It’s a little late in the season to be posting about elderflower champagne – the elderflowers have come and gone months ago. But it was only last night that we had an opportunity to try our first successful bottle of the bubbly stuff.
We started the batch on June 17, 2010 from elderflowers picked around the farm. The inspiration: an episode of River Cottage in which Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall made elderflower champagne with mushroom man John Wright. They made it look so easy, and indeed, it is… sort of.
The recipe (details below) is pretty simple: mix up four liters of hot water with some sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, a little vinegar, and a bunch of elderflower heads in a big bucket. Let it ferment for about 7 days, then bottle it. After another week of fermentation, the champagne should be ready for consumption. It should keep for several months.
Four liters is a lot of champagne (a typical champagne bottle is 750ml). We bottled half of it in glass bottles with Grolsch-style stoppers, the other half in plastic bottles 2L bottles. And about a month later, we tried our first bottle, one of the Grolsch-tops.
Lots of flavor and elderflower aroma. But no fizz.
C’est la vie. The rest of the champagne was left to languish behind the couch in the office, and we mostly forgot about. Until last night.
We had a few friends over from London and thought it was a good opportunity to see if the plastic bottle champagne did any better.
Though much more cheap and hideous in appearance than their fancy Grolsch-style neighbors, the plastic bottles did an incredibly job of holding in the fizz, as you can see by the protruding bottle cap and steamy champagne-like opening effect.
And after nearly four months of fermenting in the bottle, the champagne was very dry – and very alcoholic. It want down a treat and I’m psyched that, despite our initial disappointment, the recipe was a success after all. Will make again. Cheers!
Adapted from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s elderflower champagne recipe. The link is well worth a visit for the very helpful (and amusing) comments from other people who have tried this recipe.
- 4 litres hot water
- 700g sugar
- Juice and zest of four lemons
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- About 15 elderflower heads, in full bloom
- A pinch of dried yeast (you may not need this)
1. Put the hot water and sugar into a large container (a spotlessly clean bucket is good) and stir until the sugar dissolves, then top up with cold water so you have 6 litres of liquid in total.
2. Add the lemon juice and zest, the vinegar and the flower heads and stir gently.
3. Cover with clean muslin and leave to ferment in a cool, airy place for a couple of days. Take a look at the brew at this point, and if it’s not becoming a little foamy and obviously beginning to ferment, add a pinch of yeast.
4. Leave the mixture to ferment, again covered with muslin, for a further four days. Strain the liquid through a sieve lined with muslin and decant into sterilised strong glass bottles with champagne stoppers (available from home-brewing suppliers) or Grolsch-style stoppers, or sterilized screw-top plastic bottles (a good deal of pressure can build up inside as the fermenting brew produces carbon dioxide, so strong bottles and seals are essential).
5. Seal and leave to ferment in the bottles for at least a week before serving, chilled. The champagne should keep in the bottles for several months. Store in a cool, dry place.