Nordhavn Eddikebryggeri is the first (and so far the only) hand-crafted vinegar brewery in Denmark. It was established by Claus Meyer and Andreas Harder in 2010 but their interest in balsamic vinegars reach a few years before that. After a trip to Modena in Italy, the two decided to bring the technique home and create Danish versions of this delicious, thick and sweet type of vinegar in Copenhagen.
The company is situated in an old smokery in Nordhavn. We had a chance to visit the place and learn more about the mission of the company and their daily operations.
The place is special due to its combination of modern equipment with the traditional method of aging called solera. The process considers transferring a specific amount of vinegar from a bigger barrel (called Abadesa) to a smaller one at equal intervals of time (every year). It thickens and darkens over time. Due to the porous structure of the wood, the product is calculated to lose 10-20% of its volume with every next batch. I learned that the type of wood does not affect the flavor of the final product. The very last, smallest barrels consist of the most concentrated balsamic vinegar.
We had a chance to try some unusual vinegars – rose, pine tree, lemon and licorice flavors. The company has strong interest in using waste products from other producers to create an up cycled vinegar (coffee vinegar from coffee grounds or beer vinegar from beer that couldn’t be sold).
Here at Nordhavn Eddikebryggeri Cristina Megias and the crew are making vinegars from locally sourced fruits. Their main supplier comes from a tiny island called Lilleø, where small orchards of apples, pears, plums and quince come from. NEB is also producing vinegars from other seasonal fruits (such as black currant).
The process of making vinegars follows the same basic rules: first a freshly pressed unpasteurized juice is turned into alcohol (cider). Usually this process happens with help of wild yeast already present in the fruits (apart from one type of apples). It takes 2-4 weeks and the outcome is a very dry cider of about 6-7% ABV with no sugar residues. Next it is acidified and left to ferment until all the alcohol is converted into acidic acid bacteria (main microbial component of vinegars). It takes around one year to make the base vinegar. Later the products are aged, infused with other flavours or bottled for sales.
This small-scale producer uses tanks of 2000 liters and barrels of 200 liters. Another impressive part of the brewery is the machine called acetator – three hosed tanks with the main one connected to an air pump that creates constant aeration of the liquid (“the mother”). Automatized system controls the level of acidity and the temperature. In that way they are able to always back slop their base alcohols with the most active starter.
With well-established protocols the company crew is able to safely control the process without any cross-contamination (with biggest issue of appearance of Brettanomyces yeasts). Controlled temperature is also very important since above 32C the bacterias start dying out.
Thanks to Cristina I learned something very interesting – a misconception of the common belief that s.c.o.b.y. – carbon-based biofilm forming on top of the batch (very similar to the one in kombucha) is necessary in the process. It turns out that it is actually undesired for the s.c.o.b.y. to form. It will make the vinegar taste weak and not acidic, without sugar and alcohol. S.c.o.b.y. eats the alcohol and doesn’t generate the acidity.
This bad practice is often showcased even in home-brewing tutorial books. Cristina emphasized that some of the sources are misleading and people should be educated about the right ways to brew vinegars.
When making vinegar NEB recommends starting with a smaller batch and scaling up gradually to ensure the right balance and environment for the bacterias to grow. Equal parts of vinegar and alcohol should be mixed and transferred from small cups to small jars, to bigger tanks, doubling every time. It provides a faster process and a more active vinegar-making experience.
Cristina and the crew are pushing the development program in order to create new flavors and other products (i.e. spirits) that will be launched to the market in the future. From September NEB will start with new seasonal products.
Luckily, the company is also planning to organize workshops and tours for interested people who want to learn more about it. A lot of new projects were promised to come up soon. So stay tuned and follow NEB journey on Instagram at: @nordhavn_eddikebryggeri . For purchase check out their website where you can also find a list of local stores with their offer.