Friday, June 17, 2011

Elderflower Fizz

I know, I know, it's yet another post about elderflowers and it's about the ubiquitous elderflower champagne at that. Yes, it's a topic that has been done to death, but that's probably for very good reason. Elderflower champagne, or fizz if you'd prefer to keep the word champagne sacred, is a magnificent drink. It ranges in strength from cordial, to fizzy pop, to mildly alcoholic, to blow your socks off depending on your luck and cunning. No matter what strength you're aiming for, or receive, it's a drink that never seems to disappoint the palate. It also has the added bonus of giving seriously quick results - the flowers can go from tree to champagne glass in as little as two weeks. Groovy stuff. Obviously, like most things, if you have a bit of patience and are prepared to wait it out, the drink will be the better for it but after the first glass you perhaps won't notice anyway.

The fizz that you hope for in the elderflower champagne is a result of the fermentation happening inside the bottle - I think it's imaginatively called 'bottle fermentation.' The success of the fermentation is down to the yeast and sugar relationship - when alcohol is produced, carbon-dioxide is the by-product. Many recipes say there is sufficient wild/ambient yeast within the flowers to make the most sublimely bubbly and alcoholic of champagnes. I'm not denying this, but how do you know if you're collecting flowers with a good amount of wild yeast, or collecting from a barren area? How do you know that the wild yeast is the one that will react the way you want, to give the strength and flavour that you want? Well, you don't really. They're unpredictable and it's pot luck how your bubbly will turn out. I know I already said that even elderflower pop is yummy, it is, but let's face it if you're looking at champagne recipes you want a fair amount of alcohol in the finished product to be completely satisfied. Anything less feels a lot like failure. I know, I've been there. Having read this you might think, why bother making it? Well, I for one have had more success than failure with wild yeasts. I perversely quite like the anticipation and the thrill when it 'goes right.' But the best part is that there is a magic in making alcohol from ambient yeasts and the enjoyment is greater for it.

I'm going to describe two recipes here - one for the gambler/purist/magic-lover amongst you, the other for those that prefer more dependable results. I'm making both! Before we start, it would probably be wise to mention the bottling of elderflower champagne. It can be a very volatile liquid and can sometimes explode from the bottle in which it ferments. I always use either Grolsch type bottles with the swing top lid (excess gas is able to escape from this type of lid) or I use plastic bottles with screw top lids - the type that's used for fizzy drinks or water. You can see when the plastic bottles are bulging dangerously with gas and release a little if needed. Whichever type of bottle you use, it is important that they are scrupulously clean and well sterilised. I tend to store my bottles of bubbly inside a plastic box with an old towel draped over the top - just in case!

Magical Elderflower Champagne
6 large fully open elderflower heads
1kg sugar
2 lemons
4 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
10 litres cold water
  • Wash the lemons and remove the rind with a potato peeler. Squeeze the lemons and place lemon juice and rind in a suitably large container.
  • Add the sugar and white wine vinegar to the container along with the shaken (but not washed) elderflower heads.
  • Pour over the water, cover and leave to stand for 24 hours - gently stirring every few hours.
  • After 24 hours strain through a sieve and pour into sterilised bottles securing/screwing the cap very firmly.
  • Store in a room that is neither too hot or cold for at least two weeks.

Guaranteed Alcoholic Elderflower Champagne
15 large fully open elderflower heads
900g sugar
150ml white grape juice concentrate
3 washed lemons
Champagne yeast
Yeast nutrient
4.5 litres cooled boiled water
  • Remove the flowers from the stems using a fork. and place in a suitably large sterilised container.
  • Mix in the sugar and leave for three hours to extract maximum flavour.
  • Add the water and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Stir in the grape concentrate, yeast and yeast nutrient.
  • Remove the lemon zest with a potato peeler and add this and the juice from the 3 lemons to the mixture.
  • Cover and leave for a week - stirring occassionally for the first few days.
  • Siphon into a sterilised demi-john with a bubble trap.
  • After one or two weeks you can test the specifc gravity of the champagne by dropping in a sterilised hydrometer. A reading of 1010 indicates it's time to siphon into sterilsed bottles leaving the sediment behind in the demi-john.
  • Leave for several weeks to develop fizz.
Perhaps it's not just the magic of wild yeast I like. Guaranteed alcohol is much harder work. I've just come across another recipe from Andy Hamilton that looks very interesting and a bit simpler:   I will probably try this one too - hic!