Steaming mugs of Glühwein are the surefire sign across Germany, Austria, and Germanic Switzerland that the holidays are here. The Glühwein itself, despite its unique name, should be more familiar to English speakers as mulled wine – there is no substantial difference in preparation between the two drinks. The exact spice mixture used to prepare the Glühwein comes down largely to a question of taste, which makes the drink itself pleasantly varied. For the most traditional approach, look for clove, star anise, cinnamon sticks, and orange slices. More professional drinkers will also add a splash of their favorite spirits to the cauldron.
While the wine is really the focus of the Glühwein, it is also possible to make non-alcoholic alternatives. Spiced cider comes to mind as a wonderful alternative warming drink, although a more accurate facsimile can be made with non-alcoholic wine as well.
A favorite place to sip a warming glass of Glühwein is outside at the Weihnachtsmarkt, (the Christmas market). The markets open in mid-December and sell ornaments, handmade toys, gifts and all sorts of Christmas items. Christmas markets across Germany are generally open from late November to just before Christmas Eve. Every city and town has its own Weinachtsmarkt and it’s always a treat to see people shopping for goodies in a medieval-style outdoor market while keeping their spirits bright with roasted chestnuts, gingerbread cookies, grilled sausages and warm glasses of Glühwein.
Preparing Glühwein is an extremely simple affair and open to much improvisation. You really only need five ingredients; wine, sugar, cinnamon, clove and lemon peel. Family recipes vary from house to house and part of the fun is developing your own family tradition. Here is our recipe as a starting point, but have fun and feel free to create your own.
1. 1 bottle (750 ml) inexpensive dry red table wine.
2. 4-5 Tablespoons granulated sugar, or to taste.
3. 1 cinnamon stick, broken into 4-5 pieces.
4. 6-15 whole cloves, depending on taste.
5. 2 star anise. (Optional)
6. 6-8 whole peppercorns. (Optional)
7. 4 cardamom pods. (Optional)
8. Washed rind of a lemon and or orange, cut in a continuous spiral strip. Use only half of each if you use both lemon and orange.
9. A splash of rum, brandy or schnapps. (Optional).
Combine all of the ingredients in saucepot over medium-low heat. My guests prefer less sugar so I only add 1-2 Tablespoons initially and then let them add sugar to taste after serving.
Heat anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour, covered, and do not allow to boil. I usually heat for around 30 minutes. Longer heating brings out a warmer, more cinnamon flavor. Taste and adjust sugar. Strain through a sieve and serve in preheated glasses. Guests can also add another shot of rum, brandy or schnapps to their glasses upon serving.
If you have Glühwein left over then remove the spices and rinds from the saucepot, reduce heat to low and cover. Leaving the rind will result in a bitter flavor if left to warm too long.
Many German specialty stores offer prepackaged “tea bags” of spices under the brand name Glühfix. I made my own Glühfix at home and it makes Glühwein preparation really fast when I need it for a party or a quick Europe fix. I just throw some wine and lemon rind in a saucepot and add a pre made sachet or two of spices. The sachets also eliminate the need for straining the spices when I’m ready to serve.
To make your own Glühfix, good for one or two cups of spiced wine:
Put half a cinnamon stick, 1 star anise, two whole peppercorns, two cardamom pods and two whole cloves into a circle of cheese cloth about 3 inches in diameter. Use two layers of cheesecloth to hold in the spices. Fold up the edges to form a little bag and tie off with twine. Store in a cool place until you need to make Glühwein. You can also use the sachets to make a wonderful hot cider during the fall or even a warm spiced beer with rum, (more on that later).
Finally, here’s a non-alcoholic version called Kinderglühwein.
Pour 1 liter of red grape-juice into a saucepot. Add honey to taste, (about 150 grams works well), 1 cinnamon stick, 3 cloves and peels of half a lemon and half an orange. Heat, but do not boil. Strain into preheated glasses as above.
Ein glückliches neues Jahr! (A very Happy New Year to all of you!)
For pairings, we recommend these traditional dishes from across Bavaria and the Alps.
Hirschgulasch is one of the heartiest stews out there. Categorized as a Gulasch because of its inclusion of paprika, the Hirschgulasch is best made with venison, which lends the stew its iconic gamey flavor. The spice pallet for the stew uses all the spices from Glühwein, save the cinnamon, as well as a splash of wine, so much of the recipe should already be on hand. To finish, add your favorite root vegetables and let the dish simmer until the venison is as tender as possible.
Zwiebelrostbraten is among the most common meat dishes you will find served across Bavarian kitchens. This steak dish is best fried in butter and then seasoned with paprika and Dijon mustard. Finally, the meat is topped with a healthy helping of caramelized onions. The meat’s deep flavor is the perfect way to cut the sweetness of your Glühwein.
Glühwein, much like the simpler glass of wine, goes well with cheese. Raclette is one of our favorite cheese dishes from the Alps, made wonderful by both its simplicity and specificity. Really nothing more than melted cheese over boiled potatoes, raclette must be made with raclette cheese – no other cheese will have the characteristic sharpness that makes raclette so special. A handful of cornichons are a nice addition to vary the palate.
If you are more interested in drinking your Glühwein as a pre-dinner beverage, rather than enjoying a hot drink alongside a hot meal as the Germans do, then a charcuterie board will be your best choice. Again, Glühwein goes well with cheese. Charcuterie boards come in a broad range of fantastic combinations, although at least one cheese, cured meat, and a spread are a necessity. Lately, we have been enjoying the combination of brie, peppered salami, and cherry preserves.
Celebrate your holiday gatherings this year with the warmth of Glühwein, the perfect complement to your heartwarming dishes. From robust Hirschgulasch to sizzling Zwiebelrostbraten, popular Raclette, and a versatile charcuterie board, each bite celebrates the joy of this season. Here’s to perfect pairings and the memories they create. Prost!