Swill is our bi-monthly column dedicated to liquor, wine, beer, and every other delicious dram that falls under the broader umbrella of booze. But it’s more than just tasting notes scribbled on a cocktail napkin — Swill is about getting outside of your comfort zone, trying new things, and exploring the big, wide world of libations. One week you might catch us halfway through a bottle of single-malt scotch, and the week after that we might be buzzing on some Ugandan moonshine made from bananas. This column is just one big boozy adventure, so grab yourself a glass and join us for another round.
Glühwein is the bomb. If you’re not familiar, it’s basically just a type of mulled wine that’s popular in Germany and other parts of Europe. They make it in huge batches and serve it by the flagon at German christmas markets, and I’m baffled as to why it’s not more popular in the States. If you’ve never tried it or made it yourself before, you’re missing out.
The thing is, there’s not really a hard-set recipe for how to make it. It’s one of those open-ended things that everyone has their own unique take on. That’s not to say you should just jump in and start making it blindly, however. You can definitely botch it and make an undrinkable brew if you’re not careful, so to help guide you on this booze mission, we’ll give you a set of open-ended directions that you can tweak and adjust to your liking.
- Red Wine (get a dry one like pinot noir or cabernet sauvignon. Don’t use merlot)
- Cinnamon Sticks
- Orange peel. Or orange slices. Or just a whole orange. Whatever floats your boat
- Orange bitters (or liqueur)
- Start by dumping all your wine into a crock pot, then fire that badboy up at the lowest heat setting.
- Toss in your cloves, cinnamon, and orange peel. Don’t go overboard. We recommend starting with about 5 whole cloves and 2 cinnamon sticks per 750ml of wine, and then scaling up from there. If you’ve got spices in packet form, use one per 750ml of wine.
- Put a lid on your mixture and let it warm up slowly, giving plenty of time for the spices to mingle with the wine.
- Once it starts to heat up (you should notice condensed alcohol vapor on the lid of the crock pot), stir in some sugar to sweeten it up. The amount you add is up to you, but we recommend about 1/4 cup per 750ml of wine. Start with a little less than that, then gradually add more until you hit the optimal sweetness level.
- While you’re at it, taste for the cinnamon and clove. If the spices are overwhelming, add more wine, and if they’re not strong enough, add more spices — but go in small increments no matter what you do.
- Once you’re at optimal sweetness/spice levels, add a few dashes of orange bitters. This is essentially concentrated orange essence, so don’t use half a bottle. Stir it in dash by dash until the orange flavor is about as strong as the clove and cinnamon. If you don’t have orange bitters, a couple shots of orange liqueur (Cointreau or Grand Marnier) will work as a suitable substitute.
- Let it cook long enough for the flavors to mingle (usually around 20 to 40 minutes total) and then serve it piping hot. Garnish with some orange peel if you want to be fancy, or maybe even a cinnamon stick if you want to be downright swanky
The best advice we can give you is to treat it like an ongoing experiment. Taste your mixture often and make little adjustments along the way until you’re satisfied with the taste. If you do that, you can’t screw up.
Once you’ve got the basics down, you can add in your own flourishes — some lemon or lime to give it a bit more zing, some brandy to make it warmer on the way down, or other spices that you like. Nutmeg makes it feel more christmasy, anise gives it a subtle liquorice-like note, and a vanilla bean makes it feel creamier and more silky. We’ve even seen people throw in pieces of fresh ginger. The recipe isn’t set in stone, so go nuts and see how it turns out!