Black currant wine 2016

In July I went to a pick-your-own farm and carried off 4.5kg of blackcurrants and 7ish months later I have just bottled it ready for 18 months of aging. The berries initially had a cold water maceration for 5 days before yeast and lemon juice were added to extract as much colour as I could.




This Gentleman’s Ribena is surprisingly light in colour with a very clear wine being produced. I was expecting it to be far more like the deep opaque reds of Elderberry wine but this allows light through and it really looks good in the glass. The taste still has a while to mature but it is very pleasing even at this young age, while there is a definite blackcurrant taste it has retreated from the overly cordial sensation when it was initially pressed. Compared to my blackberry wine the fruit is far less pronounced with a rounder edge to it. Mouth feel is good and suites the darker rosé appearance… can you get a dark rosé? Acidity seems spot on and as it has oak I am expecting a light but decently complex wine.

As I have not make this before I have bottled totally dry and I may sweeten per bottle when I do eventually drink it. There was a worry I could over do the sugar and simply push it back to being Ribena with alcohol.

This year I will certainly ferment another 10 litre batch and imagine it will be a fixture every year. As I can harvest the fruit in July it is the first red wine I can make in the year and means I do not have the blackberry, elderberry and elder and black wines bunched up with it when preparing the fruit and monitoring through the fermentation.


Elderberry wine at 17 months.

First pop of the elderberry wine has occurred and my views are mixed. This was made in 2015 and it obviously needs more time to age – I seem to make wine that need longer than some recipes suggest. The blackberry wine really hit its stride at 18 months rather than the 12 that recipes talk of. This is no worry and the best ingredient in wine making is patience. Elderberry is more like a grape so will similarly need to more like a grape so I may open another bottle at 24 months or even later.



Richer and deeper coloured 2016 elderberry wine still in the demijohn at 2 months in age.

Currently the elder taste is only starting to show through the tannin which is still high and will continue to mellow. With the 2016 recipe I shortened the maceration to 5 days rather than leaving the fruit on the pulp for 7. It had a noticeable difference when I racked and I may shorten this further in 2017 to only 3 days. As elder skins are thick they make up a comparatively high amount of the total fruit. These skins are high in tannin and it is extracted by the rising ethanol as fermentation occurs. Using the cold maceration process and moving the pulp towards a more aquious extraction and pressing earlier should reduce tannin content.


Elderberries post cold soak

The 2016 vintage seems to have had better fruit that I could forage and a better growing season so I have a better base ingredient from the outset. Currently it is undergoing malolactic fermentation and I will stabilise this with campden and potassium sorbate so that back sweetening can occur and the flavour is complete in the bottle. The 2015 vintage was bottled totally dry to give me some ability to adjust what I was doing but back sweetening it in the glass really helped to bring the fruit flavours forward. In 2017 I may also invest in a heat pad to see if a slightly higher temperature may help maintain fruit flavours.


Beetroot wine – 5 days old.

Beats by Dre are mega expensive bass boosting earmuffs worn by annoying people on the Tube. Beets… sorry beetroot is an unfairly maligned root vegetable that I hope will make some great wine in a years time. Unlike Beats headphones beetroot is cheap… and plentiful at this time of year with nice wee ones perfect for wine making that will be sweet rather than the woody behemoths later in the season.

Scanning the interwebs there were a number of variations and ideas about beetroot wine. Some said it could be drunk a few months after fermentation and others after a year. The recipes ranged from simple mounds of beetroot to the more spiced mulled style wine with cardamom, cloves or ginger. This is the only wine I have ever seen that can have demerera sugar instead of processed white sugar that all other fruit or vegetable wines use. I imagine this can pair well with the slight malt taste of the beetroot and I may try this another time. There was also down right odd beer-wine hybrid with hops and marjoram that looked intriguing but was ultimately rejected – where the hell can you buy fresh marjoram?


My actual ingredients, no marjaram needed…

I want a full bodied wine with some vinocity so have 2.2kg of beetroot and 100g of raisins which is more than some recipes, sugar is high in the beet so only 650g of sugar was needed to be added to get it to a Start Gravity of 1.09. The yeast was SN9 to help build body from the vegetable base as well as some tea to pump it up too. With various recipes the acid added ranged from traditional lemon juice or citric acid to less usual ideas. I had a good tip about three oranges and their zest with 12 peppercorns added for a neutral spice and depth of taste (credit to u/mriguy) but this was after I started making it. I chose to use the juice of limes as the acid source as some recipes recommend to compliment the beetroot taste rather than fight it. I might use these ideas in a new parsnip wine recipe next year.

Fermentation is nothing short of violent and quick. The yeast seems very happy to party hard and in only a few days the taste has changed from vegetal to a riper berry like flavour that is rich and full. This will surely further mellow into a surprising, slightly malty wine, probably suited to a little back sweetening just before bottling.

Beetroot stains everything, counter tops, hands and shirts.

Beetroot has too annoying colour properties as it stains everything blood red like a scene from a Dario Argento film and the wine is photosensitive so ferment and store in the dark so it does not go murky brown.



2.2kg beetroot
100g raisins
650g sugar to 1.09SG
Juice of 3 limes
Strong mug of tea
4.5l water
SN9 yeast
Yeast nutrient


1. Weigh and then wash the beetroot to remove any soil. Remove the woody tops the then chop into small chunks – skin and all and place in the 4.5litres of cold water with the raisins.

Big chopper.

2. Bring to the boil in a covered pan and simmer for 45 minutes until the beetroot is soft but not mushy. Leave in the cooling water for 2 hours for flavour to be extracted.

3. Remove the now unneeded beetroot from the water and allow the liquid to cool, add pectolaise and leave for 12 to 24 hours in the covered pan to destroy pectin.

Beetroot wine pre and post boil.

4. Add the sugar, juice of 3 limes and tea and stir in thoroughly then add the yeast and nutrient. Stir in after 15 minutes as it rehydrates.

5. Leave in primary and stir twice a day until fermentation starts to slow.

6. Transfer to an air locked secondary fermentation and rack after 5 weeks and then 10 weeks after that. Keep the wine in the dark as it is photosensitive and will discolour if left in the light.

Bottle and leave to mature for a year. Serve with out telling victims it is made from beetroot!


SHRINK CAPPING YOUR WINE: Directed by Ms Gazette

Freshly corked bottles of wine are usually left upright for a few days to allow the corks to swell and give a firm seal around the bottle neck. After that they can be layed on their side for a good age in your cellar (the cupboard under the stairs) The very last process is to add a shrink cap to the bottle to help keep the cork from drying out, decicating and letting all your hard work leak over your floor.

I used to use a hair dryer to shrink the caps until a kind soul pointed me towards using hot water. All you need is the correct amount of water to just reach the submerged cap. Get it to a boil and then remove from the heat, plonk you bottle in, push down to the base of the pan and count to “two.”

Hey presto you have beautifully capped wine that looks all sophisulcated.


Seville Orange Wine – five days old

Orange wine is a term for a white wine where the grapes are left macerating longer than usual so that the colour becomes deeper and taste changes to be more honey like. This is not that. This orange wine is a wine made with oranges.

I am at a loss as to what to make this winter so I have decided on Seville orange and also a beetroot wine in a few weeks time. Seville oranges are only in season for a short period but there is no reason this cannot be a used for other citrus wines changing the approximate ratio of fruit. The citrus taste goes well with Thai food, sea food and pork so that will keep Ms Gazette happy when we pop one open in a years time… or perhaps not as many people hate it.


Many people just use fruit juice but I imagine the zest gives a more interesting flavour. Some omit the raisins and others substitute it for banana to give body instead. Check back in a year to see how it looks and tastes. The colour is apparently photosensitive so if you are making it keep it covered in darkness as much as you can even when bottled.



18 seville oranges

2 lemons

400g raisins

800g sugar (approximate to 1.09SG)

Half a cup of strong tea

3.5l of water

Yeast nutrient

CY17 yeast


  • If waxed wash the oranges and then use a peeler to zest half with as little pith as possible. Boil the zest for 15 minutes and throw in the raisins when it has 5 minutes to go. Leave to cool.
Stunt hand used
  • Juice all the oranges and the two lemons and pour into the cooled water then add 1tsp of pectolaise to break down the pectin and leave for 24hours.


  • Strain the liquid and then add the half cup of tea and top up to 4.5 litres with boiled then cooled water.


  • Stir in about the sugar to get it to 1.09SG then add the yeast and nutrient.


  • As no solids are present no stirring is really needed. Leave in primary fermentation and when it starts to slow rack into secondary with an air lock.
Fermentation begins
  • Rack when fermentation ends in about 5 weeks and again 10 weeks afterwards. Subsequent racks are only needed if there is a lot of sediment forming.


Drink a year after you started.


Wine: Making lifes problems and the cat go away

Wine making can be a daunting prospect with unique terms thrown around, competing explanations and conflicting ideas of what must and must not be done. Wine making is a science for those who work in an industry and an art for amateurs. The first rule of Wine Club is there are no rules… well there are two. Keep things clean and keep things air locked apart from that its anarchy.


BLACKBERRY WINE Recipe in archive

Making wine is all down to yeast. These little critters when locked into an airtight container anaerobically respire breaking down sugar into ethanol (you want this – it gets you drunk!) and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide bubbles through the wine and out the airlock with some partially dissolving. As they do this they feed on minerals in the fruit and water and divide and grow. As this happens colonies of the partying yeast form and sink to the bottom all the while producing more alcohol until they consume all the sugar and start to get stressed and die away. This along with the fruit pulp must be removed periodically in a process called racking. The more you rack over the months the more sediment you remove until you have a clear wine. After a month or so yeast will have done its work and the wine ages with tannins from the fruit aging and mellowing and acids may change from harsh to softer tastes. There are no rules on how long a wine ages and it is personal taste and the limits of your recipe that determine it. Once aged the wine is possibly stabilised and  back sweetened with sugar then bottled.


Planning is paramount. Have you got space, a few bits of kit, a kitchen and a forgiving partner that will to drink your swill and lie how good it is? Have you got an idea of the wine you want to make? It could be from a kit in which case stop reading this knit-wittery and follow the instructions. You could buy fruit or forage for it, or grow the more exotic ingredients yourself. Some people try to use as little “chemicals” as possible. Some want small batches of exotic tastes, others want big batches of uniform wine they love.

If you are a total novice think small. Get two 4.5L demijohns to make six bottles of wine. Choose a recipe that you know is easy and quick to test things out:

Strawberry wine is quick and forgiving. It can be sweet or dry, only needs six months to age and tastes good.

Elderflower wine is easy to make but requires foraged ingredients and a year to really age to perfection.


Your basic kit will probably grow as you make more and more wine. You may start with a one gallon/4.5L demijohn but buy bigger two gallon or five gallon demis when you get more confident. Investment in that original one is not wasted as you can test recipes, make small runs of expensive ingredients or bulk age in it.

In my view the absolute minimum kit you need is:


  • 1 x Brew bucket for primary fermentation
  • 2 x Demijohns to hold and ferment you wine in secondary fermentation
  • 2 x bungs and airlocks to secure your wine from oxidising
  • 1 x Auto Syphon to move wine when racking
  • 1 x Hydrometer to measure sugar
  • Scales / Jug / Ladle / teaspoons
  • Bottle brush and sponges/cloths
  • Corking machine and corks just before you bottle.


  • Yeast nutrient feeds the yeast with essential minerals as they grow during fermentation
  • Sanitisers like Chemipro Oxi can sanitise containers and campden tablets the fruit and water when making wine. These are not “cheating” and many have been used for centuries.
  • Stabiliser is added just before bottling to “kill” the yeast (actually the yeast stops dividing) so the wine does not ferment in the bottle and make it explode everywhere… walls… ceiling… floor… It also protects from possible oxidation in the bottle.
  • Pectic Enzymes breaks down unwanted pectin to make the wine smoother and less “jammy” if the fruit is high in it.


  • Base fruit to provide the back bone of the taste.
  • Possibly grape extract, raisins or bananas to add body to none grape like fruit.
  • Sugar to feed the yeast and make alcohol.
  • Possibly acid in the form of citric acid powder or lemon juice to add flavour and create the correct pH acidity level for the yeast to thrive.
  • Possibly tannin as tannin powder, breakfast tea or grape like fruit skins.
  • Yeast to ferment it all.
  • Adjuncts like spices, herbs of complimentary fruit may also be in some recipes added at varying stages like Vermouth.

Ingredients for elderflower wine


The recipe is intended to create a well-balanced wine. This is determined by personal preference like the desired alcohol and style of the wine you have in mind. The base ingredient like blackberries, elderberries or oak leaves have certain characteristics to emphasise and yeast is important in bringing this about. Grape wine is the daddy of all wine, a bench mark that we all know the taste and texture of. Fruit wines are beholden to these benchmarks and the holy trinity of tastes – sweetness (or lack of), acidity and tannin.

Grapes have all these tastes present and the component chemicals to create the phelonics and esters that create complex tastes but fruit wine will generally need these as supplementary additives.


Easy – common table sugar feeds to yeast and can also provide the sweet taste when bottled. Use white sugar as it is taste neutral compared to brown and demerara sugars. The only wine recipe I have seen using brown sugar is beetroot wine


This is the bitter taste present in mainly red wine (white has some but not as a dominant taste) that creates the full taste and velvety mouth feel. Tannin is present in some fruit skins and seeds like elderberries but is absent in many fruit like strawberries or elderflowers. A half cup of tea or tannin extract provides this flavour. Over the aging of the wine tannin alters, with some binding together and dropping as sediment. Yiu can get subtle oak tannins added as oak chips while aging too. Tannin is often feared but it is simply something that needs care and attention as it is necessary in wine.


Acid is present in all fruit but to varying degrees. In advanced recipes you can test the acidity and adjust to get the perfect 4.55pH for the yeast to thrive. Simple recipes guess the levels of acidity of the base fruit and add a set amount of extra acid as lemon juice or citric acid. Gooseberries have acidity levels that are bang on the money and rhubarb may even need it reducing through precipitated chalk as an additive.


At the most basic level plan your recipe at the correct time of year to have the fruit available. Wine making is seasonal, and using fruit out of season may be expensive.

First you must clean your equipment washing it thoroughly. This basic wash is like cleaning plates after a meal removing grease, dust and dirt. Just use a standard detergent like Fairly liquid. After washing the dirt it is time to sanitise it all thoroughly. Sanitising is using heat or chemicals to kill bacteria on surfaces to minimise spoilage during the long aging process. Boiling kills all bacteria if done for 15 minutes but not all kit is suitable for this. Metal ladles are fine but glass demijohns could shatter and the food grade plastic on a brew bucket could degrade. For these containers use a chemical sanitiser like Chemipro or Star San. They all vary in use so read the instructions and never mix them! Using a no rinse sanitiser is best as this means boiled and cooled water is not needed to rinse anything.

As kit is drying on a sanitised bench all ingredients need measuring, some ingredients need chopping like quince, destemming like elderberries or destoning like peaches. Water will certainly need sanitising either with campden or through boiling (and cooling) and you may need to prepare and sanitise your ingredients which varies from recipe to recipe.

Base fruits need to be prepared by differing methods to allow flavours to be extracted. Quince and parsnip are boiled for 15 minutes to break down the heavy structure, blackberries are blanched with boiling water to burst skins and blueberries may be sanitised with campden as they cold soak for three days to extract colour and flavour from the thick skins. All recipes vary and people often have competing ideas as to what is best. It’s your choice but choose wisely!

Blackcurrants in a cold soak/maceration to extract flavour from their dense skins

Once the fruit is prepared and in clean water in your primary fermenter additives like pectin can be added if needed. If you are using pectolaise needs between 12 and 24 hours to do its magic destroying the unwanted pectin.

Hydrometer in gooseberry wine

Tannin and acid are added and mixed thoroughly with a clean ladle. Sugar can then be added. At its crudest level pouring 1kg or sugar into one gallon of water will provide enough sugar to the yeast. This takes no account of how alcoholic you want your wine, the sugar available from the fruit or your taste preference. A hydrometer is invaluable in my view. This little buoy floats on the water giving a reading of the sugar dissolved. Water would be 1.00SG (specific gravity) but ambient sugar in the fruit may make it float higher to say 1.02SG, adding more sugar makes it float higher and higher until the desired level of 1.08 or 1.09SG. This means there is enough sugar for a dry wine with 13% ABV. If you left the hydrometer in your wine you would see it gradually drop over a few days as alcohol is fermented. Alcohol is less dense than sugar water so it cannot be lifted so high. After a month or so an eventual 0.99SG may be seen which is a totally dry wine.


Yeast and nutrient is the last to be added. Easiest method is to sprinkle on top and then stir in after 30 minutes. This provides a little time for the yeast to aerate. Once dissolved the yeast will take between 2 to 48 hours to activate and start to bubble. Primary fermentation is a nebulous concept but is when the yeast is most active creating 2/3 of the alcohol. It can last for 4 to 14 days and as the fermentation is so vigorous it keeps itself airtight in effect. Once this slows it is needed to be transferred into secondary fermentation with a fully working air lock though. Just as the carbon dioxide protects the must from oxygenation so too does the fermenters lid from bacteria and even fruit flies. If solid fruit is used the must should be stirred from one to four times a day, this agitates it allowing the juice to be extracted. If the wine is purely liquid some simply leave it covered.

Elder and black in primary fermentation (a sparge bag held the blackberries and the top was removed from the fermenter so I could stir)


The carbon dioxide given off by the happy food laden yeast provides a protective blanket to stop oxygenation but as it slows the protection from oxygen lessens and your wine needs to be racked into secondary fermentation. Being thorough a hydrometer reading would be between 1.03 and 1.01SG when you decide to rack from primary fermentation to secondary fermentation. Racking is needed to both transfer into an air tight demijohn and away from the fruit pulp. Fruit flavours will be extracted over a few days and few fruit will give anything up after seven, this is also the time that any rouge bacteria could start to break the fruit down into bad tastes and infection. This initial racking removes the wine from what is called the “gross lees” as in French for “big lees”

Racking 10 litres of blackcurrant wine

When racking your autosyhpon, demijohn and bungs and stoppers must be sanitised to prevent contamination just as kit was at the start of the fermentation process. The autosyphon is pumped and uses gravity to push the wine into a lower deminjohn. Muslin/cheese cloth can be used to catch any solids that may come through. Racking is perhaps the most problematic phase of wine making. You could allow it too much time in contact with air and oxidise it or infection could fall in from ambient bacteria floating in the air. You will lose wine through accidents on more than one occasion and it is messy – it is a fact of life sadly!

While racking, oxidising may in small quantities benefit the wine as it promotes carbon dioxide to be made and bubble away from your wine as it ages and some yeast actively need oxygenation such as MA33 which makes rhubarb and gooseberry wine.

Once in your new demijohn top up the liquid so it reaches the shoulder of the demijohn, minimising air contact and maximising your volume of wine. There are many ideas on how to top up – sterilised water, glass marbles or a similar prepared wine. Here are no hard and fast rules but I always simply use clean water. A sanitised bung and airlock are then popped onto the demijohn to keep air and infection out. As the carbon dioxide bubbles up it pushes the natural air out the top. To make it secure from infection pop ¼ of a campden tablet into the water of the airlock. Some even add one crushed campden tablet to the wine to ensure it is sanitised. This is personal choice and the sulphur dioxide given off by the dissolving tablet could over power if it is used too much.

Topping up blackcurrant wine

Some wine is inevitably left behind in the old demijohn and is a casualty of war. You cannot transfer 100% of the liquid. This is not waste but a natural by product that all wine makers have. Most recipes account for the topping up of this missing volume too. The wine can be reused if you have a few fruit flies attracted by your wine making skills. Drop it into a glass and add some washing up liquid. The flies are attracted to the welcoming drink and get trapped in it and drown… in the most fun way possible. This means no pests contaminating the actual wine you want for yourself. This old wine also gives an initial tasting and as you get more confident you can predict and tweak recipes as you go.

Your wine has now entered secondary fermentation in the air-locked environment. It may not bubble for a few hours or even days but this is not a worry – a lot of yeast was removed so the colonies need to acclimatise and repopulate to their new home. As alcohol is building they are fighting its effect and slowing down. Less alcohol will be made in this phase and more slowly. Fermentation will slow down and eventually stop when all the sugar is exhausted after 30 to 40 days. It is important to note that the yeast is not dead. It could hang on for another two years and if sugar is reintroduced they will reactivate again.


Two variations of gooseberry wine in bulk aging

With the slowing processes fermentation ends and the wine enters the aging process. Heavy particles fall out of suspension and drop to the bottom as sediment, over time less carbon dioxide is present as it escapes as gas and the finer and finer sediment will drop. Further racking but not from the “gross lees” but “lees” will be needed but this is open to debate as to when and how often. Personally I time my racking at five/six weeks then 10 weeks after that and every 12 after that if needed. Other people use different criteria – if you have more than 13mm of sediment or religiously at every 2 months in age. They will all serve the same purpose of removing sediment so that it does not rot and produce sulphur dioxide and promote bacterial growth.

As well as dead yeast other components will fall out your wine such as starches and tannin, some pectin haze and minute fruit solids. All the while this is happening the wine is changing chemically with tannins combining and mellowing, acids changing from malic to lactic acid, and other esters and phenols (taste and aroma compounds) being created from the fruit juices.

Lees left behind in elder and black wine – mostly old yeast

It is important to bulk age wine in demijohns and the longer the better. A wine should not be bottled for at least six months minimum after the yeast is pitched. The longer it ages in a demijohn with an air lock the longer it has to expel carbon dioxide naturally. Carbon dioxide creates a more acidic taste and makes the fruit flavours dull compared to a more mature wine. Carbon dioxide can be artificially extracted to aid this. Two options are open to the amateur – using a vacuum pump to pull the gas out, or to use a wine whip to mix it out. This degassing process is one of the last to be done before bottling a wine if you do decide to do it. If aged for nine months you may not even ned to artificially degas as it till naturally escape over time.


Oak chips

Other processes are “chipping” or “oaking” the wine and stabilisation and back sweetening.  Chipping/oaking is adding oak chips to simulate a barrel creating a mature well rounded taste – it can take from seven to 60 days and just requires sanitised oak chips to be dropped into the demijohn – as usual it is personal taste that determines the duration and amount of oak chips added and how toasted they are. Stabilising wine adds one tsp of potassium sorbate per gallon to “kill” the yeast. In effect it actuality it stops them dividing and multiplying to reactivate fermentation. The stabilising solution is mixed into the wine and it is stirred once a day for four days. If you want a sweet wine back sweetening has to be done after stabilisation as you do not want a second (note “second” not “secondary”) fermentation to begin and burst you bottles! This is optional to your taste and some wines like strawberry or quince can be left absolutely bone dry, they can be sweetened though and some wines like blackberry need a little sugar to highlight the fruit tastes and down play acidity


After all process are done the wine can be bottled into you guessed it sanitised bottles. Cork them with real cork and store them on their sides to keep them wet and secure in a cool stable environment. Congratulations you have made wine – all you have to do now is keep from opening it so that it matures to perfection. Once opened adjust your recipes for next year to perfect them, keep notes on the aging processes and look up new version of recipes or processes that can be incorporated.

new bottles
2015 and 2016 vintages


Hopped grapefruit / Strawberry and bay / Blackberry bitters

Bitters are a versatile way to change a standard gin and tonic adding a rich complex flavour, obviously bitter but also with aromatic spices, slight sweetness, sharp citrus or even a savoury celery taste. Sadly commercial bitters are also expensive, a £10 to £20 punt on an additive can be prohibitive with a small bottle easily passed over for another day. Luckily they are easy to make… ish… well technically the work is easy but the actual blending is a little more stressful!



Earlier in the year I made some Vermouth which while not good enough as a stand alone drink it was great as an addition to cocktails, the botanical version pairing nicely with rhubarb or sloe gin and the spiced version a great partner to blackberry gin. The mountain of botanicals I bought also made it into some home made tonic water – a great tasting and money saving alternative to the bland Schwitty supermarket brands. With a mountain of exotic herbs and spices I have decided to turn some of it to making some bitters. Some for me and some for presents I have just thrust upon my unwitting family.

Spirytus can be used to increase the ABV/proof of your base alcohol

Bitters are concentrated tastes held in a base of high proof alcohol usually either a clear grain like gin, vodka or apparently best Everclear (the American frat boys spirit of choice) or a darker alcohol like whiskey or bourbon. The base alcohol obviously pushes it towards a certain style and further exotic versions can have rum or even wine as a base. No matter what base you use it needs to be strong, 100% proof or 50abv. If you need to adjust you alcohol you can find a range of calculators like this on the internet –

The base is used as a solvent to macerate the flavouring ingredients. Most important is the bittering agent that is normally quassia bark, wormwood, cinchona bark, angelica root or gentian root but could be more exotic or less well known bittering agents like artichoke leaf, mugwort, horehound or cherry bark. Some bittering agents are used also as a genuine addition to the taste bringing a roundness or “softness” with citrus peel, dandelion root, black walnut leaf or fruit stones being examples. The bittering agents could be up to 50% of the flavouring in the bitters but most of mine had 10% so there is ample room to blend subtly different styles using combinations of ingredients.

Many bitters have a dominating fruit taste like cherry, fig, orange or plums. Almost anything seems possible. Celery bitters are great to add to a Bloody Mary. Coffee and cocoa beans, almonds, pecans and other nuts can also be used.

Various ingredients macerating

In addition to the fruit or as an alternative herbs and spices can can be added. Angostura is a generous blend of herbs and spices that needs no fruit. All the usual dried herbs like basil or thyme can be used and teas like camomile or other floral tastes like lavender and rose petals. Raid your spice draw from allspice, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, coriander, fennel and peppercorns and rarer spices like juniper, cassia and star anise. The important thing is to use whole spices rather than powders for a full flavour to be extracted. They can be cracked or pummelled in a pestle and mortar.
Sweetness is optional but can be added as white or brown sugars, dissolved as simple syrup, honey or burned caramel similar to that added to vermouth.

Making the bitters is logistically simple but infinitely hard blending your recipe. You need time to do it – at least a month for the alcohol to be used as a solvent to extract all the flavours out of your ingredients. The most basic method is to throw everything into your alcohol and leave it steeping in a jar. Great if you have a definite recipe but madness if not.

Sage macerating in 50% ABV vodka

Making small batches of your ingredients and blending after the flavour extracts means you are in control. Keep a note of how much you soak and blend for future recipes. Making the component flavours also means you can control the soak. Bittering agents and dried spices and herbs generally take 7 to 10 days to macerate, dominant fruits and zests the longest at 21 to 28 days, fresh herbs like fennel 14 days. There is no right or wrong, smell and taste them a drop at a time then filter out the sediments when done.
Ratios are approximate as you will be blending later. Add 2 tsp of dried botanicals to 100g /100ml of your base alcohol or alternatively 1 part dried botanical to 5 parts alcohol, or 1 part fresh botanical to 2 parts alcohol. Place them into a sterilised jar and shake once a day and store in a dark cupboard. Once they seem ready filter through clean muslin or a coffee filter. Keep them labelled to track what and when they were made as you can keep them for years for further bitters. You do not need to make these components as 100ml measurements though. Lavender is very powerful and fragrant so I made only 20ml. The citrus zests were made in larger measures.

Blending hopped grapefruit bitters

Once all the infusions are available the fun can start – blending! Start to blend keeping some decent notes as a guide. Measurements can be kept via weight or pipette drops. Use some sparkling water to periodically drop your bitters into as a taste control but keep in mind a true test will be needed. If a taste becomes dominant add a balance. Once done store in a suitable bottle and start to use after 3 days when the flavours have really muddled.

Sod that get a gin and tonic on the go to give it a true field test!!! Bitters are additions so the true test is with other drinks and keep in mind that some bitters may be suited to certain spirits or cocktails more than others.


As the alcohol content is so high there is no need to refrigerate or worry about a use by date. they will last 2 years at least. the only real damage can be done by sunlight or possibly constant changes in temperature.

To start I am made two bitters using vodka as a base, then also knocked out an amazing Strawberry bitter. In future I may well try a Whiskey based version to see how the herbs and spices differ making a sloe bitter or maybe a grapefruit and paprika bitter. Any hints, tips and suggestions appreciated!


116ml of 2 pink grapefruit zests, 10 hop heads and 7 peppercorns
30ml orange zest solution
2ml lavender solution
1 ml fennel solution
1 ml coriander solution
2 heaped tsp sugar
40ml grapefruit juice (I froze this after zesting the fruit and kept to add it)


This needs to live in the fridge as there is less alcohol to preserve it.

Strawberry syrup being made

100ml strawberry and bay syrup (pour 10ml of water onto 10 or so strawberries and 1 crushed bay leaf and 50g of sugar. Leave for 2 days and then filter to remove the fruit)
5ml gentian solution
3ml rose petal solution
5ml orange zest solution
1ml fennel
1 ml lemon zest solution


(Personally I think this needs a little work but it was a more than adequate start!)
140ml blackberry solution
5ml orange zest solution
5 ml lemon zest solution
5ml dandelion root solution
2ml gentian solution
1ml cinnamon solution


L to R: Lees of elderberry / elder and black / blackberry / blackcurrant wine

Summer and autumn allowed me to get all my red wines made. First was blackcurrant wine made from a pick your own farm. Wet weather made for a late foraged harvest of blackberries that was at the same time as the early foraging of elderberries. I also managed to make an elder and black wine from these two fruit as a second run on the elderberries and a frech crop of blackberries. These reds have now been racked for their final time and are between 17 and 21 weeks old. They probably have another 12 weeks in demijohns before they are bottled to make way for new wines in the spring months like nettle, dandelion, beetroot or any multitude of others – the jury is out at the moment.





I am pleased with all of them but the blackberry seems to be the stand out winner at the moment. I modified last years recipe adding 200g extra fruit upping it to 2.2kg and also adding 250g of chopped raisins to add more body. Already really tasty it seems to have matured quickly with no real sediment settling now. The new recipe makes a full bodied wine rather than a medium. It seems to be free of carbon dioxide and will need no degassing artificially so bottling could happen earlier if I want some demijohn space.

This is the first year I have made blackcurrant wine and initially I was sceptical when prepping the fruit in a cold maceration and primary fermentation as it smelled so much like a fruit juice like Ribena. The worry was that this would be like a alcho-pop and too sweet or too floral to be a genuinely nice drink, especially considering the price of getting the fruit. Now aged and oaked for a month it has really developed reducing in the overly fragrant and over powering fruitiness into a complex medium/full bodied wine. It may well need a long time to bottle age but it will certainly be great in two years. I will certainly be repeating this next June.


The elder and black is the lightest of all the wine in terms colour, no real surprise as it was made as a second run so much of the colour was extracted in the first run wines. That is not to say that flavour is lacking. It is punchy though still needs more time for all the sediments to totally fall out. Certainly better than last years attempt as the fruit was less sour – patience is a virtue when foraging!

The elderberry wine is the biggest worry but also the most unknown at this point. I have been using a modified technique which I may well refine next year too. The wine had 5 days in cold maceration and then 6 days in primary fermentation before the elderberries were squeezed and returned to primary for a few days more. Next year I may reduce this to four days before pressing as I think too much tannin might be being extracted. Elderberries have a lot of tannin in their skin and this is extracted via alcoholic maceration rather than the aqueous extraction for other flavour compounds. As fermentation occurs and alcohol rises so does the tannin extraction. My plans are all supposition as the elderberry will have at least 18 months maturing and I can see that tannin is already precipitating out as thick black spots so the wine is changing all the time. It also is still the thickest with the most particulate floating about so it is still relatively young. This and the blackcurrant have the most potential to age for a long time and to develop. It would be folly to judge it too soon.


Strawberry Wine 14 weeks
10L Last years wine that became half still half sparkling and er… half vermouth

A friend at work helped me out doing some colour changes to my wine labels. As a thank you he got a bottle of elderflower wine… the poor bastard. He must be a sucker for punishment as he commissioned, as in bullied me into making him some wine for his upcoming wedding. They are making some elderflower champagne for the ceremony and I am making some for the reception or vice versa – I pretty much blacked out with fear as I worked out what I had agreed to. All I can think of is guests being blinded by it or poisoned, or blinded and poisoned.

24 punnets for 10 litres of wine

A mad dash got me the last of the seasons strawberries as ideally I want to get it started this year so it can have 10 months ready for the ceremony.


Strawberry wine – 4.5 Litres

Champagne Yeast EC1118 or CY17

2kg firm strawberries
1kg-ish of sugar to 1.08SG
About 4 litres water
1 tsp citric acid or juice of 1 lemon
half cup of tea
1 tsp pectolaise
1 tsp yeast nutrient

Ready in six months, better after nine!

Strawberry wine has a unique maceration treating the fruit with care so not to extract too much bitterness. First strip the greenery off the strawberries cut any bruising away. Mash the fruit then pour over 1 litre of boiling water and leave it for 24 hours – 36 or 48 if it has not puréed into a smooth goo. As it sits boil the remaining 3 litres of water and let it sit covered to cool.

Prepping strawberries to macerate

So far so violent! The gentle care come when extracting the juice. Pour the pulp into a funnel lined with clean sterilised muslin/cheese cloth and let the liquid drip through. As space starts to appear pour in some of the cooled water and let that drip through so it can extract more of the flavour. You can stir the goo but do not squeeze the bag as this forces out bitter tastes you do not want. It will probably take at least an hour for all the water to pass through.

Strawberries macerating

As I am eventually making champagne I need to keep the sugar to a maximum of SG1.08 when I make this. Champagne is made using a secondary fermentation after the wine has matured a little. As there is a lot of alcohol made there is an upper limit the new yeast can tolerate when it gets added just before bottling. If you are making a still wine you can go to SG1.09 or higher of you want something strong. I had to add about 800g of sugar.

Fermentation after 24 hours

Another wait is needed if you add pectolaise to break down the pectin. this is not essential but is desirable. So another 24 hours passed with the wine covered and safe from bacteria. A half cup of strong tea is added after pectolaise as the enzyme likes to gobble tannin as well as pectin. Tannin adds body to the wine as strawberries lack this essential element unlike grapes. Yeast and nutrient are added and then after three hours there were signs of fermentation which picked up in power until 24 hours later there was a loud and vigorous bubbling happening.

After 5 days I racked into secondary with an air lock and all looks good. It will sit in the wide necked demijohn for 5 or 6 weeks protected with its blanket of carbon dioxide preventing any oxidation and then at this point I will rack into a narrow neck demi as the smaller surface area is exposed to oxygen and possible oxidation. The current wide neck demi allows easy cleaning afterwards as there will be a lot of lees settling.

Chaptilizing is adding yeast and sugar as a secondary fermentation and I plan to do this around month 4 or 5 as it gives enough time for the wine to clear initially. Strawberry wine is quick in many aspects. The over all time from pitch to pop is just 9 months although it ca mature for up to a year and a half. With in this fermentation always seem explosive and I have had some foam out the air lock. Yeast settles quickly too with a very clear wine after 2 or 3 months – further time may be needed to off gas the dissolved CO2 though.


The early season strawberry champagne. Best wine I have made!

One thing I may try next April is also adding banana as this can create further depth in a white fruit wine – reds similarly use raisins that would overpower the strawberries creating a muddled taste. As I have no leeway with this batch I am sticking to tried and tested methods. I can experiment when my only client is myself.


Gooseberry wine 4 months old: left MA33 / right EC1118

Click here for the Gooseberry Wine pt1

Click here for the Gooseberry Wine pt2

Click here for the Gooseberry Wine Recipe

The gooseberry wine was started at the start of August and has almost 4 months ageing and has just been racked. the colour has sadly changed from the pink and ruby to a rich amber colour and is crystal clear. There was a slight sediment at the bottom and some tannins as small black particles. The lees that was left behind gave a sharp crisp taste and the acidity will hopefully mellow over the next eight months. The wines were made with 2 differing yeast and the MA33 yeast had a mellower and nicer taste than the EC1118 yeast. I chose to stabilise the wine as it will need to be back sweetened in three months just before bottling. Next year I might make champagne and skip the stabilising to allow the yeast to carbonate it.

A reminder of the colours now gone as it entered secondary fermentation.