Homemade Elderflower Fizz
People go two ways when we tell them we plan to make all the welcome drinks for our wedding reception ourselves. They are either completely gobsmacked (“you MAKE alcohol? How?!) or a little disgusted (“what, no Laurent Perrier?”)
But making alcohol out of elderflowers is, for me, the perfect way to be able to keep our guests swimming in beverages for the whole day without breaking the bank. For those first couple of hours after the ceremony, when people arrive, eat canapés, and generally mill around meeting new people, this is the time when alcohol totally evaporates. You’re stood, so there is nowhere obvious to put down your glass. Therefore, almost unconsciously, you keep sipping from it. Oh, you finished another glass. Oh, and another!
Elderflower champagne is the perfect drink for this time period – it is low in alcohol (our hydrometer predicts 7-8%, but it is from Wilkos so I’m not quite sure how much trust to invest in it) and refreshing – almost like a champagne cocktail, elderflower has gentle bubbles and is fragrant with the floral smells of an English summer. Since our wedding will be late September, the fizz should be at a perfect drinking point (most recipes say drink after 4 weeks, but we are still drinking some bottles from last year, and I swear they’ve just gotten better and better), and fingers crossed we might get a little late summer/early autumn sunshine to complement it. I’m not holding my breath though, on that front!
Is it hard? It isn’t. It’s surprisingly easy. That doesn’t mean things can’t go wrong, though, because they certainly can! After listening to my aesthetics-preoccupied heart, I decided to decant some of our fizz into glass last year – cue, explosions. The ones in plastic only suffered one casualty (and plastic is less hazardous to find blown across the garage)! So, unfortunately, this year I am biting the bullet and only putting out elderflower into plastic bottles (I find tonic bottles a perfect volume and they seem explosion-proof (touch wood)). Just yesterday, a bomb went off under out stairs! We’d used a still water bottle. I’m totally convinced now that you need to use plastic bottles which have contained something effervescent – that gives you more of a chance to succeed without too many bombs! On the plus side, our house smells delicately of elderflower. On the flip side, I spent over an hour scrubbing sticky liquid off everything.
The first batch of this year went mouldy. Nightmare. I should clarify that we tend to start our fizz the natural way (i.e., relying on the wild yeasts in the flowers to begin the fermentation process). But wild yeast can be unpredictable. This batch clearly did not have enough yeast to properly ferment. This is the moment at which to add any extra yeast (champagne yeast (or wine yeast, which we use), not normal yeast! Unless you want that beery, bread-y smell!!). Wine yeast is easily available from Wilkinsons.
I’ll keep you updated, but so far I think we have around 12 litres of the stuff (that’s two successful batches). Compare 12 bottles of champagne (and at 75cl, they do not deliver the same amount of fluid!) and compare the cost of 10 lemons and two bags of sugar with a minimum £5 spend per bottle of (bad) champagne…and you’ll see why we chose to make ours!
Here’s the recipe we use.
Elderflower Champagne Recipe
4 lemons, zested and juiced
30 hand-sized elderflower heads
approx. 6l water
First, the fiddly bit. Get a film on, and get picking – pick the little elderflowers off their green stalks. We experimented doing this and not doing it last year, but the batch where we hadn’t done it tasted too too green, interfering with the delicate floral smell and taste of the drink.
Pour 2l (or slightly more) of boiling water over your sugar, and stir until it’s melted. Then add 4l cold water. Add your lemon zest, and the juice. Then add your elderflower heads. Cover with clingfilm.
Leave for 3 days. If there is no bubbling action (it can be subtle), add champagne/wine yeast (about 1/2 of the ‘wine yeast’ sachets Wilkos sell). If it’s bubbling – bottle it up into clean plastic containers (or glass if you’re willing to take the risk). Try to compress all air out of the bottles – this gives more space for the CO2 the brew will produce.
Leave for a month. Keep an eye on your bottles – if the plastic begins to distort at all, or looks extra distended, you should probably let some gas – just unscrew the top a turn or so, very gently, and let air hiss out (stop as soon as bubbles begin to rise through your liquid. You just want to release the excess gas).
And there you have the most lovely, cheap Summer drink! Chill it in the fridge beforehand. if your batch comes out too sweet (this one shouldn’t, it’s a lower sugar recipe) you can always make a long drink – 2/3 elderflower fizz, 1/3 tonic/fizzy water, with a shot of gin, some ice and a sprig of mint. Enjoy! x