Elderberry Wines, Sherries, and/or Meads

American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) shrubs, often called simply American elders, produce an abundant amount of fruit each summer. The blue-black berries, each barely more than 1/8 inch in diameter, grow in large clusters and are a favorite of wildlife. Usually available in midsummer, the juicy clusters can be gathered by the bucketful and make excellent juice, jelly and wine. The plant grows in rich, moist soil of woodlands, stream and river banks, gullies, fencerows, and along margins of fields, right-of-ways and pastures. They grow from eastern Texas up to the southeastern corner of South Dakota, then eastward to the Atlantic and northeastward through New England and southern Canada. Related cousins are the blue elder (Sambucus cerulea), Mexican elder (Sambucus mexicana), black berried elder (Sambucus melanocarpa)–all of which are edible. Also, the toxic red fruited elder (Sambucus pubens) and very bitter (but not poisonous) Pacific elder (Sambucus callicarpa). All produce white or yellowish-white flowers in late spring or early summer. These develop into light green berries which change color just before ripening. The blue elder grows in the western United States from the Rockies to the Pacific, although it is also seen in extreme West Texas and New Mexico. The cooked ripe berries of the edible elders are harmless, but raw elderberries can cause nausea if eaten in quantity. Unripe berries and all parts of the elder plant itself are mildly toxic. The ripe berries are rather distasteful eaten raw, although I’ve heard you can develop a taste for them. Wine made from the uncooked berries is neither toxic nor distasteful. Indeed, it is delicious. Still, some people prefer to cook the berries before making wine. This renders the juice quite delicious as is, but it cerainly improves when made into wine. I do not believe there is any difference in taste between the wines made from uncooked and cooked berries, but the cooked berry wine seems more colorfast than the uncooked berry wine. There are many recipes for fresh elderberry wine. I live in Texas, where elderberries are native but not as common as elsewhere, and so I always use dried, imported ones. Still, I have many recipes for fresh elderberry wine. I’ve included two of the better recipes below. The first recipe only uses 3 pounds of berries while the second uses 10 pounds. This is a huge difference and the wines reflect it, but both wines are very good. If at all possible, preserve the wonderful color of elderberry wine by placing the secondary fermentation vessel in a closet or other dark place. Similarly, either bottle the wine in dark bottles or store the bottles in a dark place. When you pour a glass, you’ll be glad you did.

Apricot, Raspberry and Elderberry Rose Wine

June 6, 2022
  • 3/4 lb. chopped dried apricots
  • 6 oz. raspberries
  • 3 oz. dried elderberries
  • 1-1/4 lb. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 pt. white grape concentrate
  • 1 cup mixed red and yellow rose petals
  • 1 tsp. pectic enzyme
  • 1 gallon water
  • crushed Campden tablets
  • Burgundy wine yeast and nutrient

Before you start, dissolve sugar in 6 pts. warm water, then chill the water overnight in refrigerator. Chop or mince dried apricots and elderberries, crush raspberries, and mix together in primary fermentation vessel with chilled sugar-water, nutrient, pectic enzyme, and two crushed Campden tablets. Stir well, cover and set aside 24 hours. Add activated Burgundy yeast, cover and ferment on pulp three days, stirring daily. Strain pulp in fine nylon sieve and press lightly to extract juice without pulp particles. Add grape concentrate, cover and ferment additional four days. Add rose petals and ferment additional three days before straining and add sufficient water to bring volume to 1 gallon. When S.G. drops to 1.000 or lower, add another crushed Campden tablet and rack, without splashing, to secondary fermentation vessel as soon as fermentation restarts or a heavy deposit of yeast forms, whichever is sooner. Fit airlock and store bottle in cool place (65-70 degrees F.) without disturbing for three months. However, check after two weeks and, if pulp debris is detected in sediment, carefully rack again without splashing and add another crushed Campden tablet. After total three months in secondary fermentation vessel, rack again, being careful to avoid splashing, add one crushed Campden tablet, and top up with water before refitting airlock. After additional three months, rack again as before, add another crushed Campden tablet, top up with water, and bottle. May taste after six months but matures at 18 months. [Adapted from Bryan Acton and Peter Duncan’s Making Wines Like Those You Buy]

Spiced Elderberry Wine

January 30, 2012

The original question I was asked is if I have ever published a recipe for spiced elderberry wine. I have not but have been meaning to. I have made this wine twice, using two different formulas. The second batch was so “right on” that I’m not sure I can improve upon it. Here it is, built upon the dried elderberry wine recipe just discussed.

First a word or two of caution. There are many qualities of cinnamon stick. Splurge and go first class. Ginger root comes in all sizes. For this recipe, it need not be very fat, it need not be peeled, and thinly sliced means 8-12 slices to the inch. There are small cloves and larger ones. I use larger ones, but if you are not especially fond of cloves use smaller ones or cut the quantity as you see fit, but do not leave them out altogether, please.

  • 6 1/4 oz dried elderberries
  • 6 1/4 oz white (golden) raisins
  • 2-inch cinnamon stick
  • 1 inch ginger root thinly sliced
  • about 20 cloves
  • 1 lb 13 oz light brown sugar
  • 7 pts water
  • 2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
  • 1 oz acid blend
  • 1 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 sachet general purpose red wine yeast

Put raisins in small bowl and cover with 2 cups boiling water. Cover and set aside 12 hours. Strain raisins, discard water, return raisins to bowl, and add another 2 cups boiling water. Cover and set aside two hours. Strain again and chop raisins in blender, food processor or electric nut or coffee grinder in several short pulses. Slice ginger root. Place chopped raisins, dried elderberries, cinnamon stick, sliced ginger, and cloves in nylon straining bag, tie closed and place in primary. Add brown sugar to primary and then add 7 pints boiling water. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Cover primary and set aside.

After 12 hours add pectic enzyme, recover primary and set aside another 12 hours. Remove 1/2 cup liquid and dissolve finely crushed Campden tablet in it. Add liquid back to primary and then add yeast nutrient and acid blend. Stir to blend, add activated yeast in a starter solution and recover primary. Punch down bag twice daily for 3 days. Drip drain bag (squeeze if desired) and discard contents. Transfer liquid to secondary and affix an airlock.

Ferment 30 days and rack. Top up, reaffix airlock and set aside until wine clears. Rack again, adding 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and 1 finely crushed Campden tablet, both dissolved into a cup of the wine. When completely dissolved, add to wine, top up if needed and reaffix airlock. Let stand in dark place 2 months, then rack, sweeten to taste if desired, reaffix airlock, and return to dark storage. Allow another 2 months and rack into bottles. Wait 6 months before tasting, longer for full maturity. [Jack Keller’s own recipe]

Dried Elderberry Wine

January 30, 2012
  • 6 1/4 oz dried elderberries
  • 6 1/4 oz white (golden) raisins
  • 1 lb 13 oz granulated sugar
  • 7 pts water
  • 2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
  • 1 oz acid blend
  • 1 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 sachet general purpose red wine yeast

Put raisins in small bowl and cover with 2 cups boiling water. Cover and set aside 12 hours. Strain raisins, discard water, return raisins to bowl, and add another 2 cups boiling water. Cover and set aside two hours. Strain again and chop raisins in blender, food processor or electric nut or coffee grinder in several short pulses. Place chopped raisins and dried elderberries in nylon straining bag, tie closed and place in primary. Add sugar to primary and then add 7 pints boiling water. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Cover primary and set aside.

After 12 hours add pectic enzyme, recover primary and set aside another 12 hours. Remove 1/2 cup liquid and dissolve finely crushed Campden tablet in it. Add liquid back to primary and then add yeast nutrient and acid blend. Stir to blend, add activated yeast in a starter solution and recover primary. Punch down bag twice daily for 3 days. Drip drain bag (squeeze if desired) and discard contents. Transfer liquid to secondary and affix an airlock.

Ferment 30 days and rack. Top up, reaffix airlock and set aside until wine clears. Rack again, adding 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and 1 finely crushed Campden tablet, both dissolved into a cup of the wine. When completely dissolved, add to wine, top up if needed and reaffix airlock. Let stand in dark place 2 months, then rack, sweeten to taste if desired, reaffix airlock, and return to dark storage. Allow another 2 months and rack into bottles. Wait 6 months before tasting, longer for full maturity. [Jack Keller’s own recipe]

In a previous dried elderberry wine recipe, I called for 4-5 1/4 ounces of dried elderberries and no raisins. This made a decent wine and I was always happy with it, until I tasted a better dried elderberry wine. The winemaker freely shared his secret but not the quantity — increase the dried elderberries slightly and add raisins in the same amount. I had to work out the quantity.

Blueberry-Elderberry Port

April 5, 2001
  • 6 lb. blueberries
  • 6 oz. dried elderberries
  • 1 cup red grape concentrate
  • 1/2 cup light dry malt
  • 1-1/2 lb. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. pectic enzyme
  • 1-1/2 tsp. acid blend
  • 1/2 tsp. USP glycerin
  • 1/2 tsp. yeast energizer
  • 4 pt. water
  • 63 ml brandy
  • 2 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablets
  • port wine yeast

Wash and crush blueberries in nylon straining bag and strain juice into primary fermentation vessel. Add dried
elderberries to bag, tie closed and place in primary. Stir in dry malt, sugar, acid blend, yeast energizer, water,
and one of the Campden tablets. Stir well to dissolve sugar and other solids. The starting s.g. should be 1.118 to
yield 16% abv. Cover the primary, set aside for 12 hours. Add pectic enzyme and cover for another 12 hours. Add
yeast, cover again, and daily stir ingredients and press pulp in nylon bag to extract flavor. When specific gravity
is 1.030 (about 5-7 days days), strain juice from bag and rack liquor off sediments into glass secondary. Fit
fermentation trap and ferment to dryness. Rack in three weeks and again in two months. When wine is clear and stable,
add red grape concentrate, brandy, the second Campden tablet, and glycerin. Let wine rest another two months, rack
again and bottle. Allow a year to mature. [Author’s own recipe]

Elderberry Rosè Wine

April 5, 2001
  • 2 lbs fresh elderberries
  • 1 lb fully ripe bananas
  • 1 lb minced golden raisins or sultanas
  • 1-3/4 lbs granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme.
  • § tsp citric acid
  • Lalvin RC212 (Bourgovin) wine yeast

Bring 1 quart of water to boil. Meanwhile, wash and cull out any unsound berries and put them in primary. Pour boiling water over berries and let them soak. Put another quart of water on to boil. After 20 minutes, crush berries and strain through nylon straining bag, squeezing well to extract juice. Add minced golden raisins or sultanas to elderberry juice. To that, add the quart of boiling water and cover primary. Put another quart of water on to boil. When water boils, peel and slice bananas and add to boiling water. Cover pot and boil for 25 minutes. Skim any scum off water and strain to remove fruit. Add to primary and put 1 pint of water on to boil. Stir in sugar until completely dissolved. Add to primary and cover again. When cooled to room temperature, stir in citric acid, yeast nutrients and pectic enzyme. Cover and set aside for 12 hours. Add activated yeast, recover, and set aside. Stir twice daily for 3 days. Strain, transfer to secondary, top up if required, and fit airlock. Rack every 60 days until wine falls clear and no sediments form during 30-day period. Stabilize and bottle dry. Allow to age one year. [Adapted from Judith Irwin’s A Step by Step Guide to Making Home Made Wine ]

Elderberry Wine (1)

April 5, 2001
  • 3 lbs fresh, ripe elderberries
  • 2 lbs finely granulated sugar (earlier recipe called for 2-1/2 lbs sugar1)
  • 3-1/2 quarts water
  • 2 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 crushed Campden tablet
  • Montrachet wine yeast

Bring water to boil and stir in sugar until dissolved. Meanwhile, wash, inspect and destem the elderberries. Put them in nylon straining bag, tie closed, and put in primary. Wearing sterilized rubber gloves, mash the elderberries and cover with the boiling sugar-water. Cover and set aside to cool. When lukewarm, add acid blend, yeast nutrient and crushed Campden tablet. Cover primary and wait 12 hours, then stir in pectic enzyme. Recover primary and wait another 12 hours, then add yeast. Cover and stir daily, gently squeezing the bag to extract flavor from the berries (don’t forget the gloves or you’ll be sorry). Ferment 14 days, then drip drain the elderberries (don’t squeeze). Combine drippings with juice and set aside overnight. Rack into secondary and fit airlock. Put in dark place to protect the color from light. Ferment two months and rack, top up and refit airlock. Repeat two months later and again two months after that. Stabilize and wait 10 days. Rack, sweeten to taste and bottle. Store bottles in dark place for one year. Then enjoy. [Adapted from Terry Garey’s The Joy of Home Winemaking ]

  1. https://web.archive.org/web/20010420170243/http://winemaking.jackkeller.net/elderber.asp

Elderberry Wine (2)

April 5, 2001
  • 10 lbs fresh, ripe elderberries
  • 2-1/4 lbs finely granulated sugar
  • 6 pints water
  • 1 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • Montrachet wine yeast

Wash, destem and inspect the berries for ripeness and soundness. Put berries in a stainless steel or enameled pot with 3/4 pound of sugar and half the water. Slowly bring to boil while stirring occasionally and turn off heat. Cover and set aside to cool to room temperature. Strain berries over primary through a nylon straining bag and hang bag over primary to drip drain for two hours. Very gently press pulp to extract a little more juice, but do not overdo this. Stir in remaining sugar and dry ingredients (except yeast) and stir well to dissolve. Add enough water to bring to one gallon and add yeast. Cover primary and wait for active fermentation. Ferment 2 weeks and siphon off sediments into secondary. Top up and fit airlock. Ferment two months, rack, top up, and refit airlock. Repeat after additional two months. Stabilize, wait 10 days, rack, sweeten to taste, and bottle. Age one year before tasting. [Adapted from Julius H. Fessler’s Guidelines to Practical Winemaking ]

Watermelon-Elderberry Wine

April 5, 2001
  • 6-1/2 lb watermelon
  • 1/4 lb dried elderberries
  • water to 1 gallon
  • juice and zest of 2 lemons
  • 1-2/3 lbs granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 crushed Campden tablet
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • wine yeast

Cut the rind off of melon, cut melon into one-inch cubes, remove loose seeds, and put melon and any free juice in primary (crock, plastic pail, etc.). Grate the yellow thinly off two lemons, then juice the lemons and add the juice and zest (gratings) to primary. Add dried elderberries, pectic enzyme and yeast nutrient. Add water to make up 1 gallon. Stir in sugar and stir well to dissolve. Cover primary with cloth, wait 12 hours and add wine yeast. Cover and ferment 3 days, stirring daily. Strain juice into secondary (demijohn) and fit airlock. Ferment 30 days and rack, topping up with water into which 1/3 cup sugar has been disolved. Add one crushed Campden tablet, refit airlock, and rack every 30 days for 6 months. Stabilize (1/4 tsp potassium sorbate and another crushed Campden tablet) about a week before bottling. Allow to age at least 6 months in bottles, but improves with additional age. [Author’s recipe]

Blackberry-Elderberry Wine (1)

April 5, 2001
  • 4 lb blackberries
  • 2 lbs fresh elderberries
  • 2-1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • water to 1 gallon
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • wine yeast

Put 3 quarts water on to boil. Meanwhile, wash and sort blackberries and elderberries. Put fruit in nylon straining bag, tie end, put in primary, and mash fruit. Add sugar to primary and pour boiling water over fruit and sugar, stirring well to dissolve sugar. Cover and allow to cool. When lukewarm, stir in acid blend, pectic enzyme and yeast nutrient. Recover, add yeast after 12 hours and gently squeeze bag twice daily for 7 days to extract flavors. Drain bag squeezing gently, pour liquid into secondary and fit airlock. After fermentation dies down (5-7 days) top up and refit airlock. Ferment 2 months and rack into clean secondary, top up and refit airlock. Repeat after additional 2 months and again after additional 3 months, racking into bottles. Age 6-12 months. [Author’s own recipe]

Blackberry-Elderberry Wine (2)

April 5, 2001
  • 4 lb blackberries
  • 1/4 lb dried elderberries
  • 2-1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • water to 1 gallon
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • wine yeast

Put 3 quarts water on to boil. Meanwhile, wash and sort blackberries and put in nylon straining bag. Tie end, put in primary and mash fruit. Add dried elderberries to boiling water, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Add sugar to primary, untie nylon bag and pour boiling water into nylon straining bag. Carefully retie end and stir liquid well to dissolve sugar. Cover and allow to cool. When lukewarm, stir in acid blend, pectic enzyme and yeast nutrient. Recover primary. After 12 hours, add yeast. Gently squeeze bag twice daily for 7 days to extract flavors. Drain bag squeezing gently, pour liquid into secondary and fit airlock. After fermentation dies down (5-7 days) top up and refit airlock. Rack into clean secondary, top up and refit airlock every 2 months for total of 4 times. Bottle and age 6-12 months. [Author’s own recipe]

Dried Elderberry Wine

September 19, 2000
  • 4 to 5-1/4 ounces dried elderberries
  • 2 pounds sugar
  • 7-3/4 pts water
  • 1 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 crushed Campden tablet
  • packet of Montrachet yeast.

Bring water to boil with sugar. Stir until sugar is dissolved and water clear. Wash dried elderberries and put in nylon straining bag with several marbles for weight. Tie bag and put in primary. Pour boiling sugar-water over elderberries and cover primary. When cool, stir in crushed Campden, yeast nutrient and acid blend until dissolved. Recover and set aside 12 hours. Add activated yeast and ferment until s.g. drops to 1.010, stirring and squeezing bag daily. Transfer liquid to secondary, fit airlock and ferment to dryness. Rack every 30 days until wine clears and doesn’t drop even a dusting of lees over a 30-day period. Bottle and enjoy. Improves with age. You can add 1 pound chopped raisins or sultanas to elderberries to improve body. [Author’s own recipe]