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December, Day 5: Potables – Glühwein

5.December 2010

Once upon a time, I spent some time in Germany – two years at two different times in two different cities.  Both years I spent there followed the same emotional pattern.  I started out “WICKED EXCITED TO BE IN EUROPE YEAHHH!” and then in November started missing people back home, then hit emotional rock bottom when Thanksgiving rolled around (Seriously, Thanksgiving abroad is my Achilles Heel.  Bring out the Kleenex.  The tears and self-pity will be flowing.), but then just after my birthday (which, by the way, was yesterday!) things picked back up.  The weather got colder, maybe a few snowflakes fell, I started looking forward to the holidays, and the Christmas markets opened.

In a few days, you’ll be hearing about what’s going on at the Christmas markets this year and what there is to see and do there from our Esteemed German Colleague, but for now, let me paint you a little picture.  You’re walking huddled, cold, teeth chattering through busy streets searching for a perfect Christmas gift for someone you desperately love.  It’s not been easy because he or she seems to have everything already, but surely somewhere there’s something unique and not too useless and not too expensive (you are, after all, a poor student abroad and your newly acquired train-travel habit has been hitting you pretty hard in the wallet).  Then, all of a sudden, you see steam rising and a warm glow just visible above the crowd.  You catch the scent of sizzling grease in the air, then cinnamon, cloves maybe, nutmeg, and … is that wine you smell?  As you approach, you see that the steam is rising from enormous vats of simmering wine and from a legion of little mugs, some of them boot shaped, all decorated with pictures of trees and presents and snowy villages.  You buy one and this delicious elixir (really, it must be magical) brings a glow to your face, burns your fingers a little bit, and warms you from the inside out.

And then you realize – if I don’t return the cup and get my Pfand back, I can give this extra-special, festive mug to that hard-to-shop-for person!  And it’ll only cost me a couple Euros!  Success!  Having accomplished this most difficult of shopping tasks, you decide to have another cup to celebrate.

And from my life, a true story about the power of Glühwein: one cold winter’s evening in Cologne I was at the Christmas markets with my friends before going to a night class.  And let me tell you, reading Rilke from seven to nine a week before Christmas and about three days after falling deeply in love was very unappealing.  I had also recently remembered that the Real Germans drink their Glühwein mit Schuss – with a shot of rum or, my favorite, amaretto.  So I had three or four cups of Glühwein mit Schuss with my friends (and my newly-minted Boyfriend! Seufz!), which somehow led us all to the conclusion that they should crash my class.  Unfortunately, I was a little tipsy, far too warm, and grossly unprepared for class, so I couldn’t really show off for my friends, but at least their snickering kept me awake for those two hours.  (Bad academic!  Bad!)

Anyway, to make a ridiculously long story short, I’ve been working on a recipe for Glühwein ever since.  Though it’s an ever-evolving process, I think I’ve got it just about right with the formula below.  Of course, you can always scale things up or down to your own taste, adjust the sweetness, thin it out with some apple or orange juice, or just get your own Esteemed German Colleague to mail you some Glühfix, but until you work out exactly how you like your Glühwein, you can start with my recipe.

And now, some very important German drinking vocabulary:

  • Prost: roughly equivalent to “Cheers”
  • Prösterchen: like Prost, but smaller
  • Prostata!: another silly version of Prost
  • Zum Wohl: slightly more refined than Prost, compare to “To your health”
  • Wohlsein!: Variation on Zum Wohl
  • Stößchen: comes from the verb stoßen – to clink glasses.  Used as a noun and with the suffix -chen, you could translate it as “a little clink”
  • Prosit: Another version of Prost, roughly.  For correct usage, see this video.
  • Zur Mitte, zur Titte, zum Sack, zack zack:  Direct translation: To the middle, to the tits, to the sack, Chop, chop!  Accompanied by a toasting gesture you can figure out on your own.
  • Nich’ lang schnacken, kopp in nacken: Colloquially translated: Don’t flap your gums, down the hatch!  (This one is my Esteemed German Colleague’s favorite.)
  • Auf einem Bein kann man nicht stehen: “You can’t stand on one leg.”  A reason to have another drink.  Apparently you can continue counting with other sayings.
  • Fisch muss schwimmen!: Fish has to swim.  An excuse to have a drink with your seafood dinner.

Before we get on with the recipe, a note on the gorgeous illustrations in this post:  My dear friend Liz is a very very very talented painter (of oils and watercolors and so forth).  She thankfully agreed to do some artwork for this post (and hopefully we can continue this collaboration in the future!) and came up with these beautiful beautiful watercolors.  They are, by the way, available for purchase, if you should feel so moved (contact me in the comments or by email at darbyoshea at gmail dot com for prices and information) and I will be giving away a piece of her art sometime over the next couple of weeks!  Stay tuned! Glühwein nach Art des O’Shea Hauses

  • One bottle red wine – the cheaper the better.  (For my parties, I use BOX WINE.)  Something fruity.  Merlot or Cabernet.
  • 1 t whole allspice
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1/2 t ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 orange, skin on
  • 15 whole cloves
  • 1/2 c dark brown sugar
  1. Measure out your spices – except for the cloves – and dump them in a pot big enough to hold a bottle of wine.
  2. Take your half orange and cut tiny slits (or Xs) in the skin with a sharp knife.  Stick the whole cloves stem-first into the slits or Xs.  Dump this into the pot as well.
  3. Add the sugar.
  4. Pour in the whole bottle of wine.
  5. Stir until the sugar is dissolved.
  6. Bring the whole thing to a simmer – NOT a boil – and let it simmer away for at least 15 minutes, but up to a half hour.
  7. Test the sweetness and either add more sugar or more wine to adjust to your taste.
  8. If desired, add a Schuss of amaretto (or rum, but I’m partial to amaretto).

*Note: This recipe will make four good sized mugs of mulled wine.  If you want to make it last longer, feed more people, or be less strong, add a cup or two of orange juice or apple cider (I’m partial to apple).

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. Jamie permalink
    5.December 2010 17:14

    WOW. The watercolors are AMAZING!! I vote — no, BEG — for more collaborations with Liz!

  2. sarah peters permalink
    5.December 2010 19:51

    Wine recommendation: this recipe (or similar ones) is phenomenal with cranberry wine. I’m partial to the variety produced by Round Barn Winery in Baroda, Michigan. You can buy straight from them or search for a liquor store near you that carries their wine: http://www.roundbarnwinery.com

    • Darby O'Shea permalink*
      6.December 2010 13:44

      Adding cranberry wine to my shopping list immediately. *drool* Sounds delicious!

  3. 5.December 2010 20:26

    Thanks Jamie! *blushes*

    Artistic collaborations: I’ll drink to that!

  4. Christine permalink
    6.December 2010 03:01

    Liz, that is awesome. I still can believe it, that you did this great work. I’m a useless painter…

  5. 6.December 2010 12:12

    Thanks for sharing this story and the recipe! It sounds so much like the Swedish Christmas punch called Glogg. (pronounced glegg). My hubby is the one who makes this each year and we love it by the mugfuls! Vodka is added to ours just before serving. So as my Mom-in-law says during the annual toast “Good Jul”, to you and yours!

    • Darby O'Shea permalink*
      6.December 2010 13:43

      Thanks for the comment! I think there’s a version of this drink in just about every country. Good Jul to you as well! Prost!

  6. Darby O'Shea permalink*
    9.December 2010 10:19

    Here’s a great article with some historical recipes for mulled wine: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2010/dec/09/how-to-make-perfect-mulled-wine

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