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Vinegar FAQs

ABOUT US

Why are you called American Vinegar Works?

Our founder was a geography major in college (true story!) and is obsessed with place and products that reflect an authentic sense of place. The French call it terroir but we are not that fancy…

We are called American Vinegar Works because we only use quality American wines, ciders, beers, and sakes to make our vinegars. In this way, our vinegars build on the great work being done by the American craft alcohol community. Your local microbrewery was the inspiration for American Vinegar Works.

How big is American Vinegar Works?

We are huge! On taste.

We are a small company focused exclusively on creating great American vinegars in craft batches.

We would love to get bigger and bring great vinegar to even more people so tell your friends about us! Seriously.

Did mother really make you do it?

Yes, in a way.

You are likely referring to our tagline “Great vinegar. Mother made us do it.”

The tag line is a joke for vinegar nerds. But I will explain.

Mother is a gelatinous-looking byproduct of vinegar making that develops as vinegar bacteria eat away at alcohol to make vinegar. Some people believe that mother makes vinegar. The truth is that the vinegar bacteria make vinegar and also then create the mother. But we decided to play with this and give mother credit for driving us to make great vinegars at American Vinegar Works.

You’re probably right. If you have to explain a joke it isn’t so funny. But, hey, we already said we are vinegar nerds and we are owning it!

VINEGAR MANUFACTURING

How is vinegar made?

Traditional vinegar is made by fermenting some type of alcohol—think beer, wine, cider, sake – into acetic acid. To make vinegar you need five key ingredients: alcohol, vinegar bacteria, oxygen, heat, and time.

Depending on the ABV (alcohol by volume) of the specific alcohol you may need to add water to dilute the alcohol. This is because when you get to a certain height in ABV the vinegar bacteria simply cannot operate and eat away at the alcohol to transform it into acetic acid or vinegar. This, by the way, is why your bottle of scotch will never turn into vinegar.

Over time and at the right temperature the vinegar bacteria will eat away at the wine or cider and turn into vinegar. Depending on the level of ABV, the environmental conditions, and the amount of vinegar you are trying to make this can take anywhere from two weeks to about six months simply to complete the fermentation.   During this time you will see that a film, often thick, will form on top of the liquid. This is vinegar mother and is a byproduct of vinegar fermentation.

Better traditional vinegars are then aged for months to years after fermentation. This allows the vinegars to develop more nuanced flavor profiles and not just be acid bombs.

Reach out if you have any other questions on how vinegar is made.

Do you produce your own vinegar?

Absolutely. We ferment, age, and bottle all of our vinegar in our vinegar works in Massachusetts.

We know that even having to ask the question may strike some of you as crazy. But the modern food world can be a bit crazy. It is common practice for food companies to just be recipe and marketing companies. They come up with a recipe-- and sometimes not even a recipe—and then they go to larger centralized manufacturers called “co-packers” that actually make and bottle the products for them. As you can imagine this means foods are increasingly standardized and the “innovations” come in the form of marketing buzz and jazz hands instead of in the form of better foods.

As you might be able to tell this really bums us out both because it is misleading to consumers and because it leads to a bland standardization of our foods.

Mother always told us to “ Fight the vinegar industrial complex!” and we hope you will too.

Is there anything unique about your vinegar production process at American Vinegar Works?

Why, yes, we are glad you asked…

We use a special method that was all the rage and considered super high-tech in the early 1800s.   It is sometimes referred to as the German or drip method. We think it produces incredible vinegars with a nuanced depth of flavor and bright colors.  

This is actually the way many vinegar works around the world produced vinegars through the early to mid 1900s.

And then there was a leap in vinegar ‘innovation’ that allowed bigger companies to produce vinegars more quickly and efficiently using a new process called submerged vinegar fermentation. This new method was so great for production that just about every vinegar maker gave up on the drip method.

What was so great about this method? Well, mostly, it came down to speed and efficiency—something that could take months before now could be done in two hours to two days.  

You will notice that we didn’t say this submerged vinegar fermentation innovation was great for taste or quality—just production, profits, and bland standardization. For context, this vinegar production method came shortly after Americans were introduced to other culinary delights such as canned pasta and tasteless, sliced white bread.

Because of the cost and efficiency savings this new submerged method completely drowned out other vinegar production methods. With very rare exceptions this is the process being used to make the vinegars you find in most supermarkets—and this is why most vinegars are cheap but just taste like acid and barely anything else.

We are proud to be delightfully inefficient at American Vinegar Works and produce with retro tech from 1800s.

Where did you find vinegar-making equipment from the 1800s?

Good question.

We didn’t. The method we use to make vinegar has fallen so out of favor (more work, less profitable) that we literally had to recreate our drip vinegar generators.   We partnered with local universities to redesign and custom build our generators. Worth it!

Which ingredients do you use to make your vinegar?

The main ingredient in vinegar is alcohol.

To make our vinegars the only alcohols we use are select American wines, beers, cider, and sakes.

Our vinegars stand on the shoulders of America’s microbrewers and vintners and we are thankful for their efforts and craft.

Do you make the wine, cider, sake, and beer you use to make your vinegar?

No.

We source all of our alcohol from other American craftspeople and the reason is very simple. We make great vinegar but a brewer and a vintner make better beer and wine than we could ever hope to make. Because they make such great drinks we can make truly great American vinegars.

Do you infuse your vinegars?

No, we never infuse vinegars.

We do, however, co-ferment our vinegars. Read our FAQ on co-fermentation to learn more about why we think co-fermentation is so much better than infusion.

What is co-fermentation and why is it better than infusing?

Some of our vinegar are “co-fermented” or “fermented flavors”.

This means that while our alcohol (e.g. wine or cider) ferments into vinegar we introduce different fruits and spices into the liquid mixture. As the bacteria eat away at the alcohol they also interact with the fruit or spices and this ultimately produces very unique vinegars with a greater depth of flavor.

Co-fermented vinegars contrast with infused vinegars. You make infused vinegar the way you would make tea. You start with a vinegar that has already fully fermented and then you put in spices or fruits to infuse vinegars with a specific taste. These flavors tend to be more aggressive and less nuanced than co-fermented flavors.

We never infuse our vinegars. And buyer beware that there are companies out there that say they make vinegar but all they are doing is buying vinegars and then infusing them. Vinegar makers are those that ferment alcohol into vinegar, not those using purchased vinegars as an ingredient. Well now we are all worked up…

Do you barrel-age your vinegars?

Yes, we barrel-age all of our grape wine and beer vinegars in American oak barrels previously used in American rye whiskey production. Aging in wooden barrels allows us to create a mellower flavor profile for our vinegar but it does not make the vinegars taste like wood or rye whiskey.

We source our barrels directly from a craft distillery in upstate New York.

In addition we also age some of our vinegars in taste neutral containers. We do this when we are looking to create specific flavor profiles. For instance, our Apple and Pear Hot Cider Vinegar is aged in taste neutral containers.

Barrel aged vinegars are labeled as such in their product descriptions and you can also find the barrel-aged collection here.

Is your vinegar organic?

No, our vinegars are not certified organic.

There are two main reasons for this:

1) We prioritize the flavor and quality of the wines, ciders, sakes and beers we purchase and this often means that the alcohols that are the best fit to make our vinegars are not organic. Think of your own visits to local breweries and wineries—how many of your favorite locally produced beers and wines are certified organic?

2) We try to purchase from local and smaller producers as much as possible and many smaller producers do not have the resources or ability to get organic certified.

How is traditional vinegar making different from current industrial vinegar making?

There are numerous differences in traditional and contemporary industrial vinegar manufacturing. We will describe a few below but, for us, the most important difference is that traditional vinegar making produces better tasting, better looking, and just better quality vinegar. But we are biased…

Use of water: As mentioned in this FAQ section, water needs to be added to alcohol that has too high of an ABV to produce vinegar at the right acidity for cooking and cocktails. Traditional vinegar makers add water BEFORE fermentation. Industrial vinegar makers use an industrial strength process to rush vinegar production and make vinegars at very high acid levels—this then means they dilute the vinegar (and flavor) by adding water to their acid bombs after fermentation is complete.

Time: This is a big one. Traditional vinegar making takes months if not years. Industrial vinegar makers can churn vinegars out in as little as two hours or two days by using rapid fermentation production methods. It is rushed and it tastes like it.

Acid Forward: Industrial vinegars tend to be all about acid and this is because of the process and ingredients used to make commercial vinegars. Traditionally made vinegars have a more nuanced profile and the flavors extend well beyond acid.

Standardization: Industrial vinegars are fantastic at being efficient and optimizing production. They optimize for cost savings and standardization. And this often means they produce the vinegar equivalent of flavorless white bread.

How does the level of alcohol by volume (ABV) of the wine used to make a vinegar relate to the acidity of a vinegar?

In theory 1% ABV in wine or cider, for instance, should translate into 1% of vinegar acidity. In reality 1% of ABV produces a bit less acidity in vinegar. This is because during a natural and slow fermentation process some of the alcohol simply evaporates and never gets transformed into vinegar. Vinegar bottles are labeled with their minimum acidity level, which also appears as a percent, like ABV does.

Why do you label your vinegars with minimum acidity?

We make small craft batches of vinegar. Each batch is going to be very slightly different from the other because the seasons change.

What we mean is that if the ambient temperature or humidity is different in the winter versus the summer, for instance, it might mean that more or less of the alcohol we use to ferment our vinegar may evaporate during the process. The ABV of alcohol corresponds to the final acidity of the vinegar so this means that there is a chance that one of our vinegars may have a very slight difference in the exact acidity level from one batch to the other. We cannot afford to print brand new packaging labels for each small batch so, instead, we label our vinegars with minimum acidity levels. This means that these vinegars will always have at least the acidity level indicated on the label and likely be slightly higher in acidity than that.

Minimum acidity is important because some folks use vinegar for pickling. We are not pickling authorities but everything we have read tells us that for pickling your vinegar should have at least 5% acidity. You will see minimum acidity on each of our vinegar labels and in the product details on our website. Please select a pickling vinegar accordingly.

VINEGAR QUALITY, USES & HANDLING

Is your vinegar raw?

Yes.

All of our vinegars are slow fermented and bottled raw. Not pasteurized and no preservatives added to our vinegars.  

Mother and sediment may form in your bottle. You may continue to use your vinegar as it is or, if you prefer, you can filter or strain the vinegar to remove mother.

How should I use vinegar?

Just about everywhere other than breakfast cereal. Really.

Everyone knows that vinegars are essential for vinaigrettes, oil and vinegar salad dressings. But, with a little experimentation, you will see that acid is what was missing from many of your dishes.

You can marinate meats using vinegar, brighten up sauces, season roasted vegetables, make cocktails, even bake with it (google vinegar pie).  

The key is to use vinegar sparingly and to adjust flavors slowly by tossing in just a dash or two at a time.

What are the best uses for each of your vinegars?

Each vinegar variety has its own unique flavor profile that is informed by the specific alcohol that was used as its fermentation base. In other words a beer vinegar is going to taste differently from a cider or sake vinegar—much in the same way that you expect a glass of red wine to be different from a pint of beer.

We do provide suggested uses for each of our vinegars within each vinegar’s product description page and also on the back label of each bottle. That said, we encourage you to experiment and share with us your favorite uses. Making our vinegars your own is part of the fun.

Should I use distilled vinegar?

Absolutely! We think it is a wonderful cleaner. We wouldn’t cook with it though because it is a one-note, all acid lackluster condiment.

Friends don’t let friends use distilled vinegar (for cooking).

What makes one vinegar better than another?

Vinegars are like those simple ingredient recipes you love. With fewer ingredients and steps there is very little room to hide a poor product.

The two most important things needed to make a great vinegar are 1) a high quality alcohol and 2) a good production process that is not rushed. Further aging a vinegar after fermentation also adds to its depth of flavor.

In a great vinegar you should be able to taste the roots of the underlying alcohol used to ferment the vinegar.   Our two beer vinegars are a great example of this. One is made from IPA Beer and the other is made from Porter Beer and you can bet that you can taste the difference between each of these vinegars blindfolded.

How do you store vinegar? Does vinegar go bad?

Vinegar is safe almost indefinitely according to the Vinegar Institute. This is because vinegar is an acid and a natural preservative. This is one reason why you use vinegar in pickling.

In a nutshell, you should keep your vinegar bottle closed whenever it is not being used, store the bottle away from direct sunlight, and keep it away from hot temperatures. If you want to know more detail keep on reading.

So even though vinegar should not go bad in the safety sense the flavor and profile of vinegar can change over time, especially if it is poorly stored.

Keep your vinegar bottle well sealed whenever you are not using it. This is because if you vinegar is raw—all of ours are—there are living vinegar bacteria in it. When exposed to oxygen the bacteria will become active and, over time, this will change the taste profile of your vinegar. It may also cause the formation of additional mother and sediment that may make your vinegar cloudy.

Vinegar should not need refrigeration.   If your vinegar bottle is nearly empty and you are using it slowly you may consider refrigerating it. But this is just so that you don’t create a giant air pocket AND a warm enough temperature that would then reactivate your vinegar and change the flavor profile.

Keep you vinegar away from direct prolonged sunlight. The UV may kill or change the functioning of the vinegar bacteria, which ultimately changes the flavor profile of your vinegar.

Finally, though it should not ‘go bad’ chances are that if you have the same vinegar bottle you had when shoulder pads where in your vinegar now tastes a bit different from what the vinegar maker intended. It also tells us you are not using nearly enough vinegar and are totally missing out!

What does the vinegar acidity percent mean?

Vinegar is an acid and vinegars are required to be labeled by their level of acidity when they are sold.

Acidity is defined as grams of acetic acid per 100 ml water and that is what the percent of acidity you see on your vinegar bottle refers to. This is similar to ABV or the alcohol by volume percentage you see on alcohol, like bottles of wine. Acidity is different than pH (though related in that both quantify acidity in some way).

In the US all vinegars are required to have a minimum acidity of 4% and many consumer vinegars range from 4% to 6%.

The exact range of acidity traditionally present in a vinegar tends to vary by the type of vinegar. Rice wine vinegars, for instance, tend to have lower acidity levels in the 4% to 5% range, whereas higher quality grape wine vinegars have acidity levels in the 5% to 6% range. It is not uncommon for some specialty vinegars, like Sherry, to be as high as 8.5% acidity.

Acidity level is not the whole story with vinegars. Lower quality vinegars lead and finish with acid—they are a one-note product. You can and do have higher acid percent vinegars that not only deliver a pleasant acid to your food but also taste much, much better than cheaper lower acid vinegars. Vinegar should be acidic—it is its most defining quality-- but it should not be its only taste quality.

Finally, some distilled vinegars can have much higher levels of acidity—these are intended for industrial or cleaning purpose and you should be very careful when handling them. Like other acids they can be very dangerous and are not intended for human consumption. We never make or sell distilled vinegars of any kind.

Do vinegars have fat?

No, none of our vinegars have fat. When you use vinegars to make vinaigrettes you will normally add the plant fats found in olive oil.

Nutrition information is available for each of our vinegars as part of their product description images.

Is vinegar calorie free?

Most unsweetened vinegars are calorie free or close to calorie free. I know, it seems crazy to have to so much taste with so little guild. You’re welcome.

All of our vinegars are calorie free with the exception of vinegars in our Sweet and Tangy line. These vinegars are sweetened very slightly with boiled fruit juice and it is this juice that adds calories to these specific vinegars. Specifically, our Sweet and Tangy vinegars have five calories per serving. Not a typo- five.

Nutrition information is available for each of our vinegars as part of their product description images.

Is vinegar gluten free?

It depends.

Most vinegars are gluten free because they are made with gluten free ingredients. This is the case for our rice wine, cider, and grape wine vinegars.

Beer malt vinegars, however, do generally have gluten because they are made with beers that have gluten. Our beer malt vinegars DO have gluten.

Please review ingredient lists and allergen information for all products if you have any allergen concerns.

RETURNS & RANTS

What is your return policy?

We work hard to make well-crafted, traditional vinegars and hope that you will love them as much as we do.

In the event that anything goes wrong with your order we are here to help.

Damaged Products: We package shipments carefully but please let us know if your vinegars are damaged in transit. We apologize in advance for any inconvenience and will make it right.

Returns and Exchanges: We do not accept returns or exchanges as we would never resell any returned food products to other vinegar lovers. All vinegar sales are final.

Refunds: We make great vinegars for vinegar lovers. If you are not satisfied with our vinegars please contact us within 30 days of receiving your order, explain the problem, and we will refund your purchase.

Please get in touch with us if you have any problems with your vinegars or if vinegars are damaged in transit. You can email us at hello@americanvinegarworks.com with “Order Problem” in the subject line.  

Is there anything that gets under your skin about the current vinegar market?

Fine, you got us.

We do have a naturally sour disposition and there are a few things that really get under our skin when in comes to vinegar. Most of these are related to companies that misrepresent what they are trying to sell to customers.

Here’s our list and we reserve the right to add:

  • 1) Companies that pretend to make vinegar but only market vinegar. See our note above on manufacturing.
  •  
  • 2) Companies that say they make vinegar but it turns out that they just buy vinegar and then infuse it with herbs or use vinegar as an ingredient in some other product they sell.
  •  
  • 3) Companies that have brand names that would make you think they produce vinegar in a specific location but turns out they are just importing or repackaging vinegars. We are looking at you California!

We hope this list doesn’t make us sound too cranky? We aim to be just cranky enough.

STILL HAVE ANY QUESTIONS?

Let's talk vinegar!

hello@americanvinegarworks.com