Tag Archives: Saarbrücken

Spreading Good Cheer with a Tankard of Mulled Beer

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.100-2705_IMG 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?LiefmansGluhkriek (www-bier-deluxe-com) 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.

* * *

*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.100-2679_IMG 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.IMG_2070 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.

Happy Holidays!

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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.

A Coal Town and a Cold One: My Hefeweizen Craft Beer Conversion

Chur (www-shm-com-au)By noon the early October drizzle had turned into a downpour. Several hours lay between the Alpine peaks and meadows of Chur, where I was visiting my grandmother, and the drab Saarbrücken way-station where the train traveling between Mannheim and Paris had just deposited me. Not unlike many German towns and cities, Saarbrücken’s dominant architectural hue is brown. But under this leaden-gray vault of my very first day in Germany, Saarbrücken exuded none of the Romantic charm of a city like Heidelberg. Instead, the brown buildings – streaked all the darker by the relentless rain – seemed to bear witness to Saarbrücken’s heritage as the capital of a once hotly-contested coal-producing region situated on the historically-shifting frontier between France and Germany. The City of Light this was not.

Germany - Lage_des_Saarlandes (Wiki-En)The Saarland has been the site of many significant events marking Franco-German relations up to the mid-twentieth century. Occupied by France and Britain in the aftermath of the First World War, the region functioned as a tool of reparations. A little over a decade later, the Saarland served as the staging ground of a plebiscite that intersected with Hitler’s rise to power. (Saarländers voted to annul the Saarland’s status as a mandate of the League of Nations and rejoin Germany.) In the immediate post-WWII period, the Saarland was a key component of the Allied policy of industrial disarmament, and was administered by the French as a protectorate until 1957.

The Saarland is also of import as the site of another profoundly significant event: my discovery of a beer that was far superior to Molson Canadian, Labatt’s Blue, and – my personal fave circa 1991 – Kokanee.

After gathering my backpack and duffel bag from the train station platform, I made my way out of the station and braved the driving rain, arriving soaked and bedraggled at what would be home for most of the coming year: a concrete pre-fabricated student residence bearing a quaint name that was, at least, in keeping with its forested surroundings, Plattenbau aesthetics notwithstanding.Waldhausweg (www-studentenwerkDASHsaarland-de) I got into the elevator, pushed the button for the tenth floor, and cursed my fate – to which the other occupant of the elevator responded, “Oh! You speak English!” The dapper chap who had responded so drily yet bemusedly to my imprecations had also arrived in Saarbrücken a mere few days previously. A law student from Bristol who was part of a contingent of exchange students from Exeter, A. and his crew had already been introduced to one of the joys of German student life: the Heimbar. (Lit: “home bar.”)

Each student residence of the Universität des Saarlandes came equipped with a small bar that opened for business on rotating nights so that no evening would be without a Heimbar happening at one of the residences. Our particular residence didn’t have a Heimbar scheduled until two nights hence.

But perhaps, inquired A., you’d like to accompany me to one of the Heimbars on campus where I and my cohort will be gathering for the evening? A splendid idea! I said in my best British accent.

The steel sky turned purple, and a darkness descended upon the surrounding forest. At the appointed time I met my newfound friend in the lobby of the residence, and headed out into the chill evening. The walk from Waldhausweg, our student residence, to the less evocatively-named Heim E was a short fifteen minutes through dripping woods. Once on campus, we traversed the anodyne entrance hall of Heim E and descended the stairs into the epitome of that German word, “Gemütlichkeit,” where A.’s fellow law students from Exeter welcomed us cordially into the cozy and dimly lit surroundings of Heim E’s Heimbar.

What shall it be? asked one of A.’s trimly attired friends who was about to rustle up the first round.

I thought for a moment. Becks (ossifiedonline-com)Germany. Any self-respecting university student with an inclination toward the bottle knew what that entailed: good beer. I savoured the envy of friends back at home. You’ll get to try some great beers while you’re there! Hmmm. Maybe a Beck’s? I was familiar enough with the phrase, “Gebraut nach dem Reinheitsgebot von 1516,” inscribed on its label. Two years of college-level German (and a Swiss dad) helped with that particular translation task. Skunk (yourstupidadvice-files-wordpress-com)And at any rate I was beginning to develop an appreciation for that vaguely skunky je ne sais quoi that I had come to associate with all those premium exotic imported beers in green bottles.

While ruminating over whether or not to order a Beck’s, I had one of those flashes of illumination that strikes a person all too rarely. It was said that H., the trimly attired one, knew a thing or two about wine. If he knew about something as cryptic as wine was to me at the time, surely he could be relied upon to order a decent beer.

I’ll leave it up to you, I replied.

WeizenGlass (www-ukhomideas-co-uk)A few minutes later he came back not with a beer but with a ritual that would mark many a drinking occasion henceforth. Along with a bottle slightly larger than the ones to which I was accustomed back at home he brought a glass of beguiling form: tall, slender at the bottom, opening out like a flower vase at the top, and set atop a round and elegant pedestal.

H. started to pour out the contents of the bottle, at first slowly down the side of the glass and then more vigourously down the center, but stopped short as the beer started to foam up precipitously. He then proceeded to swirl what was left of the contents and roll the bottle on the table. With a last flourish, into the glass he poured what to me looked like sludge.

OK, then.

H. handed me the glass, which was by now crowned with an impressive cap of foam. Down in one!

But something …

… caught my attention.

What’s this? Bananas?! Clove?! The banana was easy enough. And with oh-so-hip, clove cigarette-smoking friends, I was able to pick up on the latter.

Clove and banana. Not something I would ever have expected in a beer. And then came the rich, creamy, brown sugar-like flavours cutting through with just a hint of citrus. The refreshing zing recalled summer, but the fruitiness and spicy malt richness were the perfect riposte to the coming of autumn.

Wow! I’ll have another! And another before heading back into the dripping woods. Maisels-Weisse (Logo)I’ve had many Hefeweizens since, but that first glass of Maisel’s Hefeweizen will always be tinted pink with nostalgia.

*If you’re reading this, chance are you’ve had some sort of “craft beer conversion experience.” What was yours like? Do you remember which beer you drank that wrenched your attention away from mass-produced fizzy yellow swill? Or were you a born aficionado of fine beer? Maybe you’ve had a similar experience with wine, cider, or spirits. Were you with friends, or did you decide, on a whim, to pick up a different bottle at your local liquor store? Whatever the case may be, consider clicking on the “Leave a Reply” button above.

*I’m not the most “fact-driven” person in the world, but in the course of searching for an image of a Beck’s label for this article, I couldn’t find one with the phrase, “Gebraut nach dem Reinheitsgebot von 1516.” This could have something to do with its 2002 sale to Interbrew/In-Bev. I haven’t had a Beck’s since the early 90s.    

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Chur: www.shm.com.au

Saarland Map: Wiki English

Waldhausweg: www.studentenwerk-saarland.de)

Beck’s: ossifiedonline.com

Skunks: yourstupidadvice-wordpress.com

Glasses: www.ukhomeideas.uk.com

© 2014 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.