The Brewers Droop Blog
The Best Recipe for Elderflower Wine / Elderflower Champagne - Your way!
Making Elderflower Wine or Elderflower ‘Champagne’ is often cited as being notably simple. If you look online to find an Elderflower Champagne recipe though (or an Elderflower Wine recipe), you are bombarded with all kinds of variations which can be bewildering and a job to just decide to put faith in one and go for that. This ‘your way’ build-your-own style recipe aims to cut through the confusion and variations so that you can learn how to make Elderflower Wine or Elderflower Champagne properly, without having to subscribe to any other party’s specific version. We will explain why you might use certain ingredients and suggest common alternatives. The truth is that making Elderflower Wine or Elderflower Champagne is an extremely flexible process.
Before we dive into the actual recipe, it’s worth spending a moment to understand why there are so many variations and what decisions there are to make so that you end up with the beverage you expect and desire.
Problems with the Simplest Method
The simplest and most traditional way to make Elderflower Champagne, and how some people still do, is to literally just dump all of the elderflowers in with sugary water in a bucket, leave it a few days, stirring often to extract the flavours and then move the liquid into bottles right away, to continue fermenting under pressure in order to get the ‘fizz’. This does work, but is fraught with many problems. Mainly, the ‘Champagne’ or ‘Sparkling Wine’ (technically, we should avoid calling it Champagne) made this way becomes very effervescent and unstable and the drink can taste very thin or empty. It can also taste pretty funky due to the unpredictable yeast strains involved, which can be desirable for some, but can be mildly to fairly unpleasant also and with a specialised yeast, you can be sure of a decent flavour as well as repeatability.
Decisions to be Made:
The reason why it often becomes way too fizzy (too carbonated) is because the method above employs the wild yeast found naturally on the flowers, rather than a cultured yeast, which is therefore unpredictable since you have no idea which of the thousands of possible strains you are going to get working in your brew. Wild yeast found on Elderflower often tends to ferment rather slowly in terms of actually converting the sugar into alcohol, but it does so for a very long time, resulting in an ever increasing carbonation level. Extremely high carbonation levels are a problem because apart from the obvious issue of exploding bottles, when you do manage to open the bottle, all the yeast gets lifted by the CO2 trapped underneath the sediment and mixes up with the drink, making it impossible to taste the faux-Champagne cleanly (or open it indoors).
This issue is of less concern when making a still wine of course, but as mentioned earlier, the flavour can be particularly unpredictable with wild yeast, and whilst you might get lucky, we don’t think it’s worth the risk, when you can ensure good results from a specialised yeast strain.
How much body?
The lack of body in the simplest, traditional method, on the other hand, is due to what is NOT present in the solution. Elderflowers contain almost no tannin, which is what gives wine, red wine especially, that full-bodied sensation and can be puckering in extreme cases. You will especially notice a lack of tannins in a still wine, as opposed to sparkling elderflower wine, since there is no carbonation to lift the sense of body in a different way. You can get tannins into your wine by using grape juice concentrate, naturally rich in tannin, powdered wine tannin, or even tea bags.
Less common but well worth consideration is whether you want any extra flavours in your Elderflower Wine or Elderflower Champagne. Elderflower is quite a delicate flavour and while it is nice on it’s own, it can work extremely well with other flavours such as raspberry or mint. You can add the flavour by either adding juice or adding the fruit along with the flowers (in this recipe, we add the flowers a couple of days into fermentation so as to impede the wild yeast without destroying or damaging any desirable flavours with heat.
Per Gallon / 4.5 Litres (of roughly 10% ABV Elderflower Wine or Elderflower Champagne)
Replace up to 30% with juice
1kg [Brewing] Sugar
Replace 200-300g with White Grape Juice Concentrate
Less if using juice
A ‘pint’ of Elderflower Petals
Champagne Yeast (Lalvin EC1118 is great)
1 Tsp Citric Acid
Juice of 2 Lemons
(unless using acidic juice / fruit)
*½ Tsp Wine Tannin
*1 Tsp Yeast Nutrient
PLUS 1 crushed Vitamin B1 tab
*Extra flavouring such as Mint Leaves / Berries (optional)
*Sodium Metabisulphite / Campden Tablets
PLUS Potassium Sorbate
Both optional and only applicable if making still wine
*Optional (but advisable) row. **Only if using fruit.
- Food-grade bucket (for fermenting in) - big enough for the entire batch.
- Syphon tube (preferably with a yeast filter on the end)
- Hydrometer (optional but very useful to get the right amount of sugars)
- [Still wine only] Secondary fermentation vessel(s) to fit the batch
- Could be another bucket or large plastic fermenter
- Or multiple demijohns (if making more than 1 gallon)
Here’s a quick summary of what you’ll be doing in order:
- Getting the initial brew on by:
- Sterilising your primary fermenting vessel
- Mixing your water with the sugar / grape concentrate / juice / vitamins / acid
- Aerating the must
- Pitching the yeast
- Adding the elderflower / extra bits
- Pick the elderflower
- Scrape off the petals into the fermenter
- Add any other fruit / leaves / herbs etc.
- Move into bottles (for sparkling) or secondary (for still)
- Sterilise your syphon and secondary vessel/s
- Syphon into secondary vessel/s
- If sparkling:
- Add half a teaspoon of brewing sugar per 500ml
- Seal and make sure they can handle pressure
- Wait for a couple of weeks before enjoying.
- If still:
- Pop an airlock or equivalent system on there and allow to bubble away.
- [For still wine only] Ensure stability by:
Either leaving it for an extremely long time
Stopping and Stabilising with Campden Tablets (Sodium Metabisulphite) and Potassium Sorbate.
- [Still wine only] Bottle it up and wait a while!
Instructions and Explanations
1. [Day 0] Start fermenting before gathering flowers
The reason for doing this is to build up the alcohol with your specialised yeast as a natural wild yeast inhibitor. Just 2 or 3 full days of healthily fermenting good champagne yeast will easily reach alcohol levels to inhibit most wild yeast - which usually only tolerates up to about 3%. This way, when your flowers do go in, you’ll have the fully natural flavour of the fresh flowers.
1a. Thoroughly sterilise all equipment before use. Plastic or metal should be sterilised with a chemical steriliser and fully rinsed after it’s taken effect (unless you are using no-rinse sanitizer). Cloth, like muslin, if you are using any, should be boiled for a moment. Wood cannot be sterilised.
1b. Make up your solution and make sure it is fully mixed.
If using juice to add an extra flavour, use no more than 1 part to 2 parts water else you risk making the must too acidic. Roughly, for every gallon (4.5 litres) of pure water, add a kilogram of sugar to get about a 10% ABV product. Use a hydrometer as you add the sugar to get closer to your desired target ABV. Brewing sugar is pure dextrose and thus easiest to metabolise by the yeast resulting in a more complete yield than ‘normal’ sugar but it’s still fine. Also add your grape juice concentrate, if you’re using any, at this point, along with the tannin (1 teaspoon per gallon of water) or tea (cold- brewed from one teabag per gallon previously). Your lemon juice or citric acid also goes in at this point. Finally, mix in your nutrients - this helps the yeast thrive - especially if there is little but sugar and water.
1c. Oxygenate the must vigorously. Stir it so that it splashes for a good ten minutes or spend a few minutes shaking it around if possible. The more oxygen you start off with, the more your yeast will multiply and the healthier fermentation you will get once they run out of oxygen and start converting sugar.
1d. Now you are ready to pitch your yeast! Most modern specialized yeast strains are able to go straight into the must without prior rehydration. Just sprinkle the yeast on to the surface of the must - it will take care of itself. Put the lid on, with an airlock if you have it or otherwise leave a tiny portion of the lid unsealed for the gas to escape from.
2. [Day 2 or 3] Add the Elderflowers and Optional Flavourings
Elderflowers brown very quickly after being picked, so be sure to pick them on the same day as you will be adding them; ideally, within a few hours. If you’re using raisins for a fuller body, you’ll chop these up today too and add them. It is best to freeze any fruit such as raspberries beforehand, to break down the cell walls so that the flavours come out more readily when introduced to the must.
2a. Pick the elderflower. Many people claim that it is best to pick your elderflower in the morning, or early in the day as they lose their delicate flavour later on. You are primarily looking for the bright white flowers which lose a little pollen dust as you pick them. You’ll need quite a few. Leave them on their stems at this point, with the stems, a gallons worth should take up about a gallons worth of space loose in the bottom of a fermentation bucket (including green stems). Have a nice time!
2b. Scrape the flowers off of the green stems into the fermenter directly using a fork. Gently comb up the thin flower stems toward the flowers so that they pop off on to the surface of the must. Don’t worry about a few little green bits but the stems do contain a toxin which is preferable to leave out. Give the must a gentle stir with a sterilised paddle, folding in the elderflower to allow it all to imbue its essence into the must.
2c. Add the raisins, fruit, herbs and leaves if using any. The raisins should be chopped into two or three pieces each. Berries should be frozen overnight prior to adding - this can be good for leaves / needles too. In the same way as the elderflowers, gently fold in the matter.
If you used fresh fruit, you will need to add some Pectolase at this point to avoid a pectin haze later on.
3. [Day 7, 8 or 9] ‘Rack’ to Secondary (for still wine) or transfer to bottles (for sparkling)
If you’re making a sparkling wine / champagne, you’re pretty much done. All that’s left to do now is move the product into the sterilised bottles (be sure that they are capable of holding pressure) and give the yeast a little extra sugar to eat in case most of what was there before has all gone. Still wine takes a bit more time as you need to continue fermenting in another vessel as you must still move it off the yeast cake but you’ll be bottling later.
3a. Sterilise everything that’s going to come into contact with the liquid. Tubes, new vessels, paddles, hydrometer, whatever. It’s a pain but you want to minimize the risk of infection at every part of the process where it is feasible to do so.
3b. Syphon into the next vessel. Leaving behind all the matter such as flowers, fruit, leaves, raisins etc.
3bi. [for sparkling] into bottles with half a teaspoon of brewing sugar per 500ml of the sparkling wine.
Seal and be certain they won’t explode / fail due to pressure.
Wait a couple of weeks.
-The Sparkling Elderflower Wine / Elderflower Champagne is now done! Enjoy!-
3bii [for still] Syphon into demijohn/s or large fermenter if you’re making a big batch. Avoid splashing as much as possible. Now that the yeast has switched to anaerobic respiration, it won’t metabolise oxygen being newly introduced, so mixing air with the wine will have a degradative effect. Therefore, try to syphon into the new vessels from the bottom up to avoid splashing and oxygenation.
You can even add another handful of chopped raisins at this point if you want a nice, full body. Since raisins normally sink, they don’t pose much of a mold risk (like surface-floating items do such as leaves and flowers).
Pop an airlock and bung or equivalent system on the top and put it somewhere between 18 and 21 degrees C. Out of direct sunlight.
Let it bubble away for a week or two (how long will depend on how you want it - see next step).
4. [about 3 weeks] Stabilise the wine
Before you put the wine in it’s final resting place (probably bottles), you will need to ensure it’s stability; as in make sure that it’s not going to ‘come to life’ and pop its cork unexpectedly at some point in the future. Still wine should keep for years, so it is very important that all fermentation has completely ceased before bottling and isn’t going to reoccur once inside the bottles.
If you want to ‘stop’ the wine at a specific sweetness, you will need a hydrometer to monitor it gravity every couple of days. Once it hits the desired gravity you must use option 1 below immediately. Otherwise, give it a couple of weeks and then you have two options here.
One option is to use food-grade steriliser and preservatives to kill off the yeast and ensure future unfermentability. The second option is to wait a very long time before bottling. Some people don’t like the idea of adding ‘chemicals’ to the wine, favouring the more natural processes / products. This is ok but be aware that even after many months, sometimes, when conditions change, a small amount of yeast can suddenly revive itself and begin fermenting again. So whilst more natural, using time as your only stabiliser isn’t so reliable.
4. Option 1. Chemical Stabilisation
This is the only surefire method to ensure that your still wine stays still.
For each gallon of wine, crush one campden tablet and mix it with half a teaspoon of Fermentation Stopper (potassium sorbate) and mix it in gently into the wine with a sterilised utensil (like the top end of a long plastic spoon or paddle). Alternatively dissolve the chemicals into a small amount of warm water in a sterilised cup and then pour it in and stir gently.
Stuff a ball of cotton wool in the neck of the demijohn to allow the vapours to leave easily but form a barrier for bugs. Give it a gentle stir the next day too and leave one more day.
The next day (two days after adding the chemicals) replace the cotton wool with the airlock again. Give it another day or two to clear. You may want to add wine finings at this point if it doesn’t seem to be clearing well.
4. Option 2. Grandfather Time Method
This method is pretty reliable but not as reliable as using chemical stabilisers and preservatives. Plus, you will have to wait much longer before you can bottle. However it does mean that your wine will be free of any synthetic compounds and the natural ageing can produce a great flavour so long as you are careful not to let it oxidise and you keep it in a cool, relatively dark place.
Move the demijohn / fermenter to a cool, fairly dark place and leave it for a minimum of two months, even up to six months. Check the airlock every once in awhile to make sure it doesn’t dry out. Drop a bit of water in there if it starts getting low. Otherwise, just wait!
When you finally do transfer it into bottles, syphon it very carefully into another sterilised vessel without disturbing or taking any sediment and without splashing. This wine will be extremely sensitive to oxidation so minimizing contact with the air is of utmost importance. From there, syphon it carefully into your bottles. The first transferral here is optional but makes it much easier to avoid carrying over any sediment into your final product. There should be zero yeast in you final product for two reasons: it may start fermenting again; and it won’t look good if it settles on the bottom of the bottle.
Now wait. It is ready right away but the flavour will change over time. Elderflower wine is usually best drunk within about two years. Enjoy
-And that’s it - you’ve made Elderflower Wine!-