Zero-Waste, Healthy Beer Drinking
An argument for turning your favorite beer into a great vinegar
Kirsten and I are in Colorado for a while, visiting our kids that decided to leave Oregon to live among the fourteeners and teaching small groups to ferment vinegar after a break of 18 months. Coming off several years of intense home hard cider production one thing is striking to me—there is a lot of craft beer here! Our dark secret, which I only share with you, beloved ferment nerd, is that we aren’t here to imbibe but to teach people to turn those delicious beverages into equally tasty, non-alcoholic versions of themselves. Crazy I know.
Why in the H.E.Double-Nail Do This?
It’s a fair question. On our first day here Kirsten brought back a couple of tasty-looking local beers and I thought to myself this is going to be a fun vacation! I walked the kid’s two dogs to return to see both big beers sitting in open Mason jars, going flat before my eyes. I knew better than to protest or, God forbid, take a sneaky sip. So, like any nerd, I poured myself a tall sparkling water and dove into the research papers in an effort to better understand this phenomenon. We’ll look at recent research to understand the benefits of turning beer and other alcohols and wrap up with a recipe from Kirsten’s just-launched book Homebrewed Vinegar: How to Ferment 60 Delicious Varieties, just in case you (or someone who has access to your beer) end up convinced.
Reason #3: Spreading the Flavor
Let’s say you have half a dozen favorites, or maybe just one. It’s a relationship by now but to be honest, it’s not a very complex one. You enjoy it by, well, drinking it which should have some culinary and temporal limitations. Like at breakfast or while sailing a boat or maybe in a very fancy restaurant or on a low-carb diet. I hear some of you object to some or all of these but you get the spirit of what I am saying don’t you? It’s not always a great time to pop a cold one. With vinegar made with that same favorite beer, you can get the flavor essence without the alcohol, carbohydrates, or the can. If you love, love that beer then with its vinegar form you can go beyond simply splashing it on many of your favorite dishes or in a cold seltzer. Why not rinse your hair with it and work on that hair pH problem that has been keeping you up at night? You could try that with beer but I don’t think you will find it as appealing later in the day. So, reason three, way more ways to enjoy the flavor.
Vinegar health benefits = antioxidant + antidiabetics + antimicrobials + antitumor + antiobesity + antihypertensive + antiinflammatory.
Reason #2: Zero-waste Drinking
Scenario 1: Your first summer backyard BBQ in forever is over, last friend just left and you head for the backyard to clean up a bit before bed. It’s as if red solo cups were mushrooms. They are everywhere, on every horizontal surface, and nearly all of them are partially full of beer. Instead of pouring them all down the sink or dumping on the lawn, why not find a clean vessel and pour everything in, making a commemorative vinegar to be shared at Christmas as gifts? Okay, there might be a reason not to but you could and it would likely be safe.
Scenario 2: You own a small bar or restaurant and pour wine by the glass. One of the things you absolutely hate is pouring out those half and quarter bottles when they no longer taste good enough to pour by the glass. What a waste. It used to be just the cost of doing business, but now you have a continuous vinegar brew pot or two going in the kitchen. Your chef loves the new flavors and has begun featuring dishes on the menu with it. Yes, you could do the same thing with the ends of the beer kegs.
Wine might sour into vinegar, but vinegar cannot become wine again.
Reason #1: It’s actually good for you
Raise your hand if at some time in your life, when asked why you were drinking that beer in front of you, you responded with a variation on the theme of “because it’s good for me” and you mostly believed it. Well, if that’s now a bottle of your favorite beer vinegar you are about to get more than enough evidence to support your claim.
First off, we are talking about vinegar with at least 5% acetic acid content. In Kirsten’s recent vinegar course at the fermentation school and in her book she describes some simple ways to measure your homebrewed versions, like in the recipe that follows. But as a general rule, the percentage of alcohol roughly translates to the percent acidity in your final vinegar. While not precise but it is usually close enough.
For centuries vinegar has been promoted for various health benefits but we are fermentation nerds and when we hear vague references to health claims we get curious. The health benefits of vinegar stem from the bioactive compounds it contains.
bioactive compound = a substance that has a biological activity (in or on us)
Your homebrewed vinegar likely has to some level most or all of the following bioactive compounds: organic acids (acetic/lactic/tartaric/succinic/malic/citric), phenolics, amino acids, carotenoids, phytosterols, vitamins, minerals, and alkaloids. From the definition above, we understand that the magic of all of these compounds comes from the positive responses they induce in our bodies.
The level of each often traces back to what was used to make the vinegar. Take the acids for example. If you are making and apple cider vinegar you are going to get the malic acid from the apples. A scrap fruit vinegar from lemons or grapefruits will give you citric acid concentrations. Wine vinegar will give you tartaric acid and the following beer recipe will give you lactic acids. You can make vinegar from just about any alcohol, as the following picture of our vinegar shelves attests.
Those acetic and lactic acids are also responsible for the antimicrobial activity they give us, along with the polyphenols. Even wonder why people use vinegar for cleaning and disinfecting? That’s what’s going on basically. The paper last cited above calls out the research on the effectiveness of vinegar on pathogens like E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Enterobacter sp., Listeria spp., Mannheimia haemolytica, etc.
So, reason number 1, your favorite beer becomes, even more, good for you. Okay, let’s make some beer vinegar!
Beer Vinegar Recipe
Yield: about 1.5 quarts
3 pints (1.4 liters) of beer from 3 16-ounce or 4 12-ounce cans or bottles.
1 1/4 cups (296 mL) raw, unfiltered, unpasteurized vinegar, with the mother, if available
Pour the beer into a sanitized half-gallon jar. Allow it to settle and go flat. (I know, be brave)
When the carbonation is gone, pour in the vinegar with the mother, f available. Stir well with a wooden spoon; a little oxygen is always good for getting the process going.
Cover the jar with a piece of unbleached cotton (butter muslin or tightly woven cheesecloth), or a basket-style paper coffee filter, which you can see we are using with the first photo. This is to keep out fruit flies.
Place on your counter or in another spot that is 75° to 86°F/25°to 30°C.
Check the vinegar in a month, when you should have nice acidity. However, it may take another month or two to fully develop. Test the pH: It should be 4.0 or below.
Bottle half the vinegar and replace it with the same amount of beer for another batch. Or bottle it all and store the mother for next time or share with a friend.
Use immediately, or age to allow it to mellow and flavors to develop.
Get crazy. Happy Brewing. Stay safe out there ferment nerds…