Monday, 28 June 2010

Free booze - Elderflower Champagne

Well ok not completely free but it is freeish, as long as you dont mind a bit of a wait. Given that you probably still have elderflowers somewhere near you I recommend you get out and pick them now and youll have your freeish booze in 2 weeks!

I saw the first elderflowers in bloom two weeks ago and was so excited that I immediately grabbed some and brought them home. Then they sat in my kitchen for 2 days and promptly went quite smelly. The secret to elderflower cordial or champagne is fresh, just off the tree, in bloom elderflower. I have read that they freeze well so if you see some and dont think that you can do this today then that might be an idea. If you dont live in the country you're still ok, you can find these almost everywhere on the sides of roads, in parks and loads of other places but youre probably better off looking for slightly less polluted ones than half way along the m50. Also dont blame me if you get into trouble for picking them, much as the booze was my idea the idea to steal them from your next door neighbours back garden was not*.

Ive seen a lot of different recipes for Elderflower champagne but went for the first I found on google by the fantastic Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall which is available here.

What you will need (for 6 litres - I doubled this)
  • a big clean bucket/storage bin/saucepan (to hold at least 7 litres)
  • Water 4 litres hot, 2 litres cold
  • 700g sugar
  • 4 lemons (zest and juice)
  • 15 heads of elderflower
  • 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
  • a pinch of dried yeast (although you wont need this for a few days)
  • Muslin for covering and sieving through
  • Good strong bottles, I used these Slom bottles from ikea

  1. Get your big container and clean it. 
  2. Run out and get those elderflowers. You really only need the bloom itself and a little bit of the stalk its attached to (dont bother with leaves)
  3. Pour the hot water into your container and then mix in the sugar until dissolved.
  4. Add the cold water, wine vinegar, lemon zest, lemon juice and elderflower. Stir a little bit
  5. Cover with muslin and leave to ferment somewhere cool
  6. After 3-4 days check to see if there are any bubbles/froth or any sign of fermentation. If not add your pinch of yeast. Mine didnt froth until adding the yeast but after that it sounded a little like rice krispies in milk.
  7. Leave again for 4 days until the bubbling subsides, apparently there are ways of telling when its ready  using all sorts of gadgets but I did this on the cheap and just waited the 4 days and was happy that the bubbling had stopped a bit. It also tasted far less sweet than it did a few days before which was a good sign - less sweetness = more alcohol. It looked just like this (which looks like it would smell awful but really was quite lovely smelling)
  8. Grab a colander and line with muslin and put it over a large pot. Pour the mixture through the muslin.
  9. Pour into your glass bottles and seal. 
  10. Leave bottles somewhere cool for a week before opening and drinking. Apparently its not uncommon for bottles to pop under the pressure so I would recommend leaving them in the bucket you used for fermenting just in case!

I havent tasted the finished product just yet but wanted to put this up to inspire some people to get out and pick elderflower while they still can. I'll post a quick update on Sunday! Remember kids, always drink responsibly. 

* mine were stolen by putting my hand through the fence of my local primary school, the caretaker who passed by as my co-conspirator and I were there with scissors didnt say a word.


  1. I made elderflower cordial last week, but the champagne sounds like a wonderful idea!

    Thanks a million for the freezing idea - it will be a while before I can make it up to Ikea.

    I'm off to Conrad Gallagher's restaurant on the strength of your review - really looking forward to it :-}}

  2. I hope freezing works as well as Darina says in her cookery school book, havent tried it myself. Do bear in mind that you wont need the bottles for a week after you start the champagne though!

    when are you heading to Salon des Saveurs? Will be interested to hear what you think!

  3. do NOT shake before opening!

  4. Loved the food in Salon des Saveurs - the service was another matter - very strange, slagging us each time they brought a course (one of our party was vegetarian) got annoying after a (short) while!!!

    Food really was great though.


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