Elderflower champagne is a delightful traditional English summer beverage that is almost as quick and easy to make as Kool-Aid. It is slightly fizzy and very slightly alcoholic. My guess is that the alcohol content—at least for the quick version I usually make—is about the same as 3.2% beer.
In my region, the elderflowers are usually in full bloom two or three weeks before the fourth of July, just in time to have elderflower champagne on hand for July 4th family get-togethers, but it makes a delightful beverage for summer picnics and trips to the beach, and can be refrigerated for use any time.
Here’s how to make it:
ELDERFLOWER CHAMPAGNE RECIPE
7 large heads of elderflowers
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 gallon water
1 lemon, sliced
1 orange, sliced
Bring water to a boil and dissolve the sugar in the water. Allow to cool to lukewarm. Add the other ingredients, cover with a towel and let stand 24 hours. Squeeze out the liquid from the fruit and flowers, so that all their goodness remains in the brew. Discard the fruit and flowers. Strain and bottle in an air-tight plastic container with a screw-on air-tight lid.
Allow the champagne to stand at room temperature for 2-3 weeks, at which time it is ready to serve, after pouring it off the lees. (There will be sediment at the bottom of the container, and the champagne needs to be carefully poured off and the sediment discarded.)
Be sure to refrigerate after it has fermented for 2-3 weeks, if you are not going to use it immediately, as further fermentation at room temperature will ruin it. (You might want to write the relevant dates on the container, with a felt-tipped pen, so you won’t forget when to move to the fridge.)
Elderflower champagne is best served over ice with a wedge of lemon or lime.
Note: No yeast of any kind needs to be added to this recipe, to produce fermentation. Elderflowers are something of a wild-yeast magnet, and the wild yeast on the flowers will provide all the yeast necessary for fermentation.
Every now and then, you will see a recipe for elderflower champagne that calls for the addition of wine yeast, and sometimes other ingredients. I have never been successful with these recipes.
Use The Right Container
The container you choose for fermenting elderflower champagne is of considerable importance. I think the best container is a gallon-size plastic jug with a screw-on lid—the kind that various types of “spring water,” “drinking water,” or “distilled water” are sold in. Be sure this container has a screw-on lid. If you purchase a gallon jug of water for this purpose, you can use the water to make the elderflower champagne, but it is best not to used distilled water for this, as fermentation requires a minimal level of minerals in the water to nourish the yeast.
Why use a plastic jug? Most glass containers cannot withstand the pressure of the carbon-dioxide released during fermentation and are very likely to explode and shatter. This not only means there will be no elderflower champagne, but that you will have a HUGE mess! Quart-size canning jars with lids and ring bands will not explode or shatter, but the ring bands do allow some of the carbon-dioxide to escape, so that you will have a less fizzy product. It’s also easier to decant (pour off) the elderflower champagne from the lees (sediment that settles at the bottom) from a larger container.
You will notice just how much build-up of carbon-dioxide is occurring in the plastic container; it will swell up like a balloon. Don’t worry; it won’t explode, and it’s safe to keep in the house. (If you choose glass containers of any kind—even canning jars—it might be wise to put the in a shed, garage, or basement for fermenting, so no one gets hurt. The plastic jug is safe to keep indoors.)
Move Elderflower Champagne to the Refrigerator after 2-3 Weeks Fermentation
At the end of 2-3 weeks at room temperature, your elderflower champagne will be slightly fizzy and should still retain a slight sweetness, and it will be ready to serve. If you are not ready to serve it at this time, store it in the refrigerator to stop fermentation. If it is left at room temperature any longer, it is likely to develop “off” flavors, including a chemical reaction that produces acetone, and it will be undrinkable if that happens. If you wish, you can decant the elderflower champagne into a separate air-tight container before refrigerating, pouring it off and discarding the lees, but it may lose some of its fizz. Or you can simply put it in the fridge, and decant when you are ready to serve.
Before Serving, Gently Pour the Champagne off of the Lees, to Clarify
Before serving, you should carefully decant the elderflower champagne into another container, to rid it of the sediment that will make it cloudy.
This is a little bit of a tricky business. Pour it slowly and carefully into a clean container—preferably another plastic gallon jug with a screw-on lid, to help retain the product’s fizziness. You will probably have to throw out at least a pint of the cloudy liquid at the bottom. This is best done just before serving.
You will probably find that this process is not one-hundred-percent successful in eliminating cloudiness. Can’t be helped.
Veteran winemakers may be inclined to try using a siphon tube—an article that veteran winemakers keep with their other equipment—but this will probably not work because of the elderflower champagne’s fizziness. You will just suck up bubbles. (As you may have guessed, I’ve tried this.) Carefully decanting is about the only option.
Serve over Ice with a Wedge of Lemon or Lime
Serving over ice will enhance the product’s fizziness, and a lemon or lime wedge is a nice counterpoint to the remaining sweetness of the champagne.
HERE’S AN ALTERNATE—AND MUCH LONGER—METHOD FOR A SECOND BATCH
If you have time and refrigerator space, follow the recipe above and put the gallon container of elderflower champagne in the refrigerator. Leave it there for about a year-and-a-half. At the end of that time, you will have a perfectly lovely elderflower champagne—though one that has likely lost all fizziness, to become elderflower wine.
My experience is that, if elderflower champagne is made in June or July, this gallon of marvelous elderflower champagne will be an impressive addition to the Christmas feast the following year. If you have the patience for this, your wine will likely be a huge success!