I have a bit of a project on the go which is a little bit different from my normal cooking and brewing. I’m making my own champagne (well sparkling wine), using dried elderflowers. I’ve been encouraged by some of the girls at work and some friends giving me gentle nudges towards being brave and trying something new and of course fizzy is something most girls like a wee drop of now and again.
So why elderflower? Well, it’s a traditional drink in the UK, especially in South East England where it’s referred to as hedgerow wine, as obviously it’s making wine with locally collected ingredients instead of those specifically grown for the purpose.
There are lots of recipes out there and lots of advice on how to do this, but I wanted to take the opportunity to blog about making my champagne so that I could maybe steer people away from some of the really bad advice out there because some of it is downright dangerous. As someone with experience of brewing, it sometimes both terrifies me and disgusts me at the advice I see given. Everything from dangerous advice about bottling before the drink is finished fermenting to no hint of sanitation. Of course, it’s also good to remember that these hedgerow wines and cordials (non-alcoholic) have been made for generations and methods will differ as will traditions, but I do think basic safety and sanitation are important regardless of methods and desired outcome.
So here is how I am making my champers and I’ll write a wee post to update you all at each step of the way.
Step 1 – making the basic wine
- 125g dried elderflower (it’s too late in the season for me to get fresh elderflower)
- Juice and rind of 4 lemons (I was lucky to be able to use some of the lemons from my own tree)
- 3.5kg sugar
- yeast nutrient (2 teaspoons)
- Add 5 liters of boiling water to a 5 gallon bucket or fermenting vessel if you have one (making sure it’s spotlessly clean and sanitised beforehand) and dissolve the sugar into it
- Add the rind and juice of the lemons and the elderflower ( I add the elderflower to the boiling water to kill the natural yeast that lives in them. I want to control the fermentation process with my own yeast and so don’t want the natural, wild yeast to be able to take hold)
- Top up to 22 litres with cold water and leave for a few hours until it is about 18 degrees C
- Take a reading using a hydrometer (this is a brewing tool which helps you measure fermentation and alcohol. You can buy these very cheap)
- Add your yeast and nutrient and leave to ferment.
- After 3 days, remove the elderflower and lemon
The process of fermentation is that the yeast you have added eats all the sugar available and as a by-product of this produces two things, alcohol and CO2. This production of CO2 is why I want to highlight this to you as there are lots of recipes and advice out there that tell you to leave your wine for a few days to bubble away (ferment) but after 3 or 4 days to bottle it. The theory being that your wine will carry on fermenting and producing CO2 and so this is how it gets fizzy in the bottle.
THIS IS INCREDIBLY DANGEROUS, PLEASE DO NOT DO THIS.
Please do not follow this advice no matter how pretty the website you’ve read it on or what celebrity chef tells you to do it.
If you bottle your wine while it is still fermenting, you have no way of knowing how much CO2 will be produced and therefore how much pressure the bottle will be under. This will lead to what is called bottle bombs. The bottles can’t take the pressure and and will explode. I mean explode, not break, not shatter – EXPLODE.
This is also why I chose to kill the natural yeast and add a yeast of my choice, to allow me to control fermentation.
My advice is that you let this first stage of fermentation finish completely before you bottle your wine. This may take 2 or 3 weeks but be patient let it finish and then when you do bottle it, you can control how much sugar the yeast has to eat and then also control how much co2 it will make. Thus get your lovely fizzy wine but also be safe.
You will know when the wine is finished fermenting by taking a specific gravity reading each day using your hydrometer and if the gravity reading is the same for 2 or more days, then it has finished.
My elderflower wine is fermenting away in my brew cupboard just now and I will bottle it this week-end (after 3 weeks) and then I’ll tell you all about controlling the secondary fermentation (in the bottle) to make it fizzy.
See how things turned out