Made with the lacy, cream-colored flowers of the elderberry shrub (Sambucus nigra or S. canadensis), elderflower champagne is a naturally bubbly, lightly alcoholic beverage with a delicate taste.
It's worth noting that this fermented elderflower beverage isn't technically champagne because it doesn't contain the grape varieties used to make authentic champagne. But it's been referred to as elderflower champagne for generations, so that common name is being used here.
Serve it chilled for a unique and refreshing drink on hot summer evenings.
- 7 to 8 large (6 inches or so diameter) elderflowers (or double that of smaller elderflower clusters)
- 2 pints boiling hot water (filtered or non-chlorinated)
- 6 pints cold water (filtered or non-chlorinated)
- 1 pound honey (or 1 1/2 pounds sugar)
- 1/4 cup cider vinegar (or 2 large lemons–juice and rind–plus 2 tablespoons cider vinegar)
Gather the ingredients.
Do not wash the elderberry flowers. It is their natural yeasts that will cause fermentation. Just shake off any insects and remove the thick stalks.
Place the honey or sugar in a very large bowl and pour in the 2 pints of boiling water. Stir until the honey or sugar has completely dissolved.
Add the 6 pints of cold water. Stir in the vinegar or lemon juice and the elderberry flowers.
Cover with a clean dishtowel and let the mixture sit at room temperature for 48 hours, stirring at least twice a day. By the end of these two days, you should see signs of fermentation: the top of the liquid will look frothy and bubbly, especially when you stir it. If the liquid is still completely still after 48 hours, add a very small pinch (just a few grains) of wine or baking yeast and wait another 48 hours, stirring occasionally, before proceeding to the next step.
Pour the fermenting elderflower champagne through a finely meshed sieve to strain out the flowers (and lemon rind, if using). Use a funnel to help transfer the brew into clean plastic soda-type bottles with screw tops or thick ceramic or beer bottles with flip tops. Do not use corked wine bottles because elderflower champagne is quite capable of popping out the corks or worse—exploding the bottles. Leave at least an inch of headspace between the surface of the liquid and the rims of the bottles. Secure the tops.
Leave at room temperature for a week, “burping” (opening briefly) the bottles at least once a day. After the week at room temperature, move them to the refrigerator, but keep “burping” the bottles occasionally for another week.
- Elderflower champagne will keep in the refrigerator for several months.
- The earlier you drink it, the yeastier it will taste. Wait at least 2 weeks from bottling if you want it at its best.
- The honey version takes slightly longer to ferment out than the sugar version.
- The final drink should be fizzy and lightly sweet, but not cloyingly so.