Food & Drink

Making Cheerwine Vinegar

Travis Milton turns Carolina’s sweet nectar into vinegar

“I’ve always loved Cheerwine and I’ve always loved pork. For years I’ve tried to marry the two. I’ve made Cheerwine-glazed ham, Cheerwine-brined pork chops, and Cheerwine-brined bacon, but none of them were quite what I wanted. So I set out to combine Carolina barbecue and Carolina’s favorite soda. The combination didn’t jive until I decided to turn that sweet, sweet nectar into vinegar. The pie was a happy accident—I set out to make a barbecue sauce and ended up with a great dessert.

There are a couple of different way to make vinegar, depending on your base liquid, but they all come down to two things: a mother of vinegar, which is a mixture of acetic acid and cellulose that occurs naturally during the transformation, and a base liquid, which is typically alcoholic. The fact that I was dealing with soda instead of alcohol complicated things for me, but I found a solution in Asian cuisine. Kombucha is a fermented tea native to China, Korea, and Russia. I make it from sweet tea and unfiltered vinegar, then add the mother of sorts that forms in it—commonly called a SCOBY, for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast—to soda. That slimy little thing is the key to good soda vinegar. You can buy a SCOBY online, but you can also start from scratch using the steps below. This process takes time, but it pays off.” —Travis Milton, Comfort, Richmond, Virginia


  • Scoby

    • 6 bags black tea

    • 1 1/2 cups sugar

    • 1/8 cup unfiltered apple cider vinegar, like Bragg

    • Cheesecloth

    • Rubber gloves

  • Vinegar

    • 2 liters Cheerwine

    • SCOBY

    • 2 tbsp. unfiltered apple cider vinegar


  1. For the SCOBY:

    Brew tea in 2 quarts of water, then add sugar and pour mixture into a non-reactive container, preferably a glass jar. Once the tea has cooled, add apple cider vinegar. (Give the vinegar bottle a good shake before pouring the vinegar into the tea, to ensure that some of the mother, which should be in the bottom of the bottle, is included.) Cover the jar with cheesecloth, and let it sit in a warm—but not hot—area for 3-4 weeks.

  2. After a few weeks, the fermented tea should have formed a SCOBY on its surface. (If you plan to do this often, invest in a pH meter. A finished batch of kombucha should have a pH below 4.6.) Put on a pair of rubber gloves and remove the SCOBY, which you can keep in a glass jar in the fridge until you are ready to make vinegar.

  3. For the vinegar:

    Pour Cheerwine into a non-reactive container and let it go flat. Then pull the SCOBY out of the refrigerator and add 4 tablespoons to the soda, along with the apple cider vinegar. Cover the mixture with cheesecloth and wait another 3-5 weeks. Feel free to taste the mixture as it becomes vinegar, taking care not to contaminate it. When it is ready, it will have a pH between 4.25 and 3, with a tart flavor balanced by some cherry. Strain it through a coffee filter and store it in the refrigerator.

Recipe from Travis Milton of Comfort  in Richmond, Virginia