Going Old School with Mad House Microbrewed Vinegar

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Another big trend for 2016 is micro cuisines, which include hyper-regional foods, grown within close proximity to where the food is served.   We’ve already seen this Locavore Movement in Cincinnati the last few years.   Some of these items could come from actual growing or producing resources in the restaurant itself, like Chef Kelly at Orchids and his rooftop garden.   Or, they could be a result of chef-farm or brewer-producer collaborations.

A great example of the latter is Mad House Vinegar, a collaboration between Chef Justin Dean, former COO of the Relish Group, also a Maisonette alumnus, and Richard Stewart, farm manager at Carriage Hill Farms in North Bend, Ohio, west of Cincinnati.

Chef Dean used to just receive the spent grains from MadTree Brewing to be used for composting and feed stock at Napoleaon Ridge Farm in Gallatin, Kentucky, which raises heritage breed hogs, lamb, goat, chicken, duck, and a small herd of Dexter cattle, for the Relish Group.

After discovering more about the brewery process and its byproducts, Dean asked MadTree if he could use their waste wort, ferment it into beer, and then make it into malt liquor. They replied, “Why not?”

So now, he’s receiving leftover wort, or unfermented beer, from both MadTree in Oakley and Listermann in Evanston.     Stewart and others add the fruit and herbs to the wort and ferment into vinegar.   Carriage Hill Farms produces grapes which they will use to make red wine and white wine vinegars, as well as Asian pears.

The collaboration effort is in the early stages of making artisan vinegars in flavors like blackberry, spice bushberry, anise hyssop and strawberry mountain mint.   You can get some of their vinegars at Bridgetown Finer Meats on the West Side of Cincinnati.

Making vinegar is a two-step process.   First they pitch the leftover wort with yeast and ferment it into beer, which usually takes over two weeks.   Then, a second fermentation, called the acetification, is done using a thick acetic acid called the “mother”, which eats the alcohol and turns it into malt vinegar.

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Small batches of vinegar fermenting at Mad House.

The great thing is that every single beer from every brewery in Cincinnati is going to make a different vinegar.  A Kolsch, for example, will taste very different from say Listermann’s Peanut Butter Porter.   Dean is also making drinkable vinegars (that help in digestion), herbal-infused vinegars, and even a pawpaw vinegar, all from locally sourced ingredients.    The flavor profiles will be as varying as the beers themselves and the final artisan vinegars will display the wonderful “terroir” of the Ohio Valley region, just like a fine wine.

The coolest part of this process is its greenness.     Unwanted wort that breweries would otherwise flush down the drain and cause huge BOD (biological oxygen demand) spike in the local wastewater, and thus burden on the Metropolitan Sewer District, are being upcycled for artisan vinegars.

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