Elderberry Wine!

By , August 14, 2017

Back in the early ’70s, long before I ever tasted wine, let alone learned to like it or make it, I loved a song by Elton John called Elderberry Wine. The B side of his hit 45, Crocodile Rock, it became almost as popular as the A side in Sitka, Alaska in those years (confused by these archaic terms? Ask your parents, or even grandparents!).

One variety of elder grows prolifically in Southeast Alaska, so I naturally wanted to try making elderberry wine eventually. Earlier this year, I bottled my first batch, and it’s time to taste it.

Elderberry wine from the Zeiger Family Homestead (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

Elderberries are surprisingly controversial. Apparently, there are blue elderberries, and red elderberries; the latter grow here. Many people consider the red variety poisonous. Even my go-to wine making reference, The Alaska Bootlegger’s Bible warns that the Alaskan variety must never be used.

This misconception comes from a partial truth. The seeds in red elderberries are poisonous to humans, and must be carefully excluded from any consumables. For this reason, no one ever makes red elderberry jam, but elderberry jelly is quite good. A properly made and clarified wine will not crush any seeds in the process, or include any in the finished product.

We have a couple of elder bushes on our property, but since the berries are tiny, and it takes a whole bunch to make a batch of wine, it’s fairly work intensive. The fermentation produces a weird, almost waxy, bright yellow scum or foam on the wine, which doesn’t seem bad, but is not aesthetically pleasing.

The results seem to make these drawbacks well worthwhile, however!

The flavor reminds me a lot of peach nectar. Each time I racked the wine, I thinned it further with additional boiled water, because it felt too thick for wine. That left me with well more than a gallon of finished wine.

I couldn’t find a lot of guidance on when this wine should be considered finished. Technically, I should have left it till it cleared, but eventually, I simply got tired of waiting. After almost a year, I shrugged, remembered that it is by definition a country or peasant wine, so complete clarity doesn’t seem that important. I bottled it, and left it until the next season’s elderberries ripen, for lack of a better marker.

Which is happening now. Time to try the “finished” product.

The verdict: excellent! It’s still a lot like peach nectar, very earthy, complex, like our white currant wine.

Time to crank up the old song, and sing along—loudly (why not?)—while enjoying the results of my efforts!

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