Elderflower champagne – part 1

elderflower champagne

I have a bit of a project on the go which is a little bit different from my normal cooking and brewing. I’m having a go at making my own champagne, using elderflowers. It’s probably not something I would have tried if it hadn’t been for 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.

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

Ingredients

  • 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)

 Method

  • 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
  • Top up to 22 litres with cold water and leave for a few hours until it is about 18 degrees C
  • Remove elderflower and lemon either with a sieve or by pouring this through a piece of muslin into another spotless bucket.
  • 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.

 Important information

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.

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.

elderflower champagne and citra DIPA
elderflower champagne and citra DIPA

See how things turned out

Elderflower Champagne – Part 2

20 Comments

  1. Hi – I appreciate your info here and agree with the risks of bottling right away! I have a question though – what if you want more of the elder flower taste and want to leave the flowers in longer? We were going to go with directions that say to leave the flowers in for 5 days and then bottle. I was wondering if we could do that but then let the strained ferment sit and follow your directions the rest of the way. What do you think? Thanks!

  2. Hi Lee,
    yeah I don’t see why you couldn’t.

    I usually make beer, so I’m not a big expert on wine making but I don’t see any reason why you would have an issue.

    The best thing to do is give it a try. I’ve heard it said that it takes three versions of a recipe before you find the perfect one.

    Let me know how you get on.
    Eli

  3. Hello Eli,
    Great stuff here! Reading through the recipe, I see that you say to add 5 liters of hot water and then say to add cold water to top off to 22 liters. Are you saying to add an additional 17 liters of cold water to the 5 liters of hot water already in the bucket (total =22 liters)?
    Thanks!

  4. Hi Peter,
    Yup, my recipe is to make about 22 litres. I was making a big batch but you don’t have to make such a large amount. Just reduce the sugar etc to make the amount you wish, say half everything to make 10 to 11 litres.

    Hope it goes well for you.
    Eli

  5. Pete (Birmingham)

    Hello Eli,

    Can I pick your brain? I am following your recipe (as per my previous posts) and it has been just over 2 weeks of fermenting. I have the same fermenter bin as you, but bought a grommet and air trap to keep an eye on when the fermentation stops. It’s been bubbling away nicely. There is only one problem: I go abroad for a week as week 3 starts. The bubbling has slowed but is still significant. Do I:

    a) risk bottling up the 27 bottles (recycled champagne bottles with new corks/cages) and add sugar hoping that I don’t walk back into a ruined house or b) let it carry on for a total of just over 4 weeks before bottling up/adding my 0.9g of additional sugar?

    Also, I overlooked the ‘remove elderflower’ step and so mine is still stewing (tastes bloody good still) so I am thinking I should probably strain before I go away and seal it all back up to ferment out?

    My head says strain and leave as it’ll be sealed and effectively wine until the secondary ferment, so shouldn’t harm it. But a friendly ‘yey’ or ‘neigh’ from you would give me the confidence to enjoy my holiday without worrying about it!

    Thank you!

    Pete

  6. Hey Pete,

    be careful of judging fermentation by the bubbling. Sometimes you won’t see bubbles but fermentation is still happening. I’d always judge fermentation by taking gravity readings just to be sure.

    Hmmm, I would be tempted to leave it while you are away rather than risk bottle bombs. But I’d probably want to take the elderflower out. I haven’t experienced it but I’ve heard that leaving it too long can cause off flavours.

    Just remember, anything that touches your wine needs to be sanitised, so if you are using a sieve etc, make sure you sanitise it before to go near your wine 🙂

    Let me know how it all goes.

    Eli

  7. Pete (Birmingham)

    Thank you, Eli. I just needed to here it from you. I’m a microbiologist so I’ve got the sterilisation thing covered (famous last words, eh?). I’ll keep you posted!

  8. Hi Eli,

    Thanks for your follow-up comments. Upon reviewing other elderflower champagne recipes I have found a wide variance in the ratio of sugar to water (I am looking at total sugar= white sugar + any sugar from white grape juice concentrate if the recipe calls for it), as well as the number of elder blossoms and lemons added. I was wondering how lemony the finished product tastes, how much of the elderflower comes through, and how sweet your recipe is when compared with a true champagne (brut, etc.)?
    Thanks again!

  9. Hi Pete,
    mine isn’t sweet, the sugar is eaten by the yeast so the more sugar you have the more alcoholic it will be rather than sweet.

    The lemons ad acid which help balance out the environment for the yeast.

    As far as taste, the longer you leave the elderflower the stronger it’s flavour will be but as this was the first time I’d tried this recipe I don’t have any variables to compare it to. Again the same with what type of fizzy wine to compare it to, I don’t drink am awful lot of fizzy wine so would struggle but mine was more dry than sweet but not overly sharp.

    It’s usually beer I make so this was a bit of a change from my usual.

  10. Hello,
    Going to give this a first attempt this year. I like your recipe as it seems very straightforward. I just have a little concern about the bottling process. I intend to drink the champagne in September, but will need to move it from my place in London to the place I’m getting married in. If the champagne is bottled in proper champagne bottles and corks does it completely remove the chance of it exploding? Or is it still a risk?

    Thanks

    Jasmine

  11. hey Jasmine,
    firstly congratulations and wow,making champagne for your wedding, how very cool!

    There are two pieces of advice I’d give you to help prevent “bottle bombs”, although there is never a 100% guarantee, I’ve never had one yet.
    First, yes it’s very important that you use proper champagne bottles as because champagne is so fizzy, it is under VERY high pressure. Champagne bottles are deliberately thicker walled than other bottles to cope with this pressure. If you use non champagne bottles, there is a high chance they won’t cope and will explode.

    Secondly, You really do need to let your fizz ferment out properly before you bottle it, make sure all the sugar has been eaten by the yeast. Otherwise, when you bottle, the yeast will make more CO2 than you plan for and that is what causes things to explode. You can tell when it’s ready by taking readings with a hydrometer, if the reading stays the same for 3 days – it’s ready.

    Please feel free to give me a shout at any point if you want some advice or have a question, absolutely happy to help 🙂

    On a side note, we have 2 bottles of ours left. We have saved it to drink on our first wedding anniversary this summer.

    Eli

  12. Hey Jasmine,
    How has it gone with the champagne making?

    You’ll be in full swing of organising now I imagine.

    Eli

  13. We’re you happy with the results Lee?
    Did you get the elder flower taste you were after?
    Eli

  14. Hi Eli, Great information, I have been looking for a recipe that uses dried elderflower and have come across yours.

    I only have one question I see in this recipe you are using 125g dried elderflower for 22 litres but on your youtube video you are doing a 10 litre batch with 200g with dried elderflowers, so I am a little confused why we are using less in a bigger batch.

    Any help would be great.

    Thanks

  15. Hi Eli, Great information, I have been searching for a recipe that uses dried elderflower and have come across yours.

    I only have one question, in this recipe for 22 litres you are using 125g dried elderflowers but I have saw a you tube video you did earlier this year were you are using 200g dried elderflowers for a 10 litre batch so I am a little confused as to why we are using less in a bigger batch.

    Any information will be great

    Thanks

  16. Hi Michael,
    We’ll done you for being thorough.

    You are correct, my original recipe used less elderflower but I recently decided to experiment with amounts and tested both using more and leaving it for longer.

    I was always wary of doing this as there have been other people talking of it causing off flavours but my experience has been that the recipe I did on you tube is so much better flavour wise, just a much fuller flavour.

    So be brave, go big!

  17. Hi Eli, Thanks for coming back to me I think I’ll be giving it a go over the next few days so I’ll go big haha.

    Would you just double up for 20 litres?

    BTW love all your brewing blogs

  18. Not at all, glad if I can help.

    I’d say be bold, double it and leave it for a week.

    Remember though, cleanliness is super important. You don’t want to waste your efforts by getting an infection.
    Eli

  19. Yep, if you want to brew a bigger amount just multiple. This comes in handy for doing smaller batches too. I used to have 4 kegs on all the time, but we could never get through that before I wanted to brew again. I found doing smaller batches meant I could brew more often and also could change up the beer on tap so we didn’t get bored too quickly.

    Mostly I’d say don’t be afraid to experiment, brewing is meant o be fun:)

    Might do a video update of this year’s elderflower wine over the weekend if I get time, so check back on the youtube channel. I have found a bottle from the last batch and old recipe so I might do a side by side tasting 🙂 Wonder if I can rope some friends into helping.

    Eli

  20. Hey Michael,

    I did a side by side review of the two recipes for youtube over the weekend comparing the previous recipe with the new recipe.
    Check out the video panel on the right and it’ll give you a better idea of the impact of upping the elderflower,
    Eli

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