’Tis the season, once again. Chances are you’ve warmed yourself with a cup of mulled wine at some point, especially if you’ve been to Europe around this time of year. But mulled beer?
Last year I related the story about my first sip of Glühwein (mulled wine) in the western German city of Saarbrücken. Aromas of baking spice, roasted nuts, and pine boughs drifted fragrantly in the bracing winter air, leading me to the Christkindl market in the main square and setting me down the path of annual Glühwein parties and get-togethers. A few decades on, I did what might well come naturally to a catholic imbiber like myself: I heated up a bunch o’ beer and spiced it. Turns out the whole endeavour isn’t without historical precedent.
Mulled beer, Glühbier, call it what you want: It’s definitely not a tradition of contemporary vintage in any of the beer-consuming countries I’ve visited. The rather incredulous glances I encountered from my Austrian colleagues last week merely confirmed the fact when I brewed up 25 liters of the stuff for the Wien Museum’s annual holiday season party. But warm beer has a history –– and not just as a pejorative reference to twentieth-century British beer.
“The earliest ale and beer songs were Christmas carols,” writes W.T. Marchant in his classic work, In Praise of Ale of 1888, and the drinks that inspired these Twelfth Night, Wassail, and New Year’s festivities were not untypically served warm. Even if we now associate apple cider-based drinks with those who went a wassailing, Marchant’s encomium reminds us that not all these drinks were cider-based. Writes Marchant, “In some remote place, the yule-log still blazes in the chimney of the rustic at Christmas eve. […] The wassail was regularly carried from door to door fifty years ago in Cornwall; and even now, a measure of ale, *flip, porter, and sugar, or some such beverage, is handed round while the yule-log is burning.”
*A “flip,” for those who might be wondering, is a cocktail, warm or cold, to which egg has been added.
Before giving you a recipe for mulled beer, a toast! And what better way to celebrate the season than with an excerpt from a merry toast dating back to 1642: To “All You That Are Good Fellows” (and all you good women, too):
All you that are good fellows;
Come hearken to my song;
I know you do not hate good cheer,
Nor liquor that is strong.
I hope there is none here
But soon will take my part,
Seeing my master and my dame
Say welcome in their heart.
This is a time of joyfulness,
And merry time of year,
When as the rich with plenty stor’d
Do make the poor good cheer.
Plum-porridge, roast beef, and minc’d pies,
Stand smoking on the board;
With other brave varieties
Our master doth afford.
Come fill us of the strongest,
Small drink is out of date;
Methinks I shall fare like a prince,
And sit in gallant state:
This is no miser’s feast,
Although that things be dear;
God grant the founder of this feast
Each Christmas keep good cheer.
Cited in W.T. Marchant, In Praise of Ale (London, 1888), pp. 66-67.
Glühbier (serves 8-10)
Whether you’re making mulled wine, mulled beer, or wassail, the basic process is simple: heat it all up and let it simmer for a few hours so that the flavours meld. A number of the basic ingredients are similar, too: spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg; some form of citrus juice and/or peels; sugar or some other sweetener such as honey; and a spirit like brandy or rum. However you formulate your recipe, remember these simple tips. Don’t let the mixture boil. Add sugar or honey if your concoction is too acidic or tart. Add spirits to go the other way and dry things out. Beyond that, there are no rules. Spices give you a chance to get creative. Don’t shy away from spices like juniper berries, peppercorns, or cardamom. Ginger can also give your Glühbier or Glühwien a welcome zestiness.
Amounts for each ingredient will depend largely on how much Glühbier, Glühwein, or wassail you want to make, and how spicy you want it. The cooking process drives off plenty of the alcohol, so don’t worry about knocking your guests out –– unless, of course, you choose to spike your warmed drinks with a fresh shot before serving. And that’s not a bad thing to do.
- 5 bottles (500ml each) of dunkles Weizenbier or similarly non-hoppy beer with a good malt presence. (Doppelbocks, Scotch ales, and Belgian dubbels are all good candidates.) I chose a dark wheat beer for its ester profile (cloves, bananas, and a hint of vanilla) and its brown sugar malt character.
- 3 mandarin oranges (peel and pulp)
- ½ cup honey
- 2 tsp grated ginger
- 6 cloves
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 2 star anise
- ¼ nutmeg ball, grated
- 2 shots bourbon
- 2 shots cherry juice
Combine the beer and honey in a kettle over medium heat, then grate the ginger into the mix. Wash the outsides of the oranges, 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.
Add your spices as the mixture is heating up. With cinnamon sticks, crush them lightly before adding. Break up the star anise into pieces as you’re adding them to the kettle. In the case of whole nutmeg, grate it straight into the pot. If you’re pressed for time, you can also use ground spices.
Add 1 shot of the bourbon at the beginning of the simmer. Taste now, keeping in mind that cooking will drive off the harsher alcohol. Add the last shot near the end. (Be careful with hard liquor around an open flame, lest you end up with a more fiery version of your Glühbier than you bargained for.)
Give it all a good stir, and then bring the mix to just below boiling point before reducing the heat and simmering the mixture for a few hours. After about an hour-and-a-half, taste the mixture. If it’s too sweet, add more bourbon. If it’s not sweet enough, add more honey. Adjust any other spices. When it tastes fine to you, strain it before your guests arrive and keep it simmering over low heat on your stovetop.
And Bob’s your uncle. Now your home will smell like the market squares in Central European cities at this time of year!
Related Tempest Articles
For those interested in mulled wine as well, check out the holiday article I wrote last year entitled Spreading Good Cheer with a Tankard of Mulled Beer.
All images by F.D. Hofer.
© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.