Elderflower champagne – hic!

20140617_213935This was my first attempt at making wine. We don’t have any special equipment at the moment, so I cleaned up a household bucket, asked Geoff to switch his beer-drinking habits to Grolsch for a couple of weeks (for the swing-top bottles), and bought some balloons (bear with me…).

I basically used this recipe from Channel 4, which is in turn taken from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s River Cottage Spring series. However, the reader comments on the Channel 4 page worried me so much that they almost put me off trying – it seemed nearly everyone who had tried the recipe had suffered explosions.

Ours has been going for nearly two weeks now, with no explosions so far, so below I’ll also explain how I did it safely. (Now if that’s not asking for an explosion I don’t know what is!)

elderflowerIngredients
4 litres of hot water
2 litres of cold water
juice and zest of four lemons
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
15 elderflower heads – picked before noon on a sunny day
1tsp champagne yeast (may not be needed)

Plus: 18x330ml Grolsch bottles or 12x450ml Grolsch bottles or equivalent plastic carbonated drink bottles. These must be sterilised – I used sterilising tablets made for babies’ bottles, 80p from Asda.

Instructions
1. Put the hot water and sugar in a clean bucket and stir until the sugar dissolves, then add the cold water.
2. Add the lemon juice, zest, vinegar and elderflower heads.
3. Weight down the elderflowers with a plate, so they don’t stick up out of the water and go mouldy.
4. Cover with a tea towel and leave in a cool place for two or three days.
5. Check the mixture, and if it’s not at all foamy on top, there may not be enough natural yeast in there – so add a teaspoon of champagne yeast and stir it in.
5. Leave for four or five more days, stirring each day.
6. Strain through a sieve draped in muslin and pour into bottles, leaving a 1-inch gap at the top.
20140614_0005077. Don’t seal the bottles – instead put a balloon over the neck of each one.
8. Put the bottles in a cool place, with a little space between them (in case the balloons blow up big and knock the surrounding bottles over) and revisit them every day. If the balloons are full, let out the gas. If they’ve blown off, put them back on.
9. When the mixture has calmed down (mine took about five days) and there seems to be little more gas coming out, add a pinch of sugar to each bottle and close the lid. This will re-start the fermentation process and give you bubbles, but in a more controlled manner!
10. There may still be a risk of the bottles exploding when you open them. To keep an eye on this, I dedicated one ‘test bottle’ to reopen a few days later. If it had erupted, I’d have gone around and let the gas out of the others – but it didn’t, just made a satisfying pop and fizz. Of course, then we had to drink it.

Verdict
I’d love to say that it’s delicious, but to be honest “drinkable” is probably a more accurate word. Having said that, apparently it improves if you leave it a few weeks. It’s a lovely colour, it smells gorgeous and it’s nice and sparkly.

Alcohol content
I estimate that the alcohol content is about 5% abv (if you wanted a higher alcohol content, you could put in more sugar at the beginning).

Cost: £2.40 for six litres – or 40p for the equivalent of a 75cl bottle of wine
Lemons – £1
Champagne yeast if needed – 50p
Sugar – 70p
White wine vinegar – 20p

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