July 24, 2019–Never thought I’d write about vinegar.
Over the years I’ve covered the rise of various beverages in the Hill Country. It started with the wineries and breweries. Next, distilleries began turning out whiskey, vodka, and rum. The most recent libation to bubble up was cider.
But now Fredericksburg residents David and Lisa Bullion have created Other Mother, a line of aged, flavored vinegars they hope will change the way you think about this kitchen cupboard staple.
Anyone who has sipped over-the-counter vinegar knows it is an acquired taste that one never truly acquires. I dare anyone to down a jigger of straight vinegar without chasing it with a grimace. After all, vinegar is French for sour wine, and nothing is lost in the translation.
But Other Mother has redefined vinegar. In true French style, the Bullions have taken a byproduct of winemaking and lifted it to a gustatory delight. This stuff has personality!
More on that later. But first, why vinegar?
“We are crazy,” said David Bullion, who comes from a 30-year career in oil and gas. “When Lisa stopped teaching, she slept for a year. One day she woke up and said, we’ve got to do something. We’re too young, I don’t want to work for anyone else, and I’m not ready to retire. Let’s sell vinegar!”
That is not as crazy as he makes it sound. David had first got into winemaking 10 years earlier. On a trip to Italy, he tasted real balsamic vinegar and decided he could make that, too. So he bought a wine barrel and started his first batch of vinegar.
Now, a good balsamic takes 15 years to age. But about a year into their first batch, Lisa was preparing a meal for company and discovered she was out of vinegar. They reluctantly tapped the barrel and got a surprise.
“It was really, really good–far better than any commercial product,” David said.
So they began bottling it and giving it away as housewarming and birthday gifts. Friends loved it. A business was born–the first wine vinegar processing in Texas.
They use the Orleans method, which has been around since the 1700s. Unlike commercial processors, who make vinegar from sawdust and convert it in a 24-hour process, the Bullions use a slow process that starts with Texas red wine. The new wine gets mixed with the live vinegar–the mother–and placed in barrels for two to three months depending on weather. When all the alcohol is converted naturally to vinegar, it is transferred to the aging barrels for finishing. There it ages another nine months, completing a full 12 months in the barrel.
It’s important for customers to know Other Mother vinegar is “born and barreled” in the Hill Country.
“We love the humidity and temperature variations,” said David, noting the barrels are stored in an open warehouse. “The resulting expansion and contraction forces the product to go in and out of the wood, helping to age it and enhancing flavors.”
Now the story could end here. But there is a twist.
In colonial America, families preserved meat, vegetables, and fruit in vinegar. Leftover liquid often was mixed with molasses, honey, and alcohol as a drink, called a “shrub.” The Bullions were inspired by Martha Washington’s recipe for a ginger honey shrub shot (minus the bourbon), and began selling it by the glass at the farmers market. People loved it so much, they decided to bottle it. They now offer Shrubs in four flavors: ginger, beet, turmeric, and raspberry. As much as possible, all ingredients are sourced locally.
“We like good food and ‘good for you’ food,” Lisa said. “Why can’t what we put into our bodies be good as well as good tasting?”
Both are passionate about the curative and medicinal powers of vinegar. David points out there was a time when every home kept a crock of vinegar in the kitchen for food preparation, medicine, and scraped knees. Customers report they take it for conditions such as arthritis and acid reflux.
Those benefits only derive from “live” vinegar. Commercial versions are pasteurized, which destroys the beneficial bacteria. Like sourdough bread, vinegar needs a culture that is kept alive and goes into every batch. The Bullions call their “mother” culture Eve, and she lives in every sip of Other Mother (hence the name).
While the couple has solved the riddles of starting, brewing, and bottling their line of vinegars, the challenge remains to change people’s attitudes about a product many see as a kitchen commodity.
“Most people know it’s good to cook with and to use in salads,” said Lisa, who taught math at Fredericksburg High School for eight years. “You can do that with our vinegar, but it can do so much more. I’m continuing to be an educator. I want people to understand how they can do something good for their body.”
Since bottling their first batch at the beginning of 2018, the Bullion have been selling their products at farmers markets and online. They are now at Das Peach Haus and Vaudeville in Fredericksburg and at Camp Verde General Store, and showing up on shelves in 50 locations across Texas.
For the couple, spreading the word on the benefits of vinegar is a mission.
“I like getting the message out that food can be both pleasant and good for you,” Lisa said. “We all need to be mindful of what we put in our bodies. It is most satisfying meeting someone, letting them know I have something that will benefit them, then having them come back eager for more. We are developing relationships that are very rewarding.”
So how does Other Mother vinegar taste? Can something taste “fun?” I have been experimenting with using the Shrub shots on salads, mixed with sparkling water, and straight from the bottle.
Let’s see you do that with beer, whiskey, or wine.
More information at othermothervinegar.com.