Thursday, 24 August 2017

Brew your own hedge wines

Crab apple wine for dessert
Rosehips and apples in the steam juicer
Making your own booze from foraged or garden fruit is simple and rewarding. A good hedge wine is no substitute for a good red wine - but it definitely has its own place in the drinking panoply. Often home-made wines are quite sweet and make nice dessert wines. Tart wines are good for cooking with and for turning into home-made vinegar. Both tart and sweet hedge wines make wonderful mulled wine. On a chilly wet night, hot fruit wine is the ultimate comfort drink. Just add sugar to taste while you're heating up the wine. We haven't bought any cheap red wine for making mulled wine or cooking with since we started brewing our wines.

People make wine from just about everything, even pea pods and rhubarb. We've experimented quite a bit over the past four years and we find some are worth the effort and others not. We haven't tried rhubarb but suspect it might fall into the 'probably not worth it' category. Some flavours are good to mix (rosehip with apple, for example).

Probably not worth it

  • Pea pods: This has been described as similar to Riesling - obviously by someone who never tasted actual Riesling! It's wine that tastes strongly of peas, which made it brilliant for cooking risotto with, where it added a pea flavour to the rice.
  • Gorse flower: A pain to pick! We'd been hoping for something with a hint of coconut. Instead we got a bit of a rough sherry. Again, good for cooking only.
  • Carrot: There are much nicer ways to consume carrots!

Bramble wine

Well worth it

  • Rosehips
  • Elderflower
  • Elderberry
  • Crab apple
  • Apple
  • Plum
  • Gooseberry
  • Bramble
  • Combinations therof


  • Parsnip
  • Strawberry

Ready for bottling

How long does it take?

We usually start our 5-litre batches in a large plastic bucket, rack (i.e. transfer) them into a demi-john with a fermentation lock after about a week, then rack a couple more times over the following six months. After about six months, we bottle. Ideally, you'd then leave the bottles for another six months and start drinking your wine exactly a year after starting the process. In reality, we start drinking them soon after bottling, safe in the knowledge that some of them are going to continue maturing.

What equipment do you need?

Our recommended list would be:
Fermenting in the demi-john
  • Steam juicer: a very easy way to get juice from your fruit.
  • Oxygen steriliser powder: to sanitise your equipment.
  • Hygrometer: to measure the specific gravity of your wine. This tells you how much sugar you need to add and how strong your wine is going to be, if fermented to completion.
  • Large plastic bucket with lid: to start the ferment. Ideally this should have a scale on it and it's very useful to add a thermometer strip on to it so that you know when it's ready to add yeast.
  • Wine yeast
  • Demi-johns: you'll need quite a few of these.
  • Rubber bungs with fermentation locks, to fit your demi-johns
  • Racking cane
  • Syphon hose
  • Bottling wand
  • Empty bottles, ideally with reusable stoppers or screw caps
  • Optional: Campden tablets and finings

A little sample after bottling

The process

Making hedge wine is much simpler than brewing beer. We follow this straightforward procedure:

  1. Steam the fruit for 90 to 120 minutes in the steam juicer.
  2. Meanwhile, sterilise your plastic brewing bucket, a large wooden spatula and a small measuring jug.
  3. Pour the hot juice into the plastic bucket. It should be about 1 litre of concentrated juice.
  4. Add 1kg of sugar and stir well with a large wooden spoon to dissolve the sugar in the juice.
  5. Top up with cold water to the 5-litre mark and stir again.
  6. With the measuring jug, take a sample of the liquid and measure the specific gravity in your hygrometer. Add more sugar if needed. We usually aim for a specific gravity of 1080. Taste the sample for interest's sake.
  7. When the temperature of the liquid drops to about 24°C, add 1 tsp of wine yeast. Stir and loosely pop on the lid.
  8. Leave to ferment at room temperature for a week or so. You'll see that it's fermenting by the 'foam' appearing on the surface and the sediment forming on the bottom (and by the tasty smell).
  9. Sterilise a demi-john, rubber seal, fermentation lock, racking cane and syphon hose.
  10. Syphon the wine from your bucket into the demi-john, taking care to leave most of the sediment behind.
  11. Leave for a couple of months, rack again, leave again, rack again.
  12. After about six months, fill into sterilised bottles. A bottle wand, though not strictly necessary, is extremely useful for this as it makes it easy to stop and start the procedure with each bottle.


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