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Ernie's Dandelion Wine
From lawn ornament to table
Our latest batch was five gallons, and it's almost gone!
You may want to start smaller, especially if you're new to homebrewing.
For 1 gallon of Dandelion Wine:
- 1 gallon chemical-free dandelion blossoms
- 1-gallon glass jug (clean and sterilized)
- Stopper (with one hole)
- Airlock (S-lock if available, or use flexible tubing, balloon, etc.)
- Champagne yeast (1 packet)
- 2 lbs Sugar (or 1 lb honey)
Pick the Best Blooms:
Pick the dandelion blossoms while they're young and fresh. Avoid the stems, but the green part that holds the petals is OK. If you can't get a gallon all at once, freeze them: fill a quart baggie with dandelions, fill any spaces with water, and freeze it into a solid lump. Free any insects before freezing if at all possible!
Make Dandelion Tea:
Once you have your gallon of flowers, put them in a pot with fresh water and boil for up to 25 minutes. You will see the lovely golden color of the pollen coming out in the 'tea,' and then a greenish color. You want it pale green.
When the tea is ready, strain out the soggy flowers, and keep the hot liquid.
Mix the sugar or honey into your dandelion tea while it's still hot. Add enough fresh water to make a total of 1 gallon. Boil it briefly if you're concerned about wild yeast or other contaminants. It may taste weak - the flavors will come out as it ferments. This sugar-tea-juice is the "must."
Let the must cool a little (100 degrees F, or baby-bottle temperature, is good). Add the yeast. You can let the must ferment a little while on the stove, keeping it below 110 degrees F, if you like. But it's safer to get it into your brewing container while it's still relatively sterile.
Pour the warm, bubbly must into your clean gallon container.
Acetobacter Is The Enemy:
Cap the container, using an airlock or valve that will let bubbles out, but no bugs in. If even a single fruitfly spits in your wine, it will turn into vinegar - winemakers call them "vinegar flies" for this reason. Fruitflies all carry aceto-bacteria. Even the air can carry bacteria into your wine.
If you don't have an S-lock, or a bell lock, try a skinny flexible tube with the end in a glass of water. Or cover the stopper with a big balloon. Put a cup upside-down over the top. Anything.
Don't seal it up too tight though: it will pressurize. If the stopper pops off, then your wine is totally undefended. And you don't want it to explode.
Whatever you use to seal and sample the wine, be sure to rinse it promptly with clean water and then keep it dry between visits, so it won't contaminate your batch.
A Fine and Private Place:
Set the jug in a cool, quiet place with constant temperature, like a basement corner. Check it every few days for bubbling. The bubbling will go fast for the first few weeks, then slow down. When it completely stops, you know the fermentation is finished. A good wine may take longer, but you can drink most batches after about 3 months.
Things to do
...while you wait for the ferment to finish...
You can get a hydrometer and test the sugar content if you like - but you don't need to. Sugar is heavier than water, alcohol is lighter, so as the ferment progresses the liquid gets less and less dense.
You will get a better clarity (and possibly a more complete fermentation) if you "rack" the wine every month. Pour the clear wine off the top into a clear container, leaving the cloudy lees behind. (Lees are dead yeast, and they taste like... dead yeast.)
Sample your wine
Use a clean turkey-baster to draw off samples without disturbing the lees. It will taste "raw" at first, but you should detect hints of the pollen, honey, and greens that make up dandelion's flavor. If it is sharply sour, you have made dandelion vinegar instead, so sorry, try again.
You can add more honey near the end of the ferment, to sweeten the final result. But we don't recommend it. A dry dandelion wine has a lovely, clear, slightly herbal flavor, and gets very positive reviews. Oversweet wines can taste like herbal cough syrup.
For average wine, brewing time is about 3-4 months. A great wine can brew 6 months or more. If it reaches a flavor you like before then, you can artificially stop fermentation by killing the yeast. Ask your local brewing supply about sulfites and how to use them. Go easy, or you can overwhelm the delicate flavor.
Obviously this recipe is intended for people who are of legal drinking age. The brewing supply shop will check your ID. The thing you really need from them is the champagne yeast - bread yeast gives truly nasty results! An airlock and stopper is a good investment too, it can save your batch.
Ernie (who developed this recipe) is an experienced home-brewer. He prefers dry, complex, white wines, dry meads, and lightly fruity melamels and metheglins.
Ernie's Advice for the novice:
It takes time to develop awareness of the subtleties of winemaking. Be patient.
Young wine generally tastes nasty, but what kind of nasty it tastes can reveal hints about the developent of the mature wine. Young dandelion wine tastes "green," like leaves, but this flavor mellows away as the wine matures.
Sample often, look for 'legs' on the side of the glass (revealing alcohol content), and learn.
Don't rush a batch: when you think it's done, give it another month, and it will continue to improve.
If you want to get a feel for these nuances quickly, you could make 2 or 3 batches at once with slight differences. Boil the dandelions shorter or longer, add honey vs. sugar, use different yeasts your brewer might have, or top off one batch with sugar-water after racking. Keep notes, and see if these differences change the final flavor.
Good luck, and be careful: this wine packs a punch!