Elderflower champagne is a clear, sparkling drink that is mildly alcoholic. It is easy to prepare and only takes two weeks to mature. As the name suggests, one of the primary ingredients are the white flowers of the Elder tree1. These trees are quite common in the UK, and if there aren't any in your garden, they are often found around car parks, squares, schools and other open spaces. Make sure that you get the right tree though! The trees themselves are coarse and shrubby, with large flat heads of creamy white flowers in early summer and clusters of reddish-purple berries in the autumn.
This makes about 10 litres of elderflower champagne:
- 4 large heads of elder flowers - make sure that they are fully open, preferably facing the Sun
- 1kg of sugar
- 2 lemons
- 4 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
- 10 litres of cold water
- A ten-litre vessel - a large plastic bucket is ideal. Ensure that it is well washed out and preferably sterilised.
- Strong bottles - these need to withstand the pressure of the carbon dioxide gas produced. Two-litre plastic drinks bottles work, but old screw-cap glass bottles work better and don't let as much gas escape.
- A large jug - about two litres in capacity.
- A small jug - ideally, this should hold about 750ml and is to act as a bailer.
- A lemon-squeezer
- A funnel
- A potato-peeler
- A tablespoon
- A sieve
- A strainer
- Preparation Time: 30 minutes
- Standing Time: 24 hours
- Maturing Time: two weeks plus
Wash the lemons and use the potato-peeler to peel the lemon rind off as thinly as possible. Remove any insects, leaves or other unwanted objects from the elder flowers.
Squeeze the lemons and put the juice into the ten-litre vessel along with the lemon rind and flowers.
Add the sugar and the wine vinegar. Be careful not to crush the flower heads too much with the sugar.
Pour on the water. Put a lid or cover over the top of the vessel and leave to stand for 24 hours. Stir gently every six hours.
Sterilise the bottles either using sterilising chemical tablets or boiling water. If you use chemical tablets, rinse the bottles afterwards so that the chemicals don't kill the yeast in the champagne mixture.
Take the lid off the vessel and remove any large flower heads or bits of rind.
Use the small jug to bail some of the mixture through the sieve and into the large jug. When the large jug becomes full, place the funnel in the top of a bottle. Pour the mixture through the strainer into the funnel.
Once all the bottles are full, put the caps (or corks) on firmly and place somewhere not too warm or too cold. A garage shelf is ideal.
After two weeks the champagne is ready for drinking. However, the taste does improve with time and can be left for up to two years2. It is probably best to leave it for six months to a year to mature, as this means the full taste will have developed, yet without any fizz escaping. (That's assuming the caps have been done up properly.) Try to make as much as possible during the months of June and early July as this is when the flowers will be at their best. Typically, 20 litres should provide ample supply for a year's worth of drinking for a family of four.
A more potent elderberry wine can be made using the berries of the elder tree. This can be made in the autumn and is lovely to drink in the winter. Also, elderberry marmalade can be made from the berries.
- Hangover Cures - If you drink too much of the champagne, this might prove useful.