There is something very special about making a great bottle of booze from weeds. Whether it is Dandelion Wine, Nettle Beer or Elderflower Fizz the sense of satisfaction is almost as good as the wobbly feeling you get when you reach the end of the bottle and realise you have quietly got yourself good and trousered.
Of all the homemade ‘country wines’ Dandelion is acknowledged as probably the most consistently excellent, loved by generations of home brewers. It is often the first spring wine of the year too so that is something worth celebrating.
Ingredients for dandelion wine:
- Three litres of dandelion flowers (yellow bits only, No green at all)
- 3lb sugar
- 1 lemon
- 1 orange
- White wine yeast
- 1/2 lb golden raisins
- 1 gallon boiling water
- campden tablet (optional)
First you need to collect dandelion flowers. Every recipe says to do it in the morning and that is what we have always done, so for the sake of tradition if nothing else, get out early to pick your dandelions. Luckily you only need to pop out into the back garden and start pulling up yellow flower heads.
Only use perfect open heads on tall dandelion stems (less chance of wildlife having peed on them) and only from gardens where I know they follow organic practices. Do what you can and collect your flower heads. Make sure you remove all the green stuff from the bottom (it ruins the taste, you want yellow petals only). Now sterilise the flower heads by boiling up a few kettles of water and pour a whole gallon over the flowers. Once it has cooled down you might want to add a campden tablet at this point if you are at all worried about contamination. Give it a stir and cover and leave for a day to let the flavour come out.
Campden tablets are made from either Sodium metabisulfite or Potassium metabisulfite. I know that sounds scary but brewers have been sucessfully using this stuff for close to 200 years without problems. It stops bad yeast from growing on your mixture so that when you add the good yeast later on it won’t have to fight to compete.
Now strain and put the liquid into a large saucepan. You can discard the dandelion heads now that you have extracted their flavour. Add 3lbs of sugar and the zest of both an orange and lemon to the juice and bring to the boil and simmer for fifteen to 20 minutes. Allow to cool. Once it is down to body heat add a sachet of white wine yeast yeast. Chop the raisins and tie them into a square of muslin to make a ‘teabag’. Drop the raisin teabag into the juice. The raisins add a good bit of ‘body’ to what will otherwise be a light and colourless wine.
Now pour it all into a fermentation bucket and leave for 3 days. Remove the raisin teabag and leave for a further 2 days. The yeast will get to work and eat the sugars, turning them into alcohol and carbox dioxide.
Once the vigorous fermentation is over (3 days to a week, depending mostly on temperature)you can then transfer your dandelion wine to a demijohn with an airlock.
It will carry on fermenting for a further week or so at a much lower rate. Eventually the airlock will stop bubbling altogether. Once this secondary fermentation has stopped, siphon off your wine to a clean demijohn and put a bung in. Leave to mature for a couple of months and you will have a really terrific tasting wine.
A word about equipment
Buckets and Demijohns have served home brewers well for a century or so, but many of us are switching over to the practicality of conical fermentation vessels. These allow us to tap off the ‘lees’ (the dead yeast that over time can harm the flavour of your wine) without the time consuming, messy process of siphoning. If you are just starting out with wine or beer making then I strongly urge you to get a conical fermenting vessel. It leads to less effort and better results.