Sort of a brown cloud - this is dead yeast. It's considered to have a lot of B-vits in it and some people eat it, personally I don't like the taste/texture. Quite often you find it in unpasteurized vinegar that's been on the shelf for a year or more.
Sort of a cling together cloud or slime - this may be your Mother/SCOBY/Starter and useful to save for your next batch.
Either of these are okay to eat, but I find they don't add anything to the quality of the vinegar. If it's hard to strain, I might do a series of strains, starting with a coarse strainer, then go finer and finer until I use some clean cotton cloth. Another option for straining would be to use a loosely woven, clean, cotton or linen cloth, or several layers of cheese cloth. Knit cloth like a t-shirt usually won't do the trick for me for tasks like this.
If you could post a picture, I may be able to get a better idea if it's yeast, mother, or something else. Also for clarity, what sort of container did you ferment it in? Can you tell us more about your method? Different methods sometimes encourage different invisible beasties to dominate the batch.
Any other questions, feel free to ask.
It does look like it's got some dead yeast in it (perfectly natural). There is too much cloud there for yeast to be the only problem.
Some troubleshooting questions (these are pretty standard and may not be relevant to your situation, but it's go to go through them just in case):
What kind of soap/cleaner do you use? Antibacterial soap residue can cause a lot of problems with ferments.
Are you on city water? Some water additives can cause troubles with ferments.
What was your method for making the vinegar? Start with cut up fruit and sugar water? Start with apple cider (also called hard apple cider in the US)? Start with apple juice? Pressed apple juice or run through a juicer? Or store bought apple juice?
At a guess, you started with apple juice that had been run through the juicer?
edit for clarity
Using the cider press would mean there are less ... too tired to think of the correct word... little bits suspended in the liquid, than a juicer would make. Given that your cider is clear, the juice itself isn't the cause.
New theory: Yeast multiplies (generally - it's more complex than this, but like I said, tired) when exposed to oxygen. For example, racking the wine - moving it from one container to another - will often restart the yeast because it is exposed to oxygen (again, oversimplifying). Perhaps there was still some active yeast in the cider when you used it to become vinegar. Maybe the yeast was stalled and just needed some air to wake it up. Or possibly if you aren't pasteurizing the juice (don't worry if you aren't, I'm not a fan of pasteurization for my own cider), perhaps a strain of wild yeast that was dormant up to that stage, woke up and started multiplying. It's just a theory, but it might explain why so much dead yeast.
Wild yeast is tricky, you never really know what you are going to get. I put some old wine out for vinegar making almost two months ago, stir it (more or less) daily. So far, all I've got is stronger wine. I think there must have been a lot of dormant yeast, and instead of turning to vinegar, it's just getting more alcoholic. It will be interesting to see when this becomes vinegar if it's cloudy or not.
If it is yeast, it should settle out a bit more over time, then you can syphon off more clear vinegar. Glad you found a use for it.
mary jayne richmond wrote:UPDATE... the cloudy mass is actually pectin, why it's in there is anybody's guess. I took some out of the jug, maybe a 1/4 cup and added a tablespoon of isopropyl alcohol to it and it instantly made little beads in the bowl ... yep pectin, this is how they test to see if the pectin they have from apples is strong enough to make jelly.. make sure to discard the alcohol pectin mixture after you test it and DON'T taste it. hope this helps
You shoudn't really have pectin in vinegar as normally during the fermenting the pectin is broken down. Did you do a gravity reading before adding the mother? Perhaps the ferment got stuck and not all the pectin broke down.
You could add this to another fermentation and the pectin should break down, I would only add it to something you are intending to use for vinegar though unless the acidity of the juice you are using for (hard) cider is really low and you want to increase it (I dont want to ruin your cider for the year!).
mary jayne richmond wrote:Henry, so i could put the cloudy vinegar back in with a new batch of hard cider and it would break the pectin down? would the vinegar stop the hard cider progress? would i need to add some sugar to help it ferment farther? we just started a new batch of hard cider about 2 weeks ago
Yes it should work. The vinegar should not stop the fermentation if the ph is not too low. You will be introducing alot of acetobacteria to the cider so instead of potentially ruining a larger amount of cider (which you might want to drink?) you could add juice to a smaller batch with the pectin.
We once bottled alot of cider once (about 2000L) that still had pectin present (which was not obvious at the time, we didnt realise until we had some complaints) after about 6 months in the bottle it broke down as the residual sugars had fermented inside the bottle. As the residual sugar was a much smaller amount it took alot longer.
Alternatively you could buy pectin enzymes (pectinase) to break it down, it is not very expensive and useful to have if you are planning on heat pasteurising apple juice. Before we added this to the juice some bottles would set in the pasteuriser and we would pour it into a tank and ferment it to (hard) cider to get rid of the pectin and save the juice from being thrown away.