If you have been out and about in the countryside over the last week or so you probably can’t help having noticed that the Elder is blooming for all it is worth. I know I posted on this last year, but its one of my favourite hedgerow treats, so I reckon it was worth revisiting.
Whilst camping on Exmoor recently with a freind who is a fellow hedgerow brewer we discovered that a few of our brews had definitely passed the “not compltely awful” benchmark. Maybe its time to start setting the bar a bit higher? “Not at all bad” might be a bit of a stretch, but we reckoned we were getting there!
Elderflower champagne though is one of the real highlights of the hedgerow year, not to be missed. It is ready comparatively quickly. If you make some now you could be drinking it with friends in the sunshine in late July.
The following is Dave’s method for 2012. It has been adapted over the past few years from the myriad of recipies out there on the internet. It changes a bit every year, sort of a champagne evolution.
Gather 35 or so nice big elderflower heads. Make sure you leave plenty behind for the local insects on each bush.
You will need a vessel in which to ferment the champagne, a sterilised clean bucket will do if nothing else is available.
Boil 10-12 litres of water and allow to cool in the bucket. Add 2.5 kg granulated white sugar and stir until dissolved. Add the juice and zest from 5 lemons and 1 lime. Add 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar. Give the elderflowers a good shake in the garden to remove the small insects that have hitched a ride and then add these as well. Add a sachet of either champagne or general purpose wine yeast. Cover with a clean cloth.
You can use the natural yeasts which will be present on the flowers, but they seem to me to be quite weather dependant and this year we have had so much rain I have decided to go for the champagne yeast option.
After a week or so the fermentation will start to slow, strain into demijohns leaving the flowers and lemon zest behind. This will let you monitor the fermentation more easily so you can see how its doing. The aim is to bottle just before the fermentation has completely finished, it will finish in the bottle, and thats where the bubbles come from. Last year in the end I left it for a further week in the demijohns and it was plenty fizzy enough.
Elderflower champagne comes with a warning, ignored at your peril! Depending on the point when you bottle it can be very, very fizzy. I have exploded a number of glass bottles over the years and would recomend caution. For some reason they always seem to explode very early in the morning, not the most popular thing with some people! By far the safest is a plastic fizzy drink bottle, when the pressure builds up too much you can crack the lid open a bit to release pressure before it splits. If you do choose to use glass bottles make sure they are strong ones and keep one bottled in plastic alongside so you can see when to release the pressure.
I have been reading up on elder brews a bit this year and discovered a few people out there recomending using a hydrometer to check how close the fermentation is to finishing and bottling when the reading is between 1004 and 1008. I am going to give that a go this year and see if it results in a few less expolsions. Will report back later and let you know how it went. If it goes well I am hopeful of a few fizzy brews. Last year I made rhubarb champagne by accident, I must have bottled the wine too early and discovered it when the bottles started popping their corks under the stairs. It was really tasty though, and might be on the agenda for later this year too.
The Elderflower doesn’t keep for more than 3 or 4 months, give it about 6 weeks in the bottle, wait for a perfect summers evening, chill and then enjoy!