The difference between white vinegar and malt vinegar is what the vinegars are made from and how they are made. White vinegar is quite simple: It is made from either acetic acid produced in a laboratory or grain-based ethanol, then diluted with water. It is the most commonly used vinegar in households around the world. Malt vinegar is made from barley kernels, and the process to make it is complicated.
Making malt vinegar is a lengthy process. First, the barley kernels are germinated to break starch down and form sugars. The germinated barley is brewed to make an alcoholic malted beverage, also known as beer. The beer is allowed to ferment until bacteria turn it into vinegar, which is then left to age. Malt vinegar is especially popular in Britain, where it is used for pickling as well as a popular condiment for fish and chips. The malt vinegar has a deep brown color, and has the flavor of a dark ale. By contrast, white vinegar is clear in color, and it is the most commonly used vinegar in American households. It is mostly used for cleaning and pickling, and rarely added to food because the flavor is so strong.