Jesse and anyone else making wine from highbush cranberry?

Sorry, I know this is the cider forum, it seemed the closest to “fermentation”…

Jesse, I know you mentioned making wine from highbush cranberry…I picked about 1 gallon of berries here, added sugar and water and nutrient to make a 3-gallon batch. Just took the berries and straining bag out 2 days ago, the wine is a really nice red…and tastes like soap. Literally, like dish soap and alcohol.

I’ve seen some discussion/argument suggesting there are multiple varieties of viburnum lumped as “highbush cranberry” and American is very good and tastes like a regular cranberry, while the European tastes bitter and medicinal. I also know that wines can change a lot over the course of fermentation…I’ve tried the berries raw, they strike me as bitter and unpleasant, but so do raw “regular” cranberries. Yet their wine is very good, as it their juice.

I am strongly suspicious that I have a batch of European highbush wine, which may or may not improve to “somewhat drinkable” over time, but I suspect it isn’t the highbush I would have, ideally, wanted. My question for the folks who pick and use highbush cranberry, especially in wine:

Does any of this sound familiar, or is your experience with the highbush cranberry very, very different? If you’ve made good wine that tastes like soap in primary, then that’s useful information. If it NEVER tasted anything like that…that’s also useful info for me I guess.


I haven’t gotten ‘soap’ flavored wine from HBC, but batches certainly improve and mature after racking and bottling. Usually it is a yeasty quality that goes away. There is some confusion between viburnum trilobum and v opulus, VT is native, VO imported. Not sure what difference fruit qualities the two have, or how to ID, but perhaps this could be the root of your problem. Best of luck!

I have viburnum trilobum, and elderberries too, one day I have to find out how to make wine out of them.

My fear is I used wild V opulus, or hybrids with a lot of opulus character.

I have the carboy space, so I will try running things out yet, but am thinking I may need to get my hands on a real V trilobum to work with yet, and simply did not this time.

Drew, making wine is incredibly easy. Jack Keller has a great site with a lot of technical info, and if you’re feeling lazy or less technically inclined, a ton of stock recipes that are almost fool-proof. And if you want to start cheap, you can get a couple Carlo Rossi or cider gallon jugs free and build a 1-gallon kit for probably under $20 if you bottle in recycled screw-tops, etc. If you like winemaking that kit won’t hold you for long (I make almost everything in 5 and 6-gallon batches) but if you just wanted to try a few experiments you can do it with a very minimal $$ investment.

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I have made beer from a kit given to me as a gift. It was easy enough, but I’m not a big beer fan! I was doing some searches and man all kinds of way to make it. I will go with the more technical methods. I can use the beer thing for the first container.

well, if you can make beer you can absolutely make wine; beer is much more prone to contamination because of the lack of sulfites

It came out good, the kit was very clear on how to make it. I think it was Mr Beer. Also the product used to sterilize things was a type of hydrogen peroxide solution that didn’t release all at once, a very cool product I can see using in gardening too. Hydrogen peroxide is great for killing fungus gnats, and keeping soil sterile. it also is an excellent boost to roots giving them oxygen.

I found this blurb that may help determine what highbush you have.
Also called American Cranberry Bush or Viburnum opulus, var.America, it can be distinguished from the European cranberry bush, Viburnum opulus by examining the petiolar glands, where the petiole joins the leaf blade. With Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum trilobum),
the petiolar glands are described as convex (bulging outward),
club-shaped, or columnar. This is contrasted with the European form,
whose petiolar glands are concave (sunken in or slightly dented in

Hi Mark, I have a small batch of the wild American Cranberry wine going. The fruit, fresh, is very sharp but it does have a somewhat nice, if rather strong, flavor. Wouldn’t want to eat a lot but I don’t mind a few. It does sound like you may have the other (or another) kind. My wine is only 3 wks old but it has a pleasant flavor. I don’t use any additives, just sugar and yeast. I’ve certainly had wine (mostly I make wild black cherry) turn out not the best but never had a “soapy” taste. If I don’t like it it’s usually too harsh. It will be nice if your turns out as a surprise OK in the end. If it’s just sort of OK but not great to drink as is you might try mixing it with some fruit juice. If not, well, I figure anything added to the compost pile is not a total loss!

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sadly, it was so awful I tried a bit this afternoon to see if it was worth racking to secondary, and I tossed it instead; the bitter/soapy had gotten way worse.

First wine I ever discarded. :frowning:

I wonder what is the warmest zone American high bush cranberries can grow?

Having tasted a number now, Unless you have found a uniquely tasty one i think thats a moot point…its sort of like asking how far south you can drink turpentine. Probably farther than you would have any desire to.

I would love to be wrong but god around here every one i have found is awful

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I really like cranberries and also wine, seems like a natural thing to make cranberry wine. I suppose I should learn from your experience, lol.

Cranberries and highbush cranberries are very different plants and fruit

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Hi Jason - I don’t know how far south they grow but nurseries like Fedco do sell the trees so I think you’ll be able to find out if they grow in your area. Ours are native small trees growing on the edge of the woods. They have a strong sour flavor that is better after freezes but still not something most would eat very many of, sort of like raw rhubarb. Our native trees aren’t real productive but I suppose if given orchard care they might produce more, and there might be tame varieties. But for cranberries I’d go for the regular ones, if you can grow them in Missouri. I think they’d be more useful. I’ve considered planting some. Sue

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Thanks for the input, always good to get a perspective from some one that knows first hand. I think you can grow regular cranberries here but you have to grow them in a bed with quite a bit of amendments and not sure the production is worth it.

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