I’ve been taste-testing glühwein (mulled wine) for about 2 weeks. I may still be drunk. Hard to know. What do know is that I’ve gone through more cinnamon sticks during this testing that I have in my entire life, and the apartment smells like Christmas.
The first time I tried glühwein was last year while visiting Denmark. Since then, I’ve had it at multiple holiday parties, Christmas markets in Germany and Denmark, and in our apartment (repeatedly). The glühwein has been different every time. Very different, actually. It’s also known as gløgg when it has raisins and almonds in it. That’s tasty, but if I need to chew my drink and it requires a utensil, that’s a problem. Some people love it. I prefer glühwein, which is a similar drink without the floating nuts and raisins.
Glühwein can have orange, lemon, lime, sugar, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, star anise, bay leaf, and vanilla bean in it. If you haven’t had glühwein before, you might be overwhelmed by all of the possibilities for what exactly to put in it. I’m the kind of person who wants to try it lots of ways just to make sure it’s as good as it can be. Otherwise, why bother, right? Sulten Skat doesn’t half-ass anything.
I tested the daylights out of glühwein based on what I’ve had that I liked and what I had that I wasn’t totally loving. I didn’t try lemon or lime because orange was SO good. No bay leaf for me. I didn’t like the star anise—too strong. I don’t like honey in wine. Instead, I used the clementine juice, which was plenty sweet with the help of a little white sugar. I used cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves and got it right where it needs to be so you get enough spice but don’t feel like you’re eating potpourri. I tried it with and without vanilla bean. Definitely use vanilla bean if you have it. I even tried a bourbon vanilla bean and then a Tahitian vanilla bean. They were both really good.
Some versions of glühwein are made in 10 minute while others simmer for an hour or more and have almost all the alcohol burned out of them as a result. Oh boo. That’s no fun. Some people have been known to let their glühwein steep for 2-3 days off heat. I don’t think that’s necessary. Besides, who decides on a Monday that they want to have glühwein on Wednesday? Nobody. Chances are you decide on a Monday night that you want it on Monday night! My final recipe takes about 10 minutes to prep and 30 minutes to simmer.
I should mention that I tried making it all in one pot with loose cinnamon (instead of cinnamon sticks) and ground cloves (instead of whole cloves). That was good but tough to drink. I don’t’ like bits-o-spices swimming around in my glass. So then I tried making a simple syrup first with the spices and then added that to the wine. I thought the spices might break down and absorb into the simple syrup. Nope. That tasted good but there were still things floating around, like the ground cinnamon. I’d compare it to drinking coffee when there are coffee grounds in your cup. Not ideal!
Then I decided to use some cheesecloth. Problem solved! Using cheesecloth was perfect. It holds all the happy goodness in a little bundle. Cheesecloth is cheap and easy to find. Don’t wait for Santa to bring it to you. Go get it and make some glühwein!
This is one drink and holiday tradition we’re taking back to the U.S. with us. But tonight, my husband is ready for a beer after an unprecedented number glühwein taste tests.
Yield: Three servings (about 1 cup each)
cheesecloth and cooking string
1 clementine (zest and juice, separated)
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
5 whole cloves
½ vanilla bean (cut lengthwise, but leave beans inside)
2 cinnamon sticks
6 tablespoons white granulated sugar
⅓ cup water
1 bottle red Italian wine (Chianti or a blend)
shot of rum or vodka (optional)
- Zest the clementine Place the zest, grated nutmeg, cloves and the ½ vanilla bean into the cheesecloth to make a little bundle. Use string to tightly tie up the bundle and cut off any extra string or cloth to get the bag as small as possible.
- Squeeze the clementine juice into a small saucepan. Add sugar, water, cinnamon sticks, ¼ cup of wine, and the little bundle.
- Bring to a boil and let it boil for 2 minutes. Lower to medium heat and let it simmer for 30 minutes or until you have a nice, thick syrup. It should be bubbling as it simmers but should not a full boil. Be sure to stir occasionally and make sure the bag is covered as much as it can be by the liquid. Make sure the heat isn’t too high or the sugar will burn once the liquid starts evaporating.
- After about 30 minutes, the thick syrup will measure out to be about ¼ cup. Add this and your wine to a larger saucepan and warm before drinking. Add an optional shot of rum or vodka. Be careful not to boil it or the alcohol will burn off.
- Don’t over-zest the clementine. You only want the orange part. That’s the good stuff. The pith (white stuff ) is bitter and you don’t want that.
- Use a clementine if you can. If you use an orange, you may choose to add more sugar, depending on how sweet the orange is.
- I tried scraping the vanilla bean out of the pod. Don’t. Simply cutting the vanilla bean in half and slicing it length-wise and putting it in the bundle does the job.
- I tried ground spices. It tasted good and fine in a pinch, but it’s not ideal since the spices float in your drink.
- Use a small pan so the small amount of liquid will cover most of the cheesecloth bag.
- I use the same cooking string I use for when I tie up a turkey. You can get it in the supermarket and it comes in handy.