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Wales, United Kingdom
Documenting one couple's attempts to live a more self-sufficient life.

Tuesday 21 June 2011

More elderflower champagne or blackcurrant wine?

The answer is both, of course, but I did think I would have to decide which to do first, as I have only one wine bucket (though a friend did offer me more when I asked this question on facebook). Then as I was transferring a batch of kit beer (I still have plenty of bitter - I thought I'd try some nondescript lager, too) into a plastic barrel thing, I realised that I do have another brewing bucket - the much bigger one that I do the beer in. Just because it holds five gallons doesn't mean I can't use it to brew two gallons of wine.

First I did the blackcurrant in the smaller bucket. I looked up various recipes online and they generally agreed on three pounds of fruit per gallon (one recipe said just two) and an equal quantity of sugar. That sounds like a lot of both to me, but with such a consensus I should really just accept it.

I picked the fruit from the second currant bush and got far less than I did from the first one. I guess being stuck behind the gas tank isn't the best situation for it. I also took any more fruit I could find on the first bush - there was still some to take, and there's more ripening even now.

The total weight of fruit was 2 lb 11 oz, which was a bit disappointing, but still looking like a gallon's worth. I added one bag of sugar (one kilo, or 2.2 lb) as I'm a bit stingy, and even this is more than I've used so far. I poured boiling water over the fruit but didn't cook it as I'm a little concerned about pectin in this wine. After my bad experience with the marmalade wine, I looked up causes of methanol in home-brew.

I learnt that it's generally the heavier alcohols that lead to hangovers (methanol is the lightest) but I still think I had methanol, especially as heating seemed to solve the problem. Apparently methanol can be produced when there's pectin and slow fermentation, both of which were the case for the dodgy bottle of marmalade wine. Blackcurrants are also high in pectin, as well as tannin, which tends to slow the fermentation, so I'm a bit concerned about this one. I don't know whether cooking increases the release of pectin, but it seems likely, so I didn't do it. I'm not sure how I'll tell whether there's methanol in the finished drink except by drinking it and seeing if it gives me a headache!

I topped up the water with cold, so as not to kill the yeast, to about a gallon. I'd kept the yeast from the lager and added a bit of that. I reckon the blackcurrant flavour should be enough to overwhelm any beeriness.

The next day (Saturday), I moved onto the elderflower wine. I'd spotted a tree by the side of a very minor road, about twenty minutes walk from the house, that looked a lot easier to harvest.

Elder flowers requiring neither ladders nor long-handled tools to harvest

I tried to avoid gathering too much wildlife as I went...

A little research suggests that this fellow is a leptura maculatus

... and collected a good basketful of flowers.

Basket of elderflowers with gratuitous buttercups

Because the last batch tasted so good, I added a few strawberries and roses, whilst strenuously defending the basket from an inquisitive mog.

Pebble really wanted to get into that basket

With such a good suppy of flowers, and a bigger bucket, why not make twice as much champagne? Another bag of sugar was purchased.

I didn't think beery yeast would be quite such a good idea in this wine, but by this time the blackcurrant wine was frothing nicely...

Blackcurrant wine getting under way

... so I added a couple of spoonfuls of that to the elderflower bucket. Then I was quite taken with the idea of making pink champagne, so I added a few more spoonfuls - maybe ten big tablespoons in total.

I now have two buckets of wine bubbling away. It's noticeable how much more lively the elderflower is than the blackcurrant - I guess that's due to the tannin in the latter. I should get on and move the blackcurrant onto the next stage. MKG over on the 'Ish forum (I think - I've now lost the post) recommends leaving it on the fruit for four days as standard, three for a lighter wine, or five for one that will keep and mature. I started it on Friday, it's now Tuesday... do I have the patience for a maturing wine?

I was going to bottle some of the oak leaf wine and so free up a demijohn, but that's still bubbling nearly a month on. I'll just have to revert to pop bottles and ballons for the blackcurrant.


  1. HI Rachel - please can I use/buy your photo of an elder tree by the roadside. I am working on my book eating flowers. Best wishes Lucia Stuart I would also credit you and your blog? What is your surname?


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