Rowan berry wine: primary fermentation in my brand new vintage demijohn

Rowan berries are often thought to be poisonous and they can cause an upset tummy due to para-sorbic acid but are generally safe to use in the kitchen providing it is boiled to turn the parasorbic acid into sorbic acid. “Safe” as in disgusting to eat but not flammable. The fruit are bitter and sour but not in a pleasing way like sloes. As you can tell this is bit of a hatchet job on the benign orange fruit as it does have some uses – bird food, rowan jelly as an accompaniment to game dishes or as wine.

I’m making this sound like I know what I am talking about but I have never made, never mind drunk rowan wine and this could take two years to mature only to turn out like toilet duck! The Welsh used to make diodgriafel (pronounced as Dee-od-gree-afell according Welsh Dave) and the Czechs distil Jerabinka with rowan berries. Traditionally they were just left to naturally ferment but I have chosen Lavlin 71B yeast… as I had some. Tea will add tannin and the raisins some body to turn this into a more traditional fruit wine.

The Rowan Tree!

Finding rowan is easy, but finding them not next to a road proved more difficult. Identify them by the variegated leaves in clusters of 8 or 9 with slight saw tooth edges. Be warned that a few truly poisonous berries look similar so be careful. Picking is easy as the berries are in large clusters and they are apparently best slightly before being fully ripe.

Rowan Berry 2: The Mashacre

I destemmed the berries, rinsed then froze them to burst the cells as they are very fleshy, this can also help break down the parasorbic acid. After a week I allowed to defrost overnight, mashed thoroughly and then boiled with 3.5 litres of water in a large stainless steel pan. The rolling boil will further break down the acid and then once cool the pectic enzyme will break down the copious pectin released.

Rowan wine – two days old

As the fruit was so fleshy I chose to leave the must sitting for 3 days to allow flavour and sugars to really leach into the water before adding the tea, lemon juice, yeast and nutrient. The sugar content of the berries is very high and only 500g of sugar was needed to pump the Start Gravity to 1.09. Primary fermentation was gentle with the berries floating happily on top.

Multitasking filtering the young rowan wine into primary fermentation and taking poor photographs

When the bubbling started to slow I filtered through a sterilised muslin ad then squeezed the juice as much as I could into the demijohn. The juice is a lovely orange colour but I expect this will largely be dissolved fruit pulp that will settle over the coming months leaving a far paler wine when done. The young must is a horrible taste though – bitter and sour. Far too astringent to have any indication of the wine that will come. It reminds me of the rather disgusting young sloe wine that has matured excellently becoming a complex fruity number that is a pleasure to drink. Having a nibble on one of the skins gave an indication of what might become with a mellow berry taste with hints of apple and lemon and I expect this will eventually have a unique sweet white wine.

If this does work the next recipe may well have some lemon zest and orange juice added to compliment the berry flavours but only time will tell.


ROWAN WINE – 4.5 litres

Suitable yeasts – Lalvin 71B

2kg rowan berries

250g raisins

½ cup of strong tea

3.5L water

500g sugar to 1.09sg

1tsp yeast nutrient

Juice of 1 lemon

1 and 1/2tsp pectolase



Alternatives – zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange can be added to give more flavour


1.Pick and wash the rowan berries. Bring to boil for 10 minutes

2. Add pectic enzyme and lemon juice leave for 3 days for the flavour to soak out the fleshy fruit.

3. Add sugar to 1.09SG and tea then the yeast and nutrient.

4. Primary fermentation.

5. Filter into demijohn then squeeze the pulp to get all the juice.

6. Rack after 1 month then another 2 months, then 3 after that.

7. Bulk age for at least 6 months, stabilise and back sweeten to your taste preference then bottle.


Leave for 12 months at least after pitching yeast. May take 2 years to mature.


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