This fizzy floral wine is a great way of extending the elderflower season from June to the whole of the summer and beyond. Get the recipe below.
My husband has been brewing beer for years but given I don’t drink beer I didn’t want him to have all the fun of making alcohol at home. So I’ve started to get into making my own hedgerow wines and other alcoholic drinks. In this post I’ll teach you how to make my favourite hedgerow brew: Elderflower Champagne.
Elderflower Champagne is an alcoholic drink made from foraged elderflowers and champagne yeast. Elderflower Champagne has a subtle, perfumed pear flavour with a bit of dryness from the champagne yeast. I keep mine refridgerated to enjoy it nice and cold on a hot summer’s day.
Is it safe to make Elderflower Champagne at home?
Some people may be worried about making their own alcohol. Moonshine (as homemade alcohol is sometimes called) has a bad reputation for making people sick. But, the good news is if you follow the principles of wine making then you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
The process of making wine (or even beer) is the same in your home as it is in a factory so it is just as safe as store bought! Follow the simple steps, practice good hygiene and you’ll have delicious, perfectly safe, homemade alcohol in no time.
The only thing you have to worry about is getting soaked in wine if it gets too fizzy! But more on that below.
The science behind making Elderflower Champagne
I guess the first place we should start is the science behind making a fizzy edlerflower wine. Essentially, elderflower wine is an elderflower infused sugar and water mix. What separates it from elderflower cordial is that the natural yeast (or in this case champagne yeast) is given time to feed off of the sugars in the water, in doing so they begin to ferment creating alcohol and carbon dioxide bubbles!
By carefully measuring the ratios of water, sugar and yeast you can control how much alcohol and carbon dioxide is made. The recipe below should get you a fizzy wine that is roughly 11% ABV (provided the yeast behaves as expected!) It’s amazing how incredibly simple it is to brew your own alcohol. Because it relies on yeast the scientific process really isn’t all that different to making bread which, by the way, also produces small amounts of alcohol!
If you want to know exactly how alcoholic your champagne is before you drink it, you can take gravitational readings and follow a simple formula.
- Once you’ve dissolved the sugar in all ten litres of water you need to take your first reading.
- Fill the hydrometer tube up to about 2 inches from the top with the sugar water. Insert the hydrometer giving it a little spin as you do so.
- The hydrometer will slowly sink until it stops and bobs up and down gently.
- When the hydrometer comes to a stop, look at where the liquid intersects the markings on the hydrometer.
- Record the gravity reading – this is called your ‘Original Gravity’.
- Repeat this process immediately before bottling. This is called your ‘Final Gravity’.
- To get your ABV, subtract the Original Gravity from the Final Gravity then multiply this number by 131.25.
- If you like formulas then use the following: (FG – OG) x 131.25 = ABV %
What home brew equipment do you need?
You don’t need a lot of equipment to get started. In theory you could just use a large bucket with a lid so long as it has all been properly sterilised. Your life will, however, be made much easier by having a proper fermentation bucket which will “self-burp” as the yeast produces carbon dioxide and will also have a tap at the bottom to make it much easier to siphon the champagne into bottles once it has finished fermenting.
You will also need bottles that are capable of holding carbonated drinks. There is always a risk that the pressure in the bottles will build up if the yeast is continuing to produce carbon dioxide. If you do not use the right type of bottle then you risk them exploding. I don’t want to scare you but it is important to know that it’s a risk which can be mitigated with buying the right bottles and burping them regularly if you suspect carbon dioxide is still being produced.
I do use glass swing top bottles but burp regularly. Occassionaly I will use plastic bottles with screw caps and I know some people like to re-use 2 litre soft drinks bottles. It’s also possible to buy champagne bottles with corks. Check the listing carefully before purchasing.
How to bottle your Edlerflower Champagne
The bottle process is simple, sterilise your bottles and then fill them either using the tap on your fermentation bucket or by pouring the finished wine into the bottles using a funnel. It’s that simple!
Knowing when to bottle your Elderflower Champagne is a little harder. To avoid the exploding bottles that I mentioned above, you want to wait until fermentation has slowed right down. If it’s still regularly producing a lot of carbon dioxide then wait until this has calmed down before bottling.
Foraging for elderflower
We’ve talked at length about how to make the Elderflower Champagne without stopping to talk about how to find elderflower in the first place. Here’s a handy guide.
When is elderflower in season?
You will see elderflowers in hedgerows around the UK from May until August. At the end of the season, the flowers become berries (which you can also use in a range of recipes). The best time to pick elderflowers is on a warm, dry day – if they are wet they may be a little damp and musty.
Where does elderflower grow?
You can find elderflower growing right across the UK. Even in London you will see it growing in parks, along road sides and also along the train tracks (though don’t go foraging for it there!) It often grows in amongst hedgerows and other small areas of trees.
I always try to avoid picking elderflower from near roads as they may have been contaminated with pollution. Similarly, I avoid picking elderflower that is low down in case a dog (or other animal) has used it as a toilet.
How to spot elderflower?
Elderflower plants are actually a type of small, flowering tree. It’s their large clusters of small cream coloured flowers that make them easy to spot. Their leaves are also quite distinct as they are made up of 5-7 small oval “leaflets” with festery edges.
You will also know it’s elderflower because they give off a wonderful sweet, perfumey scent.
Now you know the theory, it’s time to put it into practice. Enoy!
- Fermentation bucket
- 10 x 1 litre champagne or wine bottles (must be suitable for holding carbonated drinks)
- Begin by steralising all of your equipment. This can be done with a chemical steralising powder or by using soapy water and leaving to dry.
- Pour 4 litres of hot water in to your steralised fermentation bucket along with 1600g of sugar.
- Stir until the sugar has dissolved.
- Top up with the remaining 6 litres of cold water and add the elderflower florets, lemon zest and juice.
- In the meantime, activate the yeast with a little warm water and sugar (according to the packets instructions).
- Add to the sugar water and elderflower, stir well and put the lid on the fermentation bucket.
- Leave to ferment for 2 weeks.
- Strain the elderflower and zest from the champagne. Leave to rest for a further week before bottling in freshly steralised champagne bottles.
- If the champagne has lost a little fizz when you bottle, add a little syrup made from hot water and sugar (no more than 10g of sugar per litre).
More elderflower recipes
More foraged foods
If you want to see more foraged foods, let me know! There’s a whole wealth of tasty ingredients in our hedgerows and parks.