This bubbling jar of fruit, sugar, bacteria, and yeast was my first experimental batch of homemade vinegar. It turned out beautifully. Slightly alcoholic, but beautiful. I learned from a friend that if I let the vinegar sit past its alcoholic stage it would become a full fledged vinegar and not just a vinegary beverage that gives you a buzz.
The process was simple enough, I added slices of apple to a jar of water with a little bit of extra sugar, covered it with a coffee filter and rubber band, and ignored it. Well, I checked on it almost obsessively to see if it had grown a SCOBY yet. After about a month of anxious peeking and occasional mold skimming, my SCOBY was there! It had grown! I had ‘made’ it happen!
Delighted with this success, I scaled up. Mistake #1 – a ceramic crock that wasn’t meant for fermentation. This mistake went unnoticed for a good while, but was the real cause of this experiments demise. I started this batch with a little of the original vinegar, a peeled off layer of the original SCOBY, sliced apples, and sugar. It quickly grew a 1/4″ thick SCOBY and smelled fantastic. The jar had a snuggly fitting lid (Mistake #2 – nothing except saran wrap or a coffee filter is snug enough to keep fruit flies out) so I covered it, and really did ignore it this time.
After a month, I noticed that the area around the crock was smelling a little mildewy. Mistake #3 – never ignore a weird smell around anything, ANYTHING, you’re fermenting. No excuses.
Another month – I pulled the lid off the crock and out flew a thick mass of fruit flies. The apple slices were mostly white with maggots, and the walls and underside of the lid were crusted with pupae. Another thing – the level of the vinegar had dropped by a few inches in the jar. Flies, leakage, and mold-from-leakage meant that I dumped this whole mess into the compost and will start again. I’m not at all discouraged by this failure because it is clear that every mistake made was due to my own ignorance/laziness and not at all to the actual difficulty of making vinegar. I was just a little too confident a little too fast and lost what could have been 3 gallons of delicious apple vinegar to my vinegar-hubris.