% citric acid. Leave it for a few days and once emptied, allow to dry.
    • Fill all the barrels with boiling water containing 10% of table salt. Leave it for 6 or 8 hours. Once emptied they will be washed with boiling wine vinegar and left to dry.
    Back to my 3L Balsamic barrel: Every year I take out around 600ml (20 fl oz) and top it up with fresh stock. The balsamic is beautiful and thick and has a slight port taste (which only enhances it). Because I run out so quickly I’ve just started a 15L oak barrel so I’ll eventually be able to pull 2-3L every year. In Italy that process is called Prelievo.
    At the very least, if you get a new barrel soak it for a while (changing the water regularly) and you’ll drop a lot of the oakiness out. Even a month or two with port or something like that will help.

  16. I often make red wine vinegar with bits of leftover or full bottles of turned wine. Usually I just make in a glass container, strain the mother, “pasteurize” to 170 degrees and then bottle. But I’ve purchased a small 2 gallon oak barrel and would like to transfer the finished vinegar for aging. Do I pasteurize first? If I can’t fill the entire 2 gallon, and a mother forms, how would it impact the aging? My barrel has a spigot and a covered hole at the top. Do I need more air holes? I’m sorry if I’m repeating others’ questions and really appreciate your help.

    1. Hi, if you can’t fill the entire volume pasteurizing would help since you definitely don’t want fermentation. However, do not pasteurize too long, once you hit 160 F you should remove from heat and cover. If the residual alcohol burns off it won’t age as well since the alcohol reacts with acetic acid to form flavor compounds (esters).

  17. What are good temperatures to age vinegar in? Do different temperature spectrums allow for different flavours, like in sourdough bread?

    1. There is no agreed upon age for aging vinegar though not too hot, especially with a barrel, or there may be excess evaporation. 50-70 degrees F should work fine.

  18. Hi! Great site and fantastically useful info. I have a question on aging red wine vinegar. I know in casks, that there is evaporation over time. Is that through the wood? Or, through the cloth covered bung? The reason I ask is that I want to age some longish term in glass wine bottles, but still achieve some evaporation and thickening of the vinegar. I was thinking of corking the bottles with some type of altered corks that had a hole covered with some thick cloth.
    Any thoughts on this?

    What stops a mother from forming in the casks?

    I was also thinking of adding a toasted oak stave to the bottle.

    Again, love this site!

  19. Reginald, all:

    Just stumbled on this site. Started my first red wine vinegar with 16 oz Pinot Noir, 8 oz water and 8 oz apple cider vinegar with mother. Only a week in, so no mother forming yet.

    I have an oak barrel on the way and want to use it the best way possible:

    Please help me validate a couple of things so I do this right.
    1.) You can ferment and/or age in a wood barrel, right?
    I started my first batch in glass, then will use my new barrel for aging I think…or is it more optimal to brew in the barrel, then age in glass/no air?

    2.) If brewing in glass and aging in the barrel, should I pasteurize before storing in the barrel?
    Some sites describe using that first vinegar batch as your starter and adding wine to fill the barrel, then removing any mother that forms every 6 months.

    3.) I expect to do a batch ferment and age, but after I get oaky red wine vinegar in the barrel, I understand that you can drain some and add more wine to continuously brew.
    -Is that advisable? I saw one response where you suggest to add finished vinegar and not wine.

    I will be getting a book for Christmas (recommendations welcome), so may be more well read soon, but thanks for any input into my early process.

    1. Hi I apologize for the delay.

      1) Yes, you can ferment and age in an Oak Barrel. I would actually think starting in glass and then using the barrel is better.
      2) You don’t have to pasteurize, but if you are aging fill the barrel completely and plug it so no additional fermentation occurs during aging. The adding wine and removing mother is fine if you want to ferment in the barrel but if you are just aging, you do not want any fermentation or mother forming.
      3) If you remove finished red wine vinegar from the barrel it is fine and standard to add an equal amount of wine back in, but only if you are fermenting in the barrel. If you are just aging there only add finished vinegar.

  20. I have only been making vinegar for a few months. I wish, in a way I never picked up any books. Everything was going great until then. First off I am doing whole fruit. I have all the equipment to test. My ph no matter which fruit I ferment ranges from 3.3-3.6. It seems every time I bottle is when the whole thing falls apart. The only thing I have finally figured out is my brix is still high. I cant see to get it to drop below seven. I have some gorgeous green gage plum vinegar that is as thick as an aged balsamic 4.5% acetic acid by titration but 20 degrees bric… and even though airtight AND BOTTLED WITH CO2 the mother is starting up on airspace in one bottle that has three inch airspace. Even though temps etc are within ranges my fermentations seem to take much longer. (Like I said. I began in june and the two I bottled Imm about to take. Out because high brix) And I am still trying to rescue all my peach (about 20 gallons) and some of my pear which never got to 4%. And dont want to throw out around 200 gallons of organic local fruit. I dont know brix or SG on originals…. But after first month I have all notes. Are my sugars too high?? Also. I haven’t had a bacteria problem but I began adding wine yeast thinking I wasn’t getting a full ferment… and on those Im constantly dealing with re-emerging pink yeast. Ive yet to have a bacterial problem except on some small I wasnt paying attention to. Any advice? I was going to rettake all measurements this weekend to compare Movement

    1. I think your starting Brix is too high or that you are using wild yeast which are not as efficient. If your Brix is significantly over 12-15 you should use professional brewing yeast with an alcohol tolerance around 14-17% and let them ferment dry before adding the mother. Otherwise if you use wild yeast, add water to lower the Brix to 15 max.

  21. Hi Reginald,

    is it also possible to ferment the fruitmash to alcohol and then let it go to vinegar and let it age with the fruitmash and then strain it when finished?
    I am just asking because I would assume that there will be more taste and more full bodied liquid and also more sugars if the fruit pulp is included in the whole process.
    Am I right or is my assumption wrong?
    Especially what is the point in straining the juice before alcohol production ?

    Thanks formylur Homepage wich provides great information about this Murky topic.

    1. Sure, keeping the fruit mash in the entire time is no issue. Many vinegars around the world are made like this. At the end, you can strain it out if you want. The flavor will likely be greater if the fruit mash is left in.

  22. I am making a beer vinegar and have gone from 1 quart, to 1 gallon, and now to 4 gallons. I want to age it in a wood barrel when finished and the barrel is 5 gallons. Do I need to wait for the 4 gallons to complete before adding more beer or can I add and extra gallon earlier?

    Thank You

    1. Hi, if you are going to age it in a full barrel, it is best to wait for 5 gallons of completed vinegar. You can add 1 gallon of beer to top it off but the extra alcohol will not be fermented to acetic acid while aging. If the lower acidity/higher alcohol after adding the one gallon of beer is ok with you, you can do that and fill the barrel.

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