The Best Malt Vinegar? A Taste Test!

Something is fishy at the start, the two U.S. brands list no ingredients.

A while back I imported some brewed malt vinegar from Britain for Shannon's Christmas gift, the real deal: Sarson's. She had recently fell in love with a Heinz version here in the United States (after trying it at a local fish restaurant), and our local grocer carries a "London Pub" version, which we bought after flying back from London and had been sitting in the fridge. That's when we came up with the idea for a taste test to determine the best malt vinegar. Today we went and got some fries (ahem chips) to try out the new fancy-British malt vinegar and compare it against the U.S. versions.

So I took three plastic cups and wrote on the bottom 1, 2, & 3. The numbers correspond to the secret identities of the vinegars provided at random to Shannon, to test blindly. Unsurprisingly the authentic malt vinegar, Sarson's, came in at #1, and the Heinz #2, and while I couldn't do the test, I agreed with the results.

James Thomas Sarson was a vinegar maker living at Brunswick Place, Shoreditch in 1841. Sales rocketed when his son Henry James Sarson took over. It was renamed "Sarson's Virgin Vinegar" in 1884, referencing a Biblical story of the wise virgins.

According to the Premier Foods website (the maker of Sarson's): "9 out of 10 chip orders are served with Sarsons in the UK", making our winner the the champion of choice in Great Britain and surrounding countries.

One informant advised that many vinegars (like Heinz) are merely colored acids rather than real brewed malt vinegars, and stated:

In other words, further away from malt vinegar than Bud is to Ale. Sarson's is the real deal and is made from ale brewed from malted barley. It has a depth of flavour and smoothness similar to a Balsamic vinegar, which I confess I usually substitute in my chips since it is more widely available outside the UK.

Even if you manage to find brewed vinegar, Sarson's taste is uniquely different than the competition. A difference between regular vinegar and, near wine quality, Sarson's being the "wine" brewed from authentic British water (unlike the others bottled in NJ and TX), tiered: flamboyant, followed by a sweet after-taste which Shannon describes it as "honeycomb".

So in case you were wondering, the best malt vinegar is Sarson's.

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