Gluhwein: German Spiced Mulled Wine

In terms of the Christmas spirit, there are very few that can beat the Germans.

Every year, cities and towns throughout Germany (and Austria for that matter) set up the weihnachtsmarkt, or Christmas market, in a open and public area for people to gather and celebrate the holidays together.

And so while you might not find yourself in Germany or at a weihnachtsmarkt anytime soon, there is one way you can bring the warm Christmas cheer into your home.

If there’s ever any type of drink that you could call “Christmas cheer in a cup,” it’s gluhwein!

click to download recipe

What is Gluhwein?

Etymologically, the word gluhwein comes from the German word gluhen, or to glow. The traditional story is that, during the wintertime, people would heat their wine and turn it into a warming beverage using hot irons. The iron itself was hot and glowing as it would come out of the fire, so it would radiate within the wine cup and also make the wine shine as well. And so these people would drink their “glowing wine,” or gluhwein!

Nowadays, the modern form gluhwein – this one without a hot iron rod in it – is a favorite staple of any German and Austrian weihnachtsmarkt, or Christmas market. As you walk through the stalls and the shops, it’s pretty near a requirement to have a cup of gluhwein to sip on as you go!

The basic ingredients for a good gluhwein should include red wine, oranges, cinnamon, sugar and cloves. After these base ingredients, you are free to add or subtract what you’d like to give your gluhwein your own personal flair.

View of ingredients - red wine, cinnamon, sugar, cloves

About the Recipe

Truthfully, making homemade gluhwein is really, really simple. There’s not much more than having to combine all your ingredients together into a stockpot and to slowly heat them together.

Please note that heating, however, does not mean boiling. Bringing your gluhwein to a boil will evaporate the alcohol and will invariably remove some of the warming – some might even call it “fuzzy” – sensation that comes with each sip. It’s far better instead to let your gluhwein seethe over lower heat for a more prolonged period of time.

Heating oranges in red wine

Choosing the right type of wine to use is a big consideration for your gluhwein as well. You’ll want a dry or semidry wines that doesn’t have a strong flavor profile. Wines with a strong tannic or acidic profile will overpower the other contributing flavors and will actually bring out a fairly unpleasant taste. The ideal mulling wine might be, for example, a relatively inexpensive and young merlot or syrah wine. Generally try to avoid the cabernets and riojas for this recipe.

For those a bit more adventurous, gluhwein can sometimes be made mit Schuss, or translated to “with a shot.” Sometimes this could mean a shot of rum, or perhaps even a cherry liqueur, but this is a pretty far deviation from the traditional gluhwein preparation. It is very tasty, though!

Our Take on the Recipe

For this recipe, we were very fortunate to learn the “secrets” of a homemade recipe from a family friend, and there certainly were some surprising elements to her recipe.

For one, this recipe included a bottle of white wine as well. This was the first time either of us had seen a gluhwein made with both red and white mixed together, but we took a leap of faith and tried it anyways. Needless to say that we’re glad we did, and it made the cut into our final tested recipe.

Our original referencing recipe had an additional curious ingredient: lemons. Gluhwein already takes on a citrusy profile with oranges added to it, but we were very curious to add the tart lemon taste to the gluhwein as well. It is a delicious concept, although you should be mindful to not add too many and make the gluhwein itself too tart.

Squeezing oranges inside red wine

For spicing the wine, we added whole allspice and cardamom pods to the cinnamon and clove base of our original recipe. These aren’t very traditional spices for gluhwein either, but they turned out to be fantastic complements to the rest of the gluhwein flavor profile.

And as we do with almost all other recipe, we replaced regular sugar in the recipe with coconut sugar. Surely this is as un-traditional as it gets, but we’re pretty partial over here to using this type of “healthier” sugar when absolutely needed.

Of course, this is the beauty of gluhwein and its versatility as a recipe. There is no particular strictly right answer to making a good gluhwein, provided it tastes great, gives you that warm and “fuzzy” feeling, and fills you with the holiday spirit!

Red wine served in a glass serving mugs

How do you make your gluhwein? Do you make it mit Schuss? Comment below!

click to download recipe

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