It's elderflower season and the trees are weighed down with huge frothy flowers this year. The best thing to do with elderflowers is to make elderflower champagne. It makes a refreshing summer drink, becoming more fizzy the longer its left. A blog about elderflower champagne was the first blog I ever wrote in 2013 as the Quirky Bird Gardener, how things have changed.
Elder flowers on the trees
I don't get time to make elderflower champagne every year, time is not on my side these days but when I do, I enjoy capturing summer in a bottle. We do of course sample some before it is bottled. It is still when made but given time it will become fizzy and more alcoholic (yay!). Hopefully it won't explode out the bottles! More on that later. Needless to say at the moment it is a refreshing summer drink, especially if chilled. Add some gin for an alcoholic refreshing drink.
Frothy elder flowers
Re the bottles exploding........I remember when I was young (aye longer ago than I care to remember) my parents made elderflower champagne, bottled it in wine bottles with corks and laid the bottles in the wine rack in the dining room. One evening there was a series of bangs like a small gun going off and the noise was traced to the dining room which was by now awash with Elderflower champagne. The pressure in the bottles had built up too much and they had popped their corks!!!! Nowadays its recommended to bottle it into screw top fizzy drink bottles, so we shall see!
Thousands of tiny flowers
Elderflower champagne is easy to make, and you don’t need any special equipment: just a clean saucepan (or wine bucket as we use, depending on the quantity you intend to make!) and some empty fizzy juice bottles. Elderflower champagne is similar to lemonade but with a beautiful floral taste, and is mildly alcoholic (drinkable from about 1.5% alcohol by volume). You only need 5 or 6 “heads” of flowers to make one gallon of champagne so it doesn’t take more than a few minutes to gather them, and the finished champagne is ready to drink in two or three weeks.
For 4.5L (one gallon) you will need:
five or six heads of elderflower
750g (one and a half pounds) of sugar
two tablespoons of vinegar (preferably cider vinegar)
enough plastic fizzy drinks bottles to hold the elderflower champagne.
Lemons sliced, ready for adding to the mix
Plastic bottles are better than glass because you can give them a squeeze to see how much pressure has built up, and if you forget them for a few days they won’t explode – the crimp at the bottom will pop out instead, and the noise of the bottle falling over will alert you.
Note that there is no added yeast in this recipe. The flowers are not scalded or sterilised, which leaves the wild yeasts naturally present on the blooms to do the fermentation for you.
How to make elderflower champagne
Pick nice young flower heads, where the flowers have not yet started to drop petals or turn brown. You’ll get pollen on you, but don’t worry – it doesn’t stain. Use the flowers promptly or the aroma will change and become unpleasant.
Put 4.5 litres (1 gallon) of water in a large lidded saucepan.
Add the elderflower heads (having shaken any bugs off them first) and two sliced lemons. Put the lid on, and leave it for a 24 to 36 hours.
Strain the liquid through a clean cloth. A sieve will do fine if you don’t mind a few petals or tiny bugs in the drink, and it won’t alter the taste one bit.
Add 750g (one and a half pounds) of sugar and two tablespoons of cider vinegar, and stir until all the sugar has dissolved.
Pour into fizzy drinks bottles. Put the tops on to keep fruit flies out, but don’t screw them on tight yet – just stand the bottles in a corner and keep an eye on them. After a few days they will start to make tiny bubbles as the wild yeasts get to work on the sugar.
After one or two weeks the bubbles will gradually slow down. When they look like they have pretty much stopped, screw the lids down and put the bottles somewhere fairly cool. Give them another few days to generate enough gas to carbonate themselves, and you’re set – just refrigerate the bottle before you need it, and serve over ice with lemon.
All the ingredients together
The elderflower champagne is still ‘live’ and continuing to ferment, so the longer it is stored the more alcoholic (and drier) it will become. Keep a note of how long it takes to be perfect for your taste, and bear that in mind for following years: by three months old it will be too dry for most tastes, but unless you make large quantities it’s unlikely to last that long. The trick with this method is to keep checking the pressure in the bottles, particularly for the first few weeks. Just give each bottle a good squeeze – if you can’t squeeze the sides in at all, then the pressure is getting too high. When this happens very gently loosen the cap until you hear gas releasing, and wait until the noise dies down (be careful of the froth) before tightening up again. Then all you have to do is sit back, relax, enjoy the summer weather (hopefully) and drink elderflower champagne.
If fermentation won’t start Wild yeast gives the best results for elderflower champagne, but it isn’t 100% reliable. if fermentation doesn’t start within ten days (tiny bubbles at stage 6) then add a tiny pinch of yeast to each bottle. Leave to stand for five minutes, then give it a gentle shake to disperse the yeast. There’s no need to use fancy yeast because we’re not trying to produce a high-alcohol drink: bread yeast is fine, as is general purpose beer or wine yeast. If you ‘rescue’ a batch this way it will tend to end up too dry unless you intervene. Taste a little from time to time and, when it’s just right, screw the lids down and move it to the fridge.