Anyone who lives in or has been to Central Europe at this time of year has likely warmed him- or herself with a mug of spicy mulled wine (Glühwein). I remember well my first encounter with this aromatic winter elixir. The gray sky hung low over Saarbrücken, and an icy drizzle coated the paving stones leading to the Sankt Johanner Markt in the center of town. But something was different about this day. Aromas of baking spice and roasted nuts mingled with grilled bratwurst and pine boughs. I rounded the corner and was greeted by a cheerful panorama that seemed to defy the dark afternoon: my first Christkindlmarkt. The square had transformed itself into a collection of open-air stalls decked out for the season, many selling Christmas ornaments, nutcrackers and other handmade wooden toys, some selling Lebkuchen and candied almonds, and others selling beer and Glühwein to wash down the Fleischkäse, sausages, and other delectables. It is a winter scene that plays itself out all over Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and parts of Alsace and the South Tyrol.
Since that day in Saarbrücken in the early nineties, Glühwein has become an annual holiday tradition wherever I happen to call home. And since I’ve never been known to leave a perfectly good recipe be, I’ve cooked up several variations over the years. Why not a tankard of mulled beer in place of Glühwein? After all, every now and then you’ll find a Christmas market stall selling Glühbier. And the Belgians, too, are no strangers to warm beer, having once enjoyed a popular holiday concoction of old lambic, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and beaten eggs. Recently, producers such as Liefman’s have revived the tradition with Glühkriek meant to be served warm.
Before giving you my recipe for Glühbier, I’ll start with the process for making Glühwein. Whether you’re making Glühwein, mulled beer, or wassail, the basic ingredients are simple: red wine, beer, or cider; some form of citrus juice; sugar (or some other sweetener such as honey); spices; and brandy. Amounts for each ingredient will depend largely on how much Glühwein or Glühbier you want to make, and how spicy you want it. The cooking process drives off plenty of the alcohol (along with about ten percent of the volume), so don’t worry about knocking your guests out.
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*Red wine. Four bottles of wine (3 liters) should keep about ten of your friends happy. The same rule of thumb that applies to cooking wine also holds true for Glühwein: You don’t need to waste your fine bottles of wine on something to which you’ll be adding plenty of sugar, spice, and other things nice, but nor do you want to use a wine that you wouldn’t also want to drink while you’re making the Glühwein. A good Syrah or Grenache should do the trick. For now, just keep the wine aside until you’ve made your tea mix.
*Tea. For your Glühwein, you want something like Earl Grey, or a subtle herbal tea. For four bottles of wine, I make about two cups (500mL) of tea with about five teabags. Once you’ve made your tea, pour it into the large pot you’ll use to cook the Glühwein and bring it to a simmer. You’ll add all the ingredients to the tea, starting with the sugar, followed by the oranges, spices and, finally, the wine.
*Sugar. You’ll need more than you think you need. I add sugar by the handful. Start by dissolving it in the tea, and then add to the wine over the course of cooking. Figure on using a half cup or more.
*Oranges. Mandarin oranges work best. Wash the outsides, and then peel them straight into the kettle. In a separate bowl, muddle the orange wedges with a wooden spoon, and then add it all to the kettle. I use at least six oranges in a pot of Glühwein.
*Ginger. Optional. I’ve used it once or twice, and it adds a nice zing. Peel and grate straight into the kettle.
*Spices. Here’s where you get to play around a bit and put your own stamp on your mulled wine. The key is to make sure that you start with whole spices. Cloves and cinnamon are de rigueur, but you can add nutmeg, allspice berries, peppercorns, star anise, even juniper berries or green cardamom. Remember that a little goes a long way when it comes to cloves. With cinnamon sticks, crush them lightly before adding. In the case of whole nutmeg, grate it straight into the pot. If you’re pressed for time, you can also use ground spices. Three cinnamon sticks, about eight cloves, and about a third of a whole nutmeg (or two to three good pinches of powder) makes a good starting point.
Now you can add the wine! Stir it all in, and then bring the mix to just below boiling point before reducing the heat and simmering the mixture for an hour or more.
*Brandy. You can use any kind brandy, or Kirsch if you have it. Add the brandy at the beginning of the simmer, just a splash at a time. Taste now, keeping in mind that cooking will drive off the harsher alcohol. By the time all is said and done, I will have added about one to two ounces of brandy. (Be careful with hard liquor around an open flame, or you may end up with a more fiery version of Glühwein than you bargained for.)
After an hour, taste the mixture. If it’s too sweet, add more brandy. If it’s not sweet enough, add more sugar. Adjust any other seasonings. If you needed to adjust it, let it all simmer for another twenty to thirty minutes. If it tastes fine to you, strain it before your guests arrive and keep it simmering over low heat on your stovetop.
Voilà. Now your home will smell like a Christkindlmarkt!
Glühbier (Serves ten to twelve)
- 6 bottles (500mL) of a rich and malty beer like Bock or Doppelbock
- 6 mandarin oranges
- 3 tsp grated ginger
- ¼ cup honey
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 8 cloves
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 2 star anise
- ¼ of a whole nutmeg, grated (or two good pinches of powder)
- 1 to 2 ounces dark rum
Follow the same procedure as you would for Glühwein, omitting the tea.
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With the exception of the Liefman’s Glühkriek (www.bier-deluxe.com), photos of Potsdam, Berlin, and Glühwein spices by F.D. Hofer.
© 2014 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.