Elderflower wine in secondary fermentation
Elderflower wine – five days old in secondary fermentation. Currently it is very dark but mostly from the raisin body and it will fall out.

Elderflower wine is possibly one of the most well known country wines along with The Good Life’s pea pod wine. While pea pod wine may be a long running joke (though by all accounts very nice) elderflower wine is a serious business. It is a bold confident wine with unique flavour that can stand next to any “proper” white grape wine rather than be an approximation of one. It has a lovely aroma and crisp floral taste that can be made into a very sweet or ultra dry wine. It hides to alcohol taste so never tastes too “hot” so to speak and can be easily adapted into a champagne. As few bottles are sold commercially it is unique enough to impress people if you share it and they will not be too bothered about the hippy drippy foraging you did to make it… just don’t get drunk and drone on about it. Not bad at about 70p a bottle once made!


Elderflowers picked
Elderflowers waiting to be stripped

Most flower or leaf wines require a huge volume of ingredients usually the equivalent of the wine you are making. A gallon of dandelion wine needs a gallon of loose flowers picked. Elderflowers are packed with flavour so they only need half a litre of flower heads to make the 4.5 litres of an English gallon of wine. As they are so floral it is best to treat this like a white wine and go for a long slow fermentation. Do not boil the flowers as some recipes recommend simply pour over boiling water to blanch then steep them, doing it in a stainless steal pan will keep temperatures lower when fermentation starts dispersing some of the heat that fermenting yeast generates. It is best to use a good white wine yeast that prefers lower temperatures like Vintners Harvest CY17, SN9, CL23 or the champagne yeast EC1118. All this will ensure that the delicate floral aroma does not “boil” off as the yeast hits its stride.


Use a hydrometer to get the best results.

Elderflowers are a native to Britain and so many of the recipes suffer from British ideas about making overly alcoholic moon shine passed down from dotty grandparents. A hydrometer is very much needed and ignore any suggestion of adding 1.5kg of sugar to a gallon of wine. It will either make a stomach churningly sweet wine or head hurtingly alcoholic one. I made 10litres and only added about 2kg of sugar in total which was 1.09 SG on the hydrometer. If you want a sweeter desert wine it is far better to ferment to dryness and then stabilise and then back sweeten at the end to ensure it is to your taste. If you wish to make a sparkling Sham-pagne do not go past 1.08 SG so that the repitched yeast in a secondary fermentation can survive and carbonate in the bottle.

I have never oaked any of my white wines but I may choose to this time as the spiced and caramel flavours imparted will probably compliment the elderflowers well while also adding a little “buttery” mouth feel. As it is an experiment I will separate this 10 litre batch into two demijohns with one oaked and one left natural. I doubt it will need much so I will add 6g of oak chips for a couple of months at the end of bulk aging.



Suitable yeasts – white wine yeasts like EC1118, CY17, SN9, CL23
0.55L picked elderflower heads
1kg-ish sugar to 1.09SG
250g raisins lightly chopped
1/2 mug of earl grey tea
Juice and zest of 3 lemons
1 tsp yeast nutrient
White wine yeast
4.5L boiling water

Elderflower wine ingredients

  1. Pluck the elder flowers from the stems removing as much green as possible.

    Elderflower wine prep
    Picked elderflowers, lemon zest and chopped raisins can be blanched together with boiling water.
  2. Place the elderflowers, chopped or minced raisins & lemon zest in pan and pour over the boiling water, add most of the sugar and stir in thoroughly so the flowers are submerged.
  3. Leave to cool to room temperature and fine tune to the desired starting gravity of sugar at 1.08 or 1.09 SG. Add the lemon juice, tea, yeast and nutrient and stir in.

    Elderflower wine primary
    A cap of flowers and raisins naturally forms as fermentation occurs. Push it down with a sterile ladle regularly to stop oxidation.
  4. Ferment in primary and punch the cap of flowers and raisins down four times a day if possible (at least once a day at least)
  5. Rack and filter to secondary though muslin to remove the solids when fermentation starts to slow. This will be at 4 to 10 days after pitching the yeast. Squeeze the muslin thoroughly to get all the raisin and elder taste.

    Elderflower wine in secondary fermentation2
    Secondary fermentation at six days old
  6. Rack at five weeks then another 10 weeks after that (and three months after that if needed)
  7. Stabilise and back sweeten if desired.
  8. Bottle at six months of age.

Can be drunk nine months after starting – 12 for best results.


Quince and rose petal wine

So spring has sprung, the grass is riz, I wonder where the foragables is… sorry…

Spring is finally here. Elder flowers are starting to bloom and other more esoteric ingredients like oak leaves, gorse or dandelions are starting to become available for wine making. In a few days the elder flowers will be picked, plucked and starting to ferment, a few weeks after that I hope to make a walnut leaf wine for the first time. This means there is pressure on the demijohns to free up ready for new brews, not that space should determine if a wine is bottled.


Quince wine bottled

My quince wine has had six months since it was started and I have decided to bottle it. The taste is good, no starch or pectin haze is visible and colour is a lovely amber hue… Ms Gazette described it as a, “rose gold” as she wandered off planning her drunken quince debauchery. I say, “bottle” but it was only half of it as I am playing about with the remainder. Quince wine takes two years to mature and currently there are 12 bottles unopened in the “cellar under the stairs” and this will be joined by 7 more of the most recent batch. The remainder is becoming quince and rose petal wine inspired by Spanish membrillo.

Rose petals, pre and post boil.

Quince is a good wine bone dry but I want to quince and rose petal to be totally different with a sweeter taste to compliment the floral rose petals. Adding the rose petals is easy – making a tea out of dried petals to add to the remaining British gallon (4.5 litres) of quince. I used 5 grams of petals boiled in about a mugful of water and it made a heady perfumed brew with a fair amount of tannin present, there is plenty of time for this to mature out over 18 months. Boiling not only extracted the flavour and aroma but also sterilised the brew too. Once cooled it was dropped in to the target demijohn that I racked the quince into.

Stabiliser by itself is not enough! Use a two pronged attack like a buffalo

Adding this flavour is easy but adding sweetness is more arduous. If sugar is added to wine it can start a secondary fermentation due to dormant yeast having a nice new sugar banquet to dine on. Yeast can happily live for 18 months in a dry wine ready to rise from the grave. If a sweet wine (sweet in any form rather than just dessert wines sweet!) is wanted you have to inhibit the yeast. There are a few ways to do this and even more myths about how to do it. The important thing to remember is that a two stage attack is needed. Campden with its sodium metabisulfite will be a chemical cosh to knock any tired yeast back and then a stabiliser with potassium sorbate will be a chemical condom stopping them reproducing. Other processes could help like cold stabilisation making the yeast temporarily dormant but these are all moot compared to the chemicals. Some prefer to “max out” the yeast so that alcohol kills the yeast stone dead but this means the yeast determines your flavour and recipe rather than you – why be a slave to the properties of the yeast rather than your taste buds?

Don’t fear the foam – as the wine stabilises it foams but it will dissipate.

Now we have the wine violence and prophylactics out of the way you need a little time and effort stirring these chemicals through once a day for four days to make sure it is dispersed and active to be effective. It should be noted that the yeast can still ferment during this time, probably intangibly to the home wine maker though. A hydrometer test with three days unchanging readings is a definitive test but generally after four days it is safe to add sugar as there will be no more fermentation and risk of exploding bottles at worst or an unintended balance of sugars to acids and tannins otherwise.


Garlic wine – 10 days old.

Not once have I ever uttered the line, “Waiter, can I have a glass of garlic wine please,” for a few reasons. The first is I am banned from our local Italian restaurant and secondly because it tastes horrible to drink. This is not a wine to drink but a wine to eat as a stock to risotto, mussels, meats or any other meal when white wine or dry vermouth would be added.

Garlic wine ingredients

Before you start have a think about how much you need as 6 bottles of stock is a lot to make as an experiment, it also stinks for the first three days of fermentation and by “stinks” I mean it really really honks. This dies down as fermentation gets under way in primary and is eliminated by the time it enters secondary fermentation with an airlock. If you have sensitive family or a vampire staying over best leave it a few days before kicking it off!

There are no hard and fast rules on the volume of garlic.

As this is a stock added for taste the measurement of the garlic is not really that exacting. I used 14 bulbs as they were small, others I have seen have used only 6 giant bulbs. The average is 12 regular bulbs as a guide. Pealing all of that will take eleventy billion years but the easiest way to do it is to press the full garlic bulb down so the skin cracks satisfyingly, then separate all the cloves apart and then start to slice to woody base off to peel. Once all the skin has been removed divide it in half with one set being baked and the other half thinly sliced.

Baking the garlic to hopefully caramelize the sugars

To roast the garlic pack it tightly into some foil and seal it with some tight folds then bake it for 20 minutes at 180° C / gas mark 7. For any Americans reading I’m sorry but I have no idea how you would gauge this but I imagine it is 3 cups of medium heat per quart of garlic time. The time is only approximate but when you open the foil it should be soft but not browned and it can be squished into a purée and dropped with the other sliced garlic.

Add to the garlic the lemon rind and chopped raisins and then boil for 15 minutes. The sugar will dissolve easiest when the water is warm so take the opportunity while you can.

Boiling the garlic, rind and raisins.

When it has totally cooled add the mug of strong tea, orange and lemon juice then stir the yeast and the nutrient in. I chose to primary ferment in a large demijohn but if you pan is big enough just leave it covered in it. The boiling will have sterilised everything nicely already so no laborious cleaning and sterilising of other containers.

Primary fermentation leads to a pungent garlic smell that permeates your house so be prepared. I got used to it but opening the door when coming home really knocked me back, this is only temporary so persist through it for a few days or hide it in a cellar, shed or the servants quarters if you can. As there is a lot of solids in the must this will all lift due to the carbon dioxide bubbling away from the fermenting yeast. Stir it at least twice a day and four if you can and pour the must through sterilised muslin into a secondary fermenter when it starts to slow. The remaining pulp can be squeezed though to extract as much flavour as possible.

Garlic wine – 1 minute old

The raisins give a dark brown colour to the must but this will soften as particulates drop out during secondary fermentation. Pretend it is a rich butterscotch rather than a murky brown if you can. Racking should be done as usual at about 5 weeks and then 8 weeks after that but there is no long ageing process needed. The wine should be fermented to dryness so no need to back sweeten. When the wine is clear it is pretty much ready to use though some leave it a month for flavours to mellow and mix nicely but there is no reason why four months after starting you cannot be using it. While the wine will keep for a year or so it should be noted that it needs to be refrigerated once a bottle is opened. It should happily sit for a month as the 13% ABV will be a natural preservative. Because of this I am choosing to put it into capped beer bottles as they are smaller and more manageable.

There are no rules to when or how to use it simply add to your own desired taste and if any one has any particular recipes it can be added to I would certainly be interested to know!

GARLIC WINE – 4.5 litres

12 regularly garlic bulbs
500g raisins
2 lemons – juice and zest
3 oranges – juice only
1 cup of tea
4.5litres of water
1kg sugar
Wine nutrient
white wine yeast

1. Peel the garlic and divide roughly in half.

2. Roast half until softened but not browned and thinly slice the rest as it is in the oven.

3. Combine both and add the roughly chopped raisins and lemon peel then boil with 4.5 litres of water for 15 minutes

4. As it starts to cool stir in the sugar then once fully cooled add the cup of strong tea and juices pof the lemons and oranges, yeast and the nutrient.

5. Stir twice a day in primary fermentation in a covered container.

6. When fermentation starts to slow pour through sterlisied muslin into a demijohn and squeeze out as much flavour from the resulting pulp. Seal with an airlock and rack in 5 weeks or so when fermentation ends.

7. Rack every 2 months until there is no more sediment and bottle. Leave for an extra month if you desire.

Four months from pitch to… er… cook.


Gorse wine at one month
Last years gorse wine

Broom is a number of months from flowering but gorse is in season and will be except for the hight of summer – both flowers use the same recipe. It should be noted that broom is toxic and that rarely is it mentioned in recipes online so proceed with it with caution. The flowers can be made into a technically easy to make wine though it needs a decent afternoon to pick the flowers needed for it. It also requires some dexterous fingers or gloves as gorse are covered with spines on their stems.

3 to 4.5 litres of lightly packed flowers are simmered in boiling water with some tea and raisins adding body. Gorse creates a light coconut tasting wine that mellows in the bottle. The time of year the flowers are harvested can alter the taste and some make gorse and rose petal wine with two litres of gorse flowers and on lire of fresh rose petals.

Parsnip Quince Gorse
parsnip / quince / gorse wine (most of the gorse colour comes from the raisins which eventally lightens)

GORSE WINE – 4.5 litres

Suitable yeasts – EC1118, SN9 or CY17

3.5 to 5 litres gorse flowers
4.5 litres water
1kg-ish sugar to 1.09SG
500g chopped raisins
2 lemons – juice and zest only (no pith)
Half cup of strong tea
Yeast nutrient
White wine yeast

Gorse wine at one month21. Bring the water to a boil and add the gorse flowers – simmer for 15 minutes.

2. Add most of the sugar, the raisins, lemon rind and tea

3. Once cool adjust sugar to 1.09SG, add the yeast and nutrient and stir twice a day.

4. Sieve and squeeze into secondary when fermentation starts to slow

5. Rack at five weeks and then if needed every 2 or 3 months. Bottle when clear.

Leave at least 12 months to mature before drinking though 18 months is best.


Blueberry and pomegranate wine
Blueberry and pomegranate wine at 10 days

Deciding to do some blueberry and pomegranate wine was a snap decision and knocked the nettle wine out of contention that I did have plans for. A friend will probably brave the nettles so I may get to swap a bottle for a test drive… they might just be learning this as they are reading.

Blueberry and pomegranate wine ingredients
Ingredients including the cold macerated blueberries

The change of mind was by chance drinking some blueberry and pomegranate fruit juice and thinking it was an ideal for a wine. That fruit juice had preservatives so was probably unsuitable to to use as a base as it would clobber the yeast into submission. I quickly went off the idea of de-seeding 12 pomegranates and crushing them to get the juice too. Tracking down some sulphite free pomegranate juice from a whole-foods shop meant that the recipe was a goer.

Cold soak blueberries and mash
Add campden then blueberries and water, cover to stop oxidation then refrigerate. Afterwards MASH!

The blueberries were easier to source from a supermarket and they were frozen to burst the flesh and cool them down ready for a cold soak. The cold maceration/soak allows flavour and colour to be extracted from thick skins before the yeast is pitched. To do it a campden is crushed to keep the water sanitised and kill any natural yeasts on the blueberries. Enough water is used to at least cover the berries but more is beneficial. I personally boil then cool the water so it is safe but the campden should do this anyway. Cling film is then placed on the surface of the water to stop oxidation and then another to keep any nasty microbes away before it is popped into the fridge for a 3 to 5 days.


Adding blueberryThe berries were mashed and squeezed in a sparge bag to rupture them and allow as much flavour out. The sparge bag will also allow a good pressing when I rack from primary to secondary fermentation. The berries were then married up with the pomegranate juice, remaining water, some tea for tannin and the juice of lemon for extra acidity. The ratio of blueberries to pomegranate is roughly 50/50 with 1kg of the berries and a litre of juice – there is no reason that this cannot be done to any other ratio for personal taste. Using a hydrometer I adjusted the sugar to 1.09 for a planned 13%ABV. I have not make this recipe before so I have no idea if I want a sweet or dry wine at bottling time. The taste seems fruity but complex so may be able to remain totally dry.

Adding pomegranateI imagine this will be a fruity medium bodied wine that will need no longer than a year to mature, blueberry wine being the quickest of the berries. Native European blueberries are less flavourful than the American blueberry and as such if this is a success I may tinker with the recipe next year. Most of the ideas for this did come from US recipes. Pomegranates to me have a naturally smokey taste so I may or may not choose to oak this wine and I may use some sherry chips as I am yet to throw them at any wine so far.


Yeast strains – Any red wine yeast like R56 or Lalvin 71B

1kg of blueberries
1 litre of pommegranate juice
1kg sugar – aiming for max 1.09 SG
3L water
1 cup of tea
Juice of a lemon
1 tsp. yeast nutrient
Wine yeast

1. Freeze the berries then cold soak for 5 days in fridge at least with one campden and 1.5 litres of water.

2, Boil the remaining water and then leave to cool. Add then crush the berries and the pomegranate juice and leave to get to room temperature.

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

4. Leave in primary to ferment then squeeze the berries for all the juice and filter into demijohn.

5. Rack at 5 weeks then again 10 weeks after that.

6. Age for 3 months minimum after that (5g of oak chips could be used)

7. Bottle.

One year from pitch to pop but better if left (I imagine!)


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 – http://homedistiller.org/distill/dilute/calc

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


3 Strawberry Vermouths: Floral / Botanical / Spiced

Vermouth as every article states was a way for pissed up monks to cover their poor wine making skills. Herbs, spices and fruit was added to cover off tastes in white wines and over the centuries it has evolved from health giving tonic to slightly naff cocktail ingredient.

So I have decided to get with the monks and make some vermouth but hopefully it can be a decent drink on its own rather than an additive, though I am sure it will get added to a few cocktails as Ms Gazette and I chill out in the garden. Lets face it it has taken us 4 years to grow a lawn so lets celebrate it.

Vermouth is as much an idea as a thing. There are no standard recipes only guide lines. Generally it is usually 16-18% ABV but can be between 14.5 to 22% according to EU law. To get this ABV a base wine is fortified, then flavours added that are many and varied with no set recipe. Wormwood though is considered essential as this derived the name coming form “Wermut” in German.

Looking for recipes was difficult but here are a few that seemed well researched:

Ipprocrasso: the first medieval vermouth

Traditional vermouth recipe

Another traditional vermouth recipe

Sweet vermouth recipe

Strawberry vermouth recipe

Finally another strawberry vermouth

So just like regular wine there are sweet and dry vermouths. Sweet can be very sweet with caramelised sugar being added to take the gravity up to 1.10 which is stronger than an unfermented fruit wine – probably 1.25 kg of sugar to a 4.5 litre demijohn! As I want an aperitif I am going for a dry which can be up to 1.03 gravity. My base wine will be a Strawberry wine that is 5 months in age. this is because Strawberry wine is both delicious and capable of being dry.

Strawberry wine and port ready to make the vermouth


Vermouth can be fortified with brandy, eau d’ vie (no idea), cognac, grappa, sherry or even port. I was trying to decided on two differing fortifications using grappa or white port but decided the herbs and spices would be motre interesting to alter. Usually dry vermouth is oaked but I think this will fight the strawberry taste so I am skipping this step. Here is a guide to oak chips for anyone that is interested though: OAK CHIPS

Spice drawer raided

The botanicals can be divided up a number of ways so here is my totally unscientific taste selection. There may well be a million more too. Send some details if you have ever made one!

wormwood – essential for classic vermouth, gentian, mugwort, chichona bark (often illegal to buy in many countries as it is potentially toxic), angelica, orang peel, dandelion root, coriander, hops, quinine (sounds dangerous but some swear by it), pumpkin seed, sloe stones, peach stone

cloves, cinnamon, ginger, star anise, coriander (slight bitter too), saffron, vanilla bean, cardamom, fennel seeds, fenugreek, nutmeg, peppercorn, cassia bark

citrus peel, berries, juniper, rose petals, elder flowers, raspberry juice, rhubarb juice

Oregano, sage, basil, thyme, lemon thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, chamomile (slightly bitter), marjoram, dill, lavender

Not all of these are necessarily suitable for strawberry so I decided to make three differing recipes that erred to certain flavours as experiments. All had the basic base of 250ml of white port, 500ml of strawberry wine and 50g of white sugar. Ms Gazette and I then started to mix and match various pots making the following:


1g angelica root
1/2g lavender
1g camomile
2 cardamom pods
2 twists black peppercorn
1/2g cinnamon
1/2g rosemary
0.2g of sage oregano and thyme
1/2g gentian root
1/2g wormwood
tiny drop of rose water
1g elderflower


1 point of star anise
0.6g cinnamon
1 clove
0.1g nutmeg
1/2g coriander seed
0.3g fennel
1g lemon zest
1/2g rosemary
0.2g medowsweet
1 small pinch orange blossom
1 small bay leaf
1/2g wormwood


1 sloe stone
1 cherry stone
1 juniper berry
1/2g lemon zest
1/2g orange zest
0.2g gentian root
0.2g black horehound
0.2g angelica root
2 cardamom pods
2 strands safron
1/2g rosemary
0.3g thyme
0.2g wormwood


Many of the above can be pilfered from your local spice draw, the camomile was liberated from a tea bag. I had some elderflowers in the freezer as well as a few sloes from foraging. Some ingredients are a little more specialist so going to specialist herbalists or mail order was necessary.

Floral recipe ingredients

Infusing the ingredients can be done in a number of ways making individual pots of each flavour and combining like some kind of demented apothecarist like Grenouille from sexy murder book “Perfume,” adding to a bag and dropping into the base wine or as I have decided, simmering in the fortifying drink then filtering out and dissolving the sugar. Once cooled it can be added to the wine, mixed a little and then bottled.

Use a set of micro scales to measure the ingredients. If you just ordered that set of scales online, congratulations – MI5 are probably tracking you as drug dealer. As this is to your own taste, keep tasting as you simmer the ingredients, add a little more of this or that as you go. If one taste dominates simply add more of the fortifier and the receding ingredients to bring back to a palatable combination.

Infusing the floral ingredients

Once cooled add to the base wine and voilà – ready to drink straight away, though they mix and age a little over a few days. It should be polished off within 3 months and once a bottle is opened kept in the fridge where it will be happy for a month or so.

Cooling ready for the wine. Each version had a slightly differing hue

Having sampled the three neat and added to gin I am more than a little pleased with the results. The spiced version seems the most well rounded though all taste good. They are punchier than a bog standard supermarket vermouth with more flavours that hit the tongue immediately or as after tastes. Adding the floral and spiced together seems to really work.

Perhaps adding a fresh strawberry sugar syrup could make a sweet vermouth and I could use a very light elderflower or even quince wine as a base for the dryer version next time – I have enough of the specialist ingredients now!

The base alcohol may change as I am interested to see if grappa or sherry change the tastes and I may well play about with a true caramel sugar too or add some vanilla. The bittering agents are perhaps the most complex element I will try to develop using a range of ingredients trying not to get one dominant punch that over powers and certainly pacing the steeping process so they are added later with the more floral and herbal elements at the start. The sloe and cherry stones I may use more of to get a rounder warmer taste and also adding 1g of ginger will add to all of the recipes. The floral was a little too lavender-centric so that can be pared down a little next time.

Hopefully over a few months or years I can really get to understand the components and make a bespoke vermouth. Any ideas or advice I’d be more than happy to hear so drop me a line but for now if you don’t mind, Ms Gazette is waiting in the garden.



Suitable yeast- R56, Lalvin 71B, D80 or D254

Elder and Black at 5 days old

1kg elderberries (or skins from previous run of elder)

1.5kg blackberries

4L water

1kg sugar to 1.09sg

1tsp yeast nutrient

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/2tsp pectolase

Yeast (If not reusing skins)


Wine making seems to escalate into mania rather than any real money saving or taste experiment turning into entertainment for hoarders. Currently I have the equivalent of 70 or so bottles of wine fermenting from this years recipes to compliment the ones that are aging in bottle in the Zero Drop Wine Cellar… the cupboard under the stairs. The rather heavy investment is to allow the blackberry, blueberry and elderberry a decent chance of aging rather than being snaffled too early.

The Elder and Black wine allows myself to indulge this greed for the last time this year. Elderberries are full of flavour, so much so that they can be recycled into a second run wine – this is from the skins being so thick and proportionally a lot of the berries as they are teeny weeny compared to grapes. The flavour is not as strong as the first run only having about half the punch so the 4kg of fruit from the pure elderberry wine is now the equivalent of 2kg of fruit. The taste has also changed to be less fruity moving towards the tannic side so I am using 2kg of blackberries to make up the deficit. These two berries compliment each other as the blackberries provide to fruitier top tastes and the elder skins the baser bitter tastes to make an at least medium red wine.

Alternatively I could have just reused the skins but halved the volume of wine being made but I was worried this would be too tannic dominating the light style that would be created by just the skins.

Primary fermentation of the Elder and Black. Recycled elderberries in the left sparge bag and blackberries on the right

Planning ahead was important as I needed the blackberries to be blanched and steralised with boiled water to be the correct temperature to add to the left over skins. After racking off the thick rich elderberry wine I was left with a rather gloopy mess of juice and yeast. To this I added the soaked blackberries, some citric acid and 2kg of sugar to make to take it to 1.08SG. The yeast was already present and was energetic to say the least starting to bubble within 10 minutes of the sugar being added.

Party time was an intensive 4 days in primary fermentation and when I racked it had a rich vibrant blood red colour, different to the ink black of the pure elderberry. The smell was fruity and even at such a young age the two berries seemed well suited to each other. This mongrel may even outshine the pedigree but only time will tell. This year I have both an elderberry wine and a blackberry wine on the go and then the love child of them with recipes and methods tailor made to get as much flavour out of all of them. In theory the blackberry will be first to be opened at 9 months maybe 12, then the elder and black at 12 months and the thoroughbred elderberry at 18. If I can I would like to leave them at least twice as long to really bulk age them.



The Englishman’s Grape

It’s elderberry season… a month early. Hurray for global warming! Screw global warming but back to the elderberries.


The warm but wet weather has shifted elder trees into high gear so the berries have ripened a month earlier than last year. Not only that but the berries seem nice and juicy bursting with flavour. In an odd twist there are even one or two elder flowers blossoming at the same time due to the on again off again efforts of the sun to poke his head through the clouds.

Making elderberry wine is not for the faint hearted. You have to wait a year minimum for elderberry wine to mature, probably 2 or more even. You cannot wander into Lidl and browse for elderberries – some mail order companies do sell dried berries though.. Elderberries are foraged and you need about 2kg of berries per gallon of wine being made. First find some elder trees, they are scrubby looking bushes easily identified by the floral elder flowers in April. Leaves are almost certainly in groups of five and the berries mature to become ink black in red stemmed clusters about this time of year!


Not only must you identify them correctly but you have to be patient too picking them only when they fully ripe. All the berries have to turn a rich deep black – check the undersides of the berries to really see if they are mature with no red glinting back. The stems turn red and if the cluster has been unmolested by hungry birds they droop due to th fruity goodness. If a few birds have pecked the berries they are less likely to weigh down the bunch. Some berries may have even started to raisin and these are no problem simply being sun dried elderberries that will release flavour into the wine when fermenting.

When picking stay away from clusters that have been… er… crapped on by hungry birds, or those that look mildewy. South facing clusters ripen first as do trees that are close to water but they are more likely to covered in mildew, cobwebs and flies sadly. Picking a fully ripe cluster of berries should be easy as they snap easily off as the stems become brittle. Less mature berries will need a firmer pull or even a pair of scissors. Best to be patient and wait. Never pick clusters that have green or red berries as you are just wasting fruit and will cause an elderberry arms race with other foragers as they try to keep up. The trees are not yours to own either, you have no right to the berries and don’t damage branches getting at them as they are food for migrating birds and small mammals when they fall to the ground. If they are out of reach they are out of bounds in my view.

Black berries and red stem identify the elderberry.

2kg is a lot of berries so a few foraging trips may be needed over a few weeks as bunches mature at different times. The berries keep in the freezer and this is in fact beneficial as freezing will destroy up to half the pectin if done for seven days or more as well as bursting internal cell walls to allow more juice to be extracted. Once you get elderberries home it is essential to pluck the berries from the stems this can easily be done with a gentle rolling with your hands though some use a fork for ease. I find the fork pulls small stems with them so it causes more problems that is solves. If a few immature berries have made it into your possession they will float when you rinse them. Sugar laden ripe berries are heavier than water and sink.


Stems might not kill you but could cause problems for people with heart problems or children. It should be noted that the leaves are too so don’t have any ideas turning an oak leaf wine recipe into an elder leaf wine recipe. The roots can be fatal if ingested so no licking.

400g of foraged, destemmed elderberries ready to freeze

As Elderberries are the Englishman’s grape they need no tannin adding artificially and in fact it is easy to create an overly tannic wine. Little acid is added to get them into shape and sugar is relatively high too. The skins are thick and contain a high level of flavour so cold maceration will help extract flavour, aroma and colour. I have mine cold soaking for five days but plan to remove the berries early in primary fermentation. This is to limit the extraction of too much tannin through alcoholic extraction – this does mean I can reuse the skins and yeast adding 2kg of blackberries and sugar to make a second run of “Elder and Black” wine.


Elderberry wine will be started at the weekend so check back for that…

A few days later the second run Elder and Black will start will full details given so keep an eye out for that too…



Last years blackberry wine – stunt hand used



Suitable yeasts – R56, R2, D80, D254, 71B

2.25kg blackberries
100g raisins
3l water
700g sugar to 1.09sg
1tsp yeast nutrient
Juice of 2 lemons
1tsp pectolase

Foraging blackberries has been difficult this year as the warm but wet weather created a lot of growth but few blackberries that refused to ripen. Then just as all the jammy-mammies has picked them too early they were savagely cut back. It was like a scorched earth policy so I only managed to get 1kg myself and had to rely on shop bought fruit to bulk it up to the 2kg I needed for one gallon of wine.

Raisins roughly chopped

It seems a lot later than last year getting the blackberry wine fermenting but this may pay dividends as I have some thoroughly ripe fruit that will make some excellent wine. Last year I was one of the dunderheads picking too early! The very nice blackberry wine I made last year was a medium body but very fruity number and this year I have decided to add 100g of raisins to add a little body and push it towards a full bodied red.

Blackberries have thin skins so there is no need to cold macerate them. First thing was to pour some boiling water over them to break the skins and sanitise them, as it cooled some pectolase was added so it could break down the pectin. 24 hours later it was time to add the juice of a lemon, sugar and yeast. The fruit must have been busting with natural sugar and the 24 hours as the must cooled really allowed it into the water and only using 700g extra was impressive. Some British recipes recommend adding 1.5kg which would surely be too much for the yeast to tolerate and make either an overly sweet wine or a horribly alcoholic one. I decided to use Lavlin 71B yeast to test it out but last years used the very good Vintners Harvest R56.

Blackberry wine in primary fermentation.

I used a sparge bag to pack all the blackberries into as I wanted them contained. When fermentation starts the fruit rises due to the Carbon Dioxide given off by the partying yeast – last year this created a perfect plug that rose up and exploded over the side of the fermenter. Just for the record blackberry stains to not wash out of wooden floors. Luckily it was a bare floor about to be relaid but I did not want any repeats this year.


Fermentation in primary took 6 days with thankfully no explosions. Racking off the gross leas was easy into the demijohn through sterilised muslin. This caught the fruit pulp allowing a really good squeeze to get all the lovely flavour from the berries. The pulp still looked very rich and often people reuse this for a second run rose wine. I could not manage it as the resulting fruit is half as flavourful so you half the volume of wine being made from the originator and I had already used the relatively small 4.5l demijohn. Rather than waste it I decided to throw it into some gin and added two bay leaves. In three weeks time this will hopefully have infused into the gin and be ready to filter then drink.

The wine however will sadly take a little more time. Racking off the yeast will happen in 6 weeks and then again at 3 or 4 months to remove any sediment that precipitates out. Last years wine was perfectly palatable after nine months maturing and even better after 12. I imagine that the raisins creating more body will mean that it needs a minimum of 12 months in the bottle and I may try to leave it 18 months if I am a good boy.

4.5l blackberry wine at 7 days (reflection of Mr Gazette at 38 years)