We've had some cold, drippy weather lately. The overnight snow melts, the ground is sloppy, and then freezes solid the next night. Every three days, repeat. Since I can't get outside much yet, I've been spending my days playing in the kitchen.
The gallon of apple cider I had fermenting on the kitchen counter never did settle out much. Weeks later, it was still bubbling away through the fermentation lock, and more than an inch of dead yeast cells had sunk to the bottom. So I siphoned the murky cider off, leaving most of the dead yeasts. After cleaning the gallon jug, I then put the siphoned cider back in and the plug back in the top. After another week, the cider had settled out nicely, and fermentation had finally slowed to a stop.
Up in the top cupboard, my vinegar jar was in fine shape: it smelled vinegary, had a nice healthy layer of mother on top, and a few dead layers had sunk to the bottom. I washed my hands well, then reached in for Jolene, the layer of mother floating on top of the liquid - a somewhat rubbery substance that collapsed into a thick slime when I dropped it into a clean bowl. I pulled a couple of dead layers out of the bottom and tossed them. I strained my fresh vinegar through a coffee filter lining a plastic colander while I sterilized a couple of glass bottles in a big pot of boiling water.
One bottle I've stashed up in the dark cupboard to let it mellow. The vinegar is quite sharp, so I want to see what letting it set does to the taste. The other bottle I started using right away, and I'm very pleased with it. I didn't pasteurize the vinegar before bottling. Mother may still form inside the bottles, but since there isn't much airspace I'm thinking it will take quite a while, if at all. I don't know if using vinegar with the live cultures is beneficial or not, but I kinda like having a backup mother source around in case something happens to this next batch.
After cleaning out the vinegar jar, I poured in the hard cider I'd also strained, then dropped in Jolene. The mother sank to the bottom, but should contain the live cultures needed to start turning this batch of hard cider to vinegar. Covered with cheesecloth to allow for the necessary access to oxygen, I put the fresh jar back up into the cupboard to begin its next transformation. It may not be gold, but it's pretty darn good.