Monday, December 3, 2012

Mulled Wine and Cider: Traditional Yule Ritual & Recipes

Glühwein, or gleewine, is a sacred, ancient winter drink found all over Western Europe traditionally presented to warm and welcome guests in from the cold. Its medicinal herbs and spices can also help fight off colds, aid digestion, and increase circulation.

This drink can be made with wine, cider, and be alcoholic or non, depending on your guest list. Practice a bit to get the ratios and recipe you prefer, and it will become your one of your essential tools for the season. It's versatile and festive, turning any gathering into a Yule party!  

At times of celebrations in many areas, the brandy was first lit on fire in the bowl, with the rest of the brewed gleewine poured over top to snuff it.  We tried it last year for Twelfth Night and it was a huge hit!  We had to improvise the equipment, though. In England, they had a traditional shallow punch bowl designed for this kind of entertaining, complete with herb sieve.  I used a big stainless steel bowl, which showed the flames when the lights were out, but not quite as much of a show as the traditional bowl.  Also, the stainless steel was hot, and I had to use a separate hand sieve, so it was a bit of a challenge to serve...

If you want to get really authentic, don't forget the toast!  That's where we get the concept of "A toast!" from.  Bits of herbed croutons floating about in the mulled wine were highly prized, and one found in a punch cup was cause for congratulations and portended well-being, health, and success for the upcoming year. 

For convenience, herbs can be put into a muslin bag that can be dropped in as is but I prefer to let the herbs float around. Great effect!
For my recipe, the herbs, depending on availability, are whole or pieces of:

lemon peel
orange peel

The citrus note is considered necessary for the recipe and can be whole or fresh peels or even entire fruits floating around.  Try whole oranges pierced with cloves.  I know you might be tempted not to include the sugar, since most recipes are wayyy to sweet, but if you are making the red wine version in particular, you really need it to balance out the flavours. Use stevia for the low-cal version!

You will need:
non-metallic pot (enamel, glass, Pyrex, etc.)
2 bottles dry red wine (zinfandel, merlot, burgundy, etc.) or one gallon cider (alcoholic or non)
7 tbsp sweetener or more as desired (Sucanat, Demarra, or honey preferred)
3/4 cup brandy (optional)

Pour the wine into a large pot and begin heating over low heat. Use a stainless steel pot if you need to, but herbs are affected by metal, and a non-metallic pot ensures the flavours blend better. As it begins to warm, add sugar and spices. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Heat thoroughly, but do not allow to boil! Steep at least 30 min. over low heat. You may add more sugar during this time if desired, stirring well so it dissolves. Now is the time to add the brandy.  Pour it in, or light it on fire in a bowl and pour the wine over top! Serve hot and garnish with orange slices or cinnamon.

There are other traditional Northern European variants, too.  Swedish Glogg has aquavit instead of brandy and the fruit is blackcurrants, raisins or sultanas, and usually includes shaved blanched nuts such as almonds. The ritual is more like our modern version of absinthe, where the sugar cubes are soaked in the liqueur, lit on top in a grate, and then flow into the wine as they burn.

Enjoy, and make merry in your holiday season!