Making Elderflower ChampagnePublished: 6/13/2012
I've made elderflower champagne / sparkling wine every year since I first heard about this recipe on a River Cottage programme because it is absolutely delicious, practically free and requires no specialist equipment to make. There's nothing quite like the smell of elderflower, so fresh and heavily scented that you can't miss it as you walk along almost any country path in this country.
Elderflower is quite easy to identify when you know what it smells like and what it looks like. The right ones to pick are the young flowers that have just opened. They should smell fresh and fragrant (fresh like really clean washing is about as close as I can describe it). If it smells "heady" or looks a bit lack lustre in colour then it is probably past its best and you should find another plant, but that shouldn't be difficult as elderflower is everywhere at this time of year.
The recipe I use is this one by hugh fearnely whittingstall. I have to say though that I have never had the brew work without having to add a small pinch of yeast to it after a couple of days. In my book you should leave it a couple of days, agree there is no bubbling going on, add a small pinch of bakers yeast, and wait about 2 to 3 days. By this point you should see it beginning to bubble and it should have started to smell a little bit more "beer like" (but not massively so -- it is wine after all).
If I get the chance this year I want to try just leaving it to brew for about 5 days without the addition of bakers yeast and see whether it has started to ferment on its own.
When you've waited the two weeks or so you then have a delicious and refreshing summer drink that is around 4% by volume. That is at least if the bottles don't explode; I had one explode on me two years ago and it created quite a sticky mess! If you are wise (not like me) you'll use plastic bottles to avoid the danger of glass bottle explosion and you'll keep the bottles in a container so that you don't end up with elderflower champagne on your floor.
Note: You shouldn't get mould forming in your brew. If you get just a few speckles, you can just remove them but it normally indicates that either the bowl that you used wasn't spotless or the elderflowers had something unsavoury on them.
My top tips for great elderflower wine
- Pick the freshest, youngest, sweetest smelling flowers you can find
- Discard any flowers that look lack lustre
- Discard any flowers that have black fly on them - "black fly" is a real pest that loves elderflower
- Check the brew daily for mould and signs of fermentation
- Don't be afraid to add a small pinch of yeast after 2 days (or try just waiting 5 days instead - I want to know if it works without adding yeast)
- Do get rid of any small spots of mould in the brew
- Don't accept a covering of mould
- Do use plastic bottles with screw top lids to be safe
- Do put bottles in a strong sealed box in case one explodes
Good luck... hope you enjoy your brew!