Depending on where you live, it’s not to late to get out in the woods and gather some elderberries. They make a nice wine of course, but they also make a tart and fruity beer. An elderberry braggot (beer and mead hybrid) is also a tasty possibility. The berries are the fruit of Sambucus species. In Europe, they come most commonly from the Dwarf Elder (Sambucus ebulus.) This tree was known as the Ebull in ancient times, the term taken from its Latin name. The beer made from elderberries is called Ebulum, and appears as a recipe in books from the early 1700s. The Oxford Dictionary defines ebulum as a name for elderberry wine, but London & Country Brew III (1743) says “make a white Ebulum with pale Malt and white Elder-berries.” This was possibly a barley wine.
Elderberries have a long history of medicinal use, with a reputation for successfully treating colds and flu. For this purpose they are usually made into a syrup. The raw berries are somewhat toxic, and so they are cooked. Elderflowers also have medicinal and culinary uses, notably as a background flavoring for the cordial Sambuca.
This Ebulum has a Chocolate Surprise. In addition to the pale malt (in this case Maris Otter) in traditional recipes, this one has chocolate malt, an English blend of crystal malts, and Dingeman’s debittered black malt. It is spiced with elderflowers, grains of paradise, and cinnamon, finished with Muscovado sugar at flameout. A touch of lactose added just before bottling creates a full mouthfeel and a bit of residual sweetness that balances the berries’ tartness.
Stripping two kilos of elderberries from their elaborate stems is tedious work. Drinking the results after a year of aging is a delectable reward.