“Tart words make no friends; a spoonful of honey will catch more flies than a gallon of vinegar” – Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
Many people associate vinegar with the wine and cider industries, but fans of fish and chips know the best kind comes from the brewery! Malt vinegar production has long been a side industry for many breweries, especially in and around Toronto in the mid 1800s. To make malt vinegar, brewers would first brew an ale beer then introduce vinegar bacteria. Vinegar bacteria do exist naturally in the air, but most brewers would have saved a bit of the Mother of Vinegar from the last batch as a starter for the next. Mother of Vinegar is the slimy guck that sometimes forms in bottles of vinegar that are left to stand for a long time unused. It’s simply an overgrowth of the bacteria mycoderma aceti which ferments the wine, cider or beer into vinegar.
Once the ale was converted into vinegar (a process that could take anywhere from 6 to 8 weeks) it would be strained, stored and aged to mellow the acidic bite of the malt. Vinegar of all types was an important commodity in the 19th century as it was used extensively in cooking, pickling and perserving meats as well as in industry. Malt vinegar was the primary vinegar used in England, and most English recipes from the 1800s calling for vinegar are referring to malt vinegar unless otherwise noted. Imported vinegars were also subject to a customs duty, further supporting the burgeoning home industry. However profitable brewing vinegar may have been, brewers had to be careful to keep it in an area seperate from the rest of the brewing operations, lest all their beers turn to vinegar!