Light, crisp, floral and with the most amazing aroma, elderflower wine is probably the easiest homemade wine for beginners, and one of the most delicious too. If you’ve made elderflower champagne or cordial before, elderflower wine is the next step – and well worth the effort. Elderflower is one of the most captivating flavours of the English hedgerow, and this recipe keeps the wine base very simple to let those floral notes just sing out.
First time winemaker?
If this is your first venture into home winemaking, don’t panic: I’ll provide links with examples of equipment and any special techniques, such as racking, in time for you to use them. As for how much wine to make: when you’re making country wines it takes hardly any more effort to make five gallons than it does to make one. If you’re making five gallons (22.5 litres) use a lidded brewing bin: if you’re making one gallon (4.5 litres) use a demijohn with an airlock.
Elderflower wine recipe ingredients
The quantities below are for 5 gallons, with the quantities for 1 gallon brews given in brackets.
- 110 heads of elderflowers (24 heads)
- 1kg of sultanas (200g)
- 75g of citric acid (15g)
- 375ml strong black tea (75ml)
- Wine yeast compound (or yeast nutrient and yeast) as per packet instructions
- 5.5kg granulated sugar (1.1kg)
- Stopper/stabiliser powder
If you can’t get fresh elderflowers you can still make this wine using 100g (20g) of dried elderflowers although the flavour is not so fine. If you can pick the flowers but don’t have the time to actually make the wine, trim them as per step 1 in the recipe below and put them in an airtight plastic container for freezing. Use them straight from frozen.
Equipment (for beginners)
- Brew bin with lid, or demijohn and airlock. Having a second container makes straining much easier
- Sterilising powder
- Super wine yeast compound, or yeast and nutrient
- Straining bag
- Campden tablets
- Syphon tube
- 30 (6) 750ml wine bottles; screw type, or with corks and a corker
Elder trees (Sambucus nigra) are very common throughout the UK, and flower in May and June. They produce thousands of tiny off-white flowerlets clustered into distinctive ‘heads’, which are quite aromatic. Don’t confuse elder with the invasive weed ground elder, which doesn’t have the same flavour. At a quick glance the leaves and flowers of ground elder are very similar, hence the name, but it doesn’t have a woody stem. If you can’t see a woody trunk, don’t use it.
Pick the flowers on a warm, dry day when they are fully open, but avoid any that have started to go brown as they have an off-putting bitter taste. As you pick them, give them a gentle shake or tap to dislodge any bugs that may be on board. Otherwise, be gentle with them and use them as quickly as you can. Bruise them or leave them for too long, and they’ll develop a peculiar smell often compared to cat pee, although thankfully this doesn’t persist in the wine.
How to make elderflower wine
- Give each flower head a quick shake to knock off any remaining bugs, then trim the flowerlets off the stems with a pair of scissors (or strip them off with a wide-toothed comb) into a sterilised brew bin or lidded food grade plastic tub. You should end up with about 1 pint of trimmed flowerlets for every gallon of wine. Don’t be tempted to use more, or the aroma may become unpleasant. Thanks to reader Vambo for the comb suggestion!
- Chop the sultanas up a bit with a sharp knife and add them to the brew bin or tub. If you find this too messy, give them a quick blip in batches in a food processor. You’re not aiming to pulp them, just break the skins.
- Bring 2 gallons / 9 litres (4 pints / 2.25 litres for the smaller brew) of water to the boil and add the sugar and citric acid. Stir until it has all dissolved, and pour it over the flowers and sultanas. Put the lid on and leave it overnight for the water to extract most of the sugar from the fruit.
- Next day, add another 1 gallon / 4.5 litres (2 pints / 1.125 litres for the smaller brew) of cold water plus the yeast compound powder (or yeast and yeast nutrient) and the tea. Give it a quick stir. Take care to read the instructions on the yeast, as they vary from type to type: most modern yeasts can be added dry but a few need to be made up as a ‘starter bottle’.
- Leave the brew for four or five days. There will be an intial rush of fermentation which will push some of the flowers and fruit up in an unappetizing yeasty crust. Stir this back in daily using a ladle or similar implement which has been scalded with boiling water. Make sure that you fit the lid snugly again afterwards.
- Strain the brew into a second container. On a large scale this means using a straining bag and another brew bin, but on a small scale you can use a nylon sieve and a sterilised saucepan, and transfer it to a demijohn afterwards. Feel free to squeeze the pulp to get as much liquid out as you can and then put the pulp in your compost bin, mixed with other materials.
- Top the liquid up to 5 gallons / 22.5 litres (1 gallon / 4.5 litres for the smaller brew) with water, and close the lid tightly (or fit the airlock, if you’re using a demijohn). Once it’s sat for a while you’ll see lots of little bubbles rising to the surface as the yeast converts the sugar to alcohol. Leave it to finish fermentation – about six weeks depending on temperature. Some people like to monitor the progress of their wine with a gadget called a hydrometer, and deliberately stop it early for a sweeter wine – but this isn’t essential.
- Once the bubbles have stopped and the wine begins to look clear at the top, ‘rack’ it by syphoning or pouring it off the yeasty sediment at the bottom.
- Stop any further fermentation using campden tablets and stabilising tablets, as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Leave the elderflower wine undisturbed in a cool place to clear. This can be as little as two weeks, but it’s fine to leave it for longer if needs be.
- Rack the wine again and pour or syphon it into sterilised bottles, and close with the sterilised caps, stoppers or corks. Then label the bottles so you don’t mix it up with future brews.
Your elderflower wine should be drinkable by Christmas, but like most homebrew wines it needs to be left for a while to develop character. It will be at its best next summer, served ice cold – if any of it survives for long enough!
Featured image courtesy of Girl Interrupted Eating on Flickr