Every great adventure starts with a spark. With an ambition, a curiosity, a passion; perhaps with a question. The spark for this adventure came from a question posed – perhaps as a throwaway – to Alex. And our journey into Welsh craft vinegar was set in motion.
“Got any clever ideas about what to do with 3,000 litres of beer?”. We were chatting with our North Pembrokeshire neighbours at Bluestone Brewing Company when the question came up. The ongoing lockdown has hit the brewery trade hard, and with no pubs to sell to, the conundrum of what to do with all the beer brewed before pubs and restaurants closed, is a very real one for many breweries.
Welsh craft vinegar
Based in the Preseli hills, just over the Ceredigion-Pembrokeshire border, Bluestone Brewing Company is a brewery close to our hearts. Hard-working, with great credentials for producing some top ales and lagers while respecting the environment, and with an uncanny ability to bring people together within the community, we were keen to help our neighbours out. The question might have been asked rhetorically, but the prospect of all that beer – and all that hard work and brewing passion – going down the drain was a real and painful one for us.
The answer, when it presented itself, appeared deceptively simple. Vinegar.
Vinegar is an ingredient on the cusp. We all think we know it well: a stalwart of every chip shop worth its salt (and vinegar), a sometimes throat-shattering base for chutneys and pickles, perhaps occasionally the basis for a salad of tomato and mozzarella if we’re feeling particularly Mediterranean. The reality is that vinegar is so much more – and the world is just starting to wake up to its subtler qualities. Created in a craft environment, with thought and care, vinegar is as vital as salt or citrus in the kitchen, with the power to lift flavour and finish dishes with depth.
Produced from a further fermentation to remove the alcohol, vinegar might seem the obvious solution to a surplus of beer, but our investigations revealed that success developing an artisan Welsh craft vinegar would depend on bridging the gap to link ingredients and enthusiasm with a final, quality product. We needed expertise.
Reaching a hand up to Orkney
With the solution almost within our grasp, we reached a hand up to our Celtic cousins, to Orkney, where some of the most exquisite artisan vinegars in the UK are produced.
We immediately felt an affinity with Orkney Craft Vinegar – a growing, hyperlocal business based in Kirkwall, passionate champions of local ingredients producing superlative craft vinegars. Just as we have pioneered our individual approach to distilling, ex-chef Sam Britten and his brother Tom have spent the last few years devoting themselves to the development of a suite of top quality vinegars, prized by some of the best kitchens in the country, and feted by celebrity chefs, including James Martin.
Discussing possibilities with Sam and Tom at Orkney, it seemed that we had all the building blocks of a premium Welsh craft vinegar – a further iteration of the land we live in – at our finger tips, and that with their input, we could make this a reality. At the same time we would prevent the waste of 3,000 litres of a quality Welsh beer in a spectacular way.
With expertise and invaluable input from Orkney, and Bluestone’s surplus beer, we are embarking on the development of a Welsh craft vinegar: fermented in Wales from Welsh beer, matured in casks that have Welsh heritage. It’s a journey, and like our Welsh barley project , it’s a journey we hope you’ll join us on.
And of course, keep in touch with us at In the Welsh Wind and be the first to find out more about Welsh craft vinegar, by signing up to our mailing list here and following us on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.