Elderberry wine is very rich and port-like, but this recipe blends it with blackberries to give a lighter wine without sacrificing flavour. This article assumes you have some basic homebrewing skills under your belt – if you’ve not tried wine making before, we suggest you start off with elderflower wine or brewing from a kit to learn the basics.
Elder trees are native to Britain, and the clusters of glossy blue-black berries are irresistible to birds and wine makers alike. The berries have been used in wine making since Roman times at least, mostly to add colour and body to otherwise disappointing wines – but they also make cracking jams and pies, and are very useful to reduce the symptoms of flu.
The problem with ‘straight’ elderberry wine is that it’s just too rich. Full-bodied and porty, it delivers a kick like a mule and anyone who has a second glass risks a world-class headache. It also takes at least two years to mature, although the flavour when it gets there is unbeatable. How then to get a less potent wine out of elderberries?
This recipe gets round both problems by combining elderberries with blackberries. Blackberry wine is quick to mature and has less body than elderberry wine, so a 50:50 mix of the two is just about perfect. ‘Elder and black’ is rich and distinctive, but not so potent that you have to be afraid of that second glass. Ready to drink in a year, it’s at its fruity best by Christmas the year after it was made.
This recipe is a step up from our elderflower wine recipe, and not the easiest wine for beginners to try. If you really want to have a go, read the elderflower wine recipe first – and the articles that it links to, especially sterilisation and homebrew equipment.
“Elder and black” elderberry wine recipe
To make one gallon (4.5 litres)
- 1kg (2.2lb) elderberries
- 1kg (2.2 lb) blackberries
- 4.5L (8 pints) water
- 1.5kg (3.3lb) sugar
- 1tsp yeast nutrient
- Juice of one lemon
- 1tsp pectolase
- 1 sachet red wine yeast (NB one sachet is enough for up to 5 gallons)
- Strip the elderberries off their stalks and mash them together with the blackberries in a sterilised brew bin or lidded food grade plastic tub. Pour over 2.25 litres (4 pints) of boiling water, and leave to cool.
- When at room temperature add the yeast nutrient, lemon juice, pectolase and red wine yeast, following the instructions on the sachet. Stir well, cover and leave for a week, stirring daily with a ladle or similar implement which has been scalded with boiling water.
- Strain through a straining bag into another sterilised container. Resist the urge to squeeze the bag, as this can lead to problems with haze – leave it to drip through overnight if necessary.
- Add the sugar and top up to 4.5L (one gallon) again. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, and stand the container on several thicknesses of newspaper until the initial fermentation dies down. Be warned – in warm conditions it can produce a lot of (staining) froth, which is why we haven’t put it in a demijohn yet!
- Once the ferment begins to subside, transfer the wine to a demijohn if you are using one, and leave to ferment. From here on the process is the same as our elderflower wine recipe, apart from the longer maturing time. Just rack, stop, clear and bottle (or not) as usual. Remember to store the wine away from light, to preserve the glorious colour.
Tips for picking blackberries
The amount of blackberries that you pick is what will determine the volume of wine that you can make this year (since picking elderberries is relatively quick). Blackberries grow on the bramble, a fearsomely armoured roadside weed – but choose plants away from busy roads if you can. For the tastiest, juciest blackberries, pick from the south side of a plant (where the light is good), working only above knee height so you can be sure the plant hasn’t been contaminated by passing dogs.
Harvesting reasonable amounts of blackberries successfully is all about preparation. Choose long sleeves and trousers made of close-weave, snag-proof material. A plastic bag is no good for collecting berries because it tends to get ripped quickly; a plastic bucket is much more reliable. A plastic mug with a handle is also a really good idea.
Because you are in competition with birds and other human foragers, getting the biggest and best berries usually means reaching into the bush. This is where your snag-proof clothing comes in handy! Push the vines out of the way using the plastic mug. Pick the berries and put them into the mug with your other hand, so that you aren’t constantly reaching in and out of the bush. When you disentangle yourself from the bush, tip the contents of the mug into your collecting bucket.
At the end of your blackberry picking session, pick the fruit over for any visible insects and leaves and then freeze it overnight. Although not essential, this trick makes mashing the fruit much easier – but do remember to leave it out to defrost the night before you need it!
Tips for picking elderberries
Elderberries (right) grow on little sprigs, and need to be removed from them before brewing. You can harvest lots of elderberries very quickly if you just cut the sprigs from the trees using scissors, but you then have the tedious job of stripping them from the springs when you get home. You can use a fork for this, but it’s much quicker using a rake comb or other wide-toothed comb.
As an alternative, use a belt or strap to hang a collecting bucket around your neck leaving both hands free for harvesting. Make sure that you can get it off easily if it gets caught on something. Pull the sprigs towards you using one hand, and strip the berries into your bucket using a rake comb held in your other hand. Once you get the knack, this is the fastest way to collect large amounts of berries (provided you don’t mind looking foolish doing it).
Please note that elder branches are not as strong as they look, particularly when they are young – don’t yank them around too hard.
Removing elderberry and blackberry juice stains
Both elderberry and blackberry juice stain everything they come into contact with, including skin. To remove juice from fabric, saturate the stain with white vinegar and then tamp it thoroughly with a clean dry cloth, working in towards the middle to avoid spreading it. Wash the item out thoroughly with plenty of cold water, and finally launder as normal.
Bottles image courtesy DanaK~WaterPenny on Flickr