By Megan Wabst, American Homebrewers Association
There are seemingly infinite uses for apple cider vinegar. An internet search turns up claims that it can aid in weight loss and boost antioxidant levels, but perhaps most importantly, apple cider vinegar can serve as the base for some incredibly tasty salad dressings and marinades.
Making apple cider vinegar is surprisingly easy and very similar to brewing kombucha or cider! We’ve created a standard recipe and a quick recipe version from Drew Beechum for you to try out yourself. This may well be the best use of a fermentation “gone wrong” you’ll ever make.
Here is what you’ll need to make apple cider vinegar at home:
- 1-liter glass canning jar and lid: To hold your apple cider vinegar mixture. You can scale this recipe to any size jar you may want to use. We’re using two pint jars in these photos.
- Sanitizer: To clean the jar, lid, tablespoon, funnel, and anything else that might come in contact with your apple cider vinegar. You can use a properly dilute bleach solution (make sure to submerge for at least 10 minutes) or Iodophor or Star San, which you probably already have if you make beer, mead, or cider: simply follow the instructions.
- Cheesecloth: To allow CO2 to escape from the glass jar while keeping your mixture free from airborne bacteria.
- Rubber band: To hold the cheesecloth in place during fermentation.
- Funnel: To transfer from your final fermentation jar to a serving jar.
- Large bowl and strainer: To sanitize the jars and to remove apple bits from your concoction after about 3 weeks.
- Swing-top bottles: To store your finished product! You can really use anything that pours easily and seals, OR leave the apple cider vinegar in the original fermentation jar if you are one of those enigmas who can pour from an open-mouth jar without spilling.
Apple Cider Vinegar Recipes
Vinegar is simply a solution of acetic acid and water; the apple cider sugars ferment to create acetic acid and develop that apple-y flavor in the final vinegar.
Microbes will first convert the apple sugars into ethanol (alcohol). Eventually, the dynamic duo of Acetobacter bacteria and oxygen will transform the ethanol solution into a perfectly tangy vinegar. The fermentation environment is the biggest difference compared to fermenting beer. Vinegar needs oxygen throughout the process, while beer is typically negatively affected by an open-air environment.
Standard “Sugar-Based” Apple Cider Vinegar Recipe
This apple cider vinegar recipe makes 1 liter:
- 1.0–1.5 lb. apples or apple scraps (enough to fill 3/4 of each jar): Any apples can be used to make apple cider vinegar—if you’re looking for a diverse flavor, use a combo such as Honeycrisp and Gala or Granny Smith and Jazz, etc.
- 4 Tbsp. cane sugar: That’s 1 Tbsp. sugar for every 1 cup water
- 1 L filtered water: That’s 4.25 cups.
Sanitize glass jars, lids, and funnel. Any leftover sanitizer will ruin the vinegar’s flavor, so ensure the jars are thoroughly rinsed.
You can use either whole apples or apple scraps (peels and cores). Ensure that any apples used are fresh and free of mold, rot, or fungi. Rinse all apples or apple scraps under cool running water before use. If using whole apples, cut them into smaller chunks and remove the stems.
- Place your apples in the clean jar(s), filling them about 3/4 full.
- Mix the sugar with 1 cup of filtered water until dissolved and pour into jar(s).
- Add the rest of the water to each jar until the apples are covered and about half an inch of air space remains at the top. If your apples are stubborn and float, weigh them down with a sanitized fermentation weight (similar to a paperweight), small bowl, or anything that fits inside the jar and is easily removable. Note: Any uncovered apples are susceptible to mold—make sure they are covered!
- Cover the jar with cheesecloth and secure with lid band or a rubber band. Note: Do not use the flat part of the lid. This mixture needs to breathe (allow the CO2 to escape); otherwise the glass could explode under pressure and leave a sticky apple mess.
- Leave the jars in a dark, room-temperature place for 2–3 weeks, checking every few days to ensure the apples remain covered with water and no mold has formed. The contents will start to thicken, foam, and bubble. A white scum will develop at the top of your fermentation: this is the “mother” and is a good sign. The gradually thickening pack of goo is actually made of cellulose, the same material found in plant cells. (It’s off-putting but completely harmless.) Once the mother has formed, the vinegar will be ready in a month or two. This mother can be saved and reused to kickstart your next batch! Note: If you see any other color foam appear, your mixture has most likely been infected and it is recommended that you discard that batch and try again.
- At the end of the 3rd week, the liquid should have a pleasantly sweet smell. Strain the apple scraps from the liquid by pouring through a sanitized strainer (or extra cheesecloth) and into a large sanitized bowl. Discard used apple bits into your friendly compost bin if you have one.
- Return the liquid to the jars and replace the cheesecloth and lids or rubber bands. Return to a dark, room-temperature spot for another 3–4 weeks, swirling or stirring every few days.
- Taste test the vinegar using a straw to avoid consuming the “mother.” Once the liquid has reached an acidity that you’re happy with, use your sanitized funnel to transfer to a swing top bottle (or similar container). Note: If your vinegar has become too tangy, don’t be afraid to use filtered water to dilute the mixture to your preferred acidity.
- You’re officially an apple cider vinegar maker! Bask in the glory that is home fermentation.
Drew Beechum’s Natural Cider Vinegar Recipe (aka the Quick Version)
Featured in Beechum’s Everything Hard Cider Book.
Makes 1 pint (0.47 liter)
- 1 pint cider, any flavor (alcoholic)
- 1 Tbsp premade, non-pasteurized (with mother) apple cider vinegar, homemade or natural (such as Bragg Organic Apple Cider Vinegar)
Sanitize the glass jars and lids. Any leftover sanitizer will ruin your vinegar flavor so ensure the jars are thoroughly rinsed.
- Combine the cider and natural vinegar in the canning jar, put on the lid, and shake it up. After thoroughly mixing the vinegar and cider, remove the lid and cover the jar with the folded cheesecloth. Rubber band the cheesecloth to the jar and swirl it once a day for 3 days.
- After a month of seemingly no activity, you’ll notice a whitish-gray, spider web–like skin growing over the surface of your cider. That’s the “vinegar mother.” This gradually thickening pack of goo is actually made of cellulose, the same material found in plant cells. (It’s off-putting but completely harmless.) Once the mother has formed, the vinegar will be ready in a month or two.
- Grab a small sample with a straw, doing as little damage as possible to the mother and taste a sample from below the mother. If it’s intensely sour, your job is done. If you like, you can filter the vinegar of the big bits of the mother and seal it up.
- You can pasteurize the vinegar by bringing it to 155°F in a saucepan (stainless steel, cast iron, etc.) for 30 minutes. Fill sanitized canning jars with your still-hot vinegar and lid them up. Pasteurization is optional.
Important: Raw, this vinegar will be brutally acidic. Dilute it with fresh, clean, boiled (or filtered) water to taste. If pasteurizing your vinegar, dilute with filtered water before you heat the vinegar.
Apple cider vinegar should be stored at room temperature, in a dark place, and tightly capped for the longest life. Neither recipe version needs to be refrigerated after initial use since the acidity level of the vinegar prevents bacterial growth. There is some speculation on the shelf life of vinegar, but a safe assumption is to discard it after 2 years if not used or if discoloration occurs.
For the most health benefits, most active users shake the apple cider vinegar container before use to ensure the mother is spread through the vinegar.