Andy Hamiton’s delicious alcoholic elderflower champagne

The fizz that characterises elderflower champagne is a result of bottling before the fermentation process has finished, normally this process is started by capturing wild yeast. This can cause problems: namely, lack of alcohol, exploding bottles and disappointing results.

(for more hedgerow drinks don’t forget to help fund my 3rd book – Wild Booze and Hedgerow Cocktails)

elder champagne with elderflowers By using a bit of fermenting know-how you can make a sparking elderflower “champagne” every year that may rival any real champagne (though I am biased since it’s my own recipe).

The first problem to look at is using wild yeast. Some areas can be wild yeast deserts meaning your champagne will never ferment. If you do manage to capture a wild yeast you never know which yeast will get to work on your drinks. Each yeast works differently so you can be in for a lottery of flavours and alcohol strengths. The only way around that is to add your own yeast and champagne yeast is the best option; this has the added bonus of making your elderflower champagne alcoholic.

Elderflower champagne in a glass

Elderflower champagne in a glass courtesy of Roy Hunt

My recipe doesn’t resemble a normal elderflower champagne recipe and it is essentially a recipe for elderflower wine which is then re-fermented. This means more reliable results and if you change your mind halfway through at least you are left with some great white wine.

There was a pleasant country belief that if the flowers were put into ale, and a man and woman drank it together, they would be married within a year. – Lesley Gordon, 1985

ALCOHOLIC ELDERFLOWER CHAMPAGNE Grated rind of one lemon 1 litre/2 pints of elderflowers 3.5 litres/8 pints of boiling water 1.3kg/3 lbs sugar Juice of one lemon Champagne yeast, 1 tsp yeast nutrient.

Put flowers into fermentation bin and mix with lemon rind, lemon juice and sugar. Pour over boiling water and allow very gently stir until fully dissolved. Allow the water to cool to around 18°c – 20°c,  then filter through a muslin cloth and add the yeast and 1 tsp yeast nutrient. Leave in a place with a steady temperature of around 20°c for a 10-14 days or until the majority of fermentation has ceased.

When you are sure all the bubbling has ceased, strain in demijohn and allow to ferment fully. About three months should do the job, keep checking with a hydrometer. When you get consistent readings over 3-4 days your wine will have fully fermented.

Bring 200ml of water to the boil and add 70g of sugar. Allow to cool then strain the wine into a another demijohn leaving the sediment. Add the 200ml of sugar solution and leave in a warm place for 24 hours.

Siphon into champagne bottles seal with champagne corks and secure them in place with metal cages. The wine should be kept at room temp for the first 10 days. After this time it is moved to a cooler place, such as a cellar. They should initially be stored horizontally and over the next three months they should be gradually moved upside down. This can be done by placing the neck into sand. Chill for 24 hours before serving and do not disturb the bottle before opening.

Any problems making alcoholic elderflower champagne?

It’s funny how so many people have the same problems when making elderflower champagne. I’ve noted most of them and hopefully, you’ll find help on my article Elderflower champagne problems from mould, no fizz to exploding bottles.

Elderflower champagne problems from mould, no fizz to exploding bottles

Elderflower by Stephen Studd

Elderflower photo courtesy of Stephen Studd

For more recipes including an elderflower champagne recipe plus more problem solving have a look at my book, Booze for free.  Or if you are a lovely person perhaps you want to share that loveliness by helping to fund my 3rd book – Wild Booze and Hedgerow Cocktails)

If you are put off by all the problems you might have making this, then perhaps you might want to try making Elderflower Liquor and an Elderflower Tom Collins.

Over the last few years I have shared a few elderflower champagne recipes. It is a very popular drink it and at some point many people will have a go at making some. Now that I’ve written Booze for Free I feel that I should help people a little more in their elderflower woes as even my Mum who’s been making elderflower champagne since before I was born is calling me up for advice! The thing is, and this is something not many will share, the traditional recipe is not without its flaws and things can easily go wrong. I’ll try to address the most common elderflower champagne problems below, if I don’t cover your problem please leave a comment and I’ll update the post.

Exploding bottles

Essentially elderflower champagne is still fermenting. The bubbles are formed when the yeast “eats” the sugar forming alcohol and carbon dioxide. This gas can build up in the bottle and as it has nowhere to go the build up of pressure can cause an explosion. You can deal with this in three ways, firstly return to the bottles every day and “burp” them by loosening the tops and allowing air to escape.

Secondly, you can put the “champagne” into a demijohn (secondary) with an airlock on it until you need it. The downside of this approach is that you may forget about it and the champagne will fully ferment, meaning no bubbles it is also more alcoholic. But don’t fear, you can treat it the same as you would with beer and add some sugar solution afterwards to get it fizzy again. About 8g of sugar dissolved in a cup of boiling water per 1L of champagne is a perfect amount.

Lastly, the fermentation process can be slowed by putting the bottles in the fridge. No fermentation, no build up of gas. Don’t worry you can take them out of the fridge an hour or so before you need them for the fizz to return.

For more recipes and problem solving have a look at my book, Booze for free.

No fizz and mould

As I said in the exploding bottles bit, essentially the elderflower is still fermenting. Most recipes call for wild yeast however, this can be a bit of a Russian roulette way of brewing. Some areas are wild yeast deserts and there won’t be any floating about. Some areas will have the wrong type of wild yeast which might get to work momentarily and then die off. If you get this problem you might have to consider adding some yeast, I find champagne yeast works very well.

If you want to save a mouldy batch, well then I don’t rate your chances but you could try siphoning into a sterilized demijohn, leaving the mouldy top behind, adding a campden tablet. Leaving for a day or so then restarting with a champagne yeast.  Once something has fermented you won’t kill anyone with it (other than alcohol poisoning), so don’t worry about that.

Booze for free front cover

For more problem solving see Andy’s book Booze for Free

It helps if you make a yeast starter first. You can do this by putting warm water in a clean cup, adding half a teaspoon of sugar then sprinkling in the dried yeast. Make this a few hours before then pitch it (add it) to the must (champagne liquid).

Cat pee or cabbage smells

Always pick your elderflowers in the morning when the pollen is rich, before it gets deteriorated by the heat of the sun we’ve been getting it or the bees nick it or whatever it is that happens! After about noon they can start to smell of cat pee or some say cabbage, this is apparently due to the cyanide in the wood but I’m happy to be corrected on this as I can only find anecdotal evidence.

Whilst we are on the subject of smells, don’t shake your elderflowers to get rid of the insects as you will be shaking off the pollen and therefore the floral flavour. Instead put them to one on newspaper and let the bugs walk off by themselves, don’t worry they will!

When to use boiling water

As Russel has quite rightly pointed out in the comments below adding boiling water onto the flowers will indeed kill off the wild yeast. This is exactly what you are looking for when  you are adding yeast as you don’t want two yeasts competing. If you plan to let your champagne spontaniously ferment then do not add boiling water over the flowers. Hot water firstly disolves the sugar but then you need to add cold water before adding the elderflowers.

Alcoholic Elderflower champagne problems

If you have come here via my Guardian blog post about Alcoholic Elderflower Champagne as you are having problems I have to say that I have now tweaked the recipe here making it much more fool proof.

Solid jelly like

Bacterial infection, no cure. Wash and sterilize everything and start again.

Mousey flavours

A horrible smell not unlike the smell of hemlock or mice. It means your champagne is off and there is no cure, sorry! It happens due to unsanitary equipment.

Elderflower Cordial Problems

Elderflower cordial can often suffer the same problems as elderflower champagne. The biggest problems happen when there is little or no sterilization of equipment. See above for jelly like and mousey flavours/smells. Also see above for mould on your elderflower cordial.

Why would elderflower cordial blow up?

If you are worried that your elderflower cordial has blown up or started to overfizz it is because it has started to ferment. I remember making some elderflower cordial once, bottling it and leaving it out of the fridge. A friend opened it and got covered in half fermenting elderflower wine wine.

Wild cordials can start to spontaneously ferment when wild yeasts get to work on them. The fermentation process causes carbon dioxide gas. Left with nowhere to go in a bottle this can build up and cause explosions.

If you suspect that your has started to ferment you could put it in a demijohn and let it ferment out and see what you end up with. Or you could put it in the fridge. Yeast activity is suspended at low temperatures (well most yeasts) and bottles in the fridge are much less likely to explode.

For more recipes and problem solving have a look at my book, Booze for free.

Turning a different (darker) colour

Is this due to oxidation? A rusty colour and sherry like taste after fermentation is a sure sign that air has got into your champagne. Enjoy your elderflower sherry or kick yourself and tip it away. Next time ensure that there everything is sealed throughout the process or add a crushed campden tablet and see if that helps.

It could also be a problem with the recipe (I put my hands up here too), if it is suggested that you leave it to stand for a number of days before adding the yeast then ignore. The yeast should be added when the water has cooled to below 20°c.

Brown liquid It could also be a sign that you have not used any acid, squeeze in the juice of a lemon per (5L/1 gallon) demijohn full or half a teaspoon of citric acid.