I guess it’s not too soon before Christmas to share the very best recipe for hot spiced wine I know.
I make a single gallon of this at Christmastime every year, in honor of the man from whom my family got it. We called him Bud; he was my sister’s beloved husband, who died a scant year after my father did. I know how hard Dad’s death hit us all; how my sister withstood losing both men within a year, I don’t know.
At some point Bud told me his family came from the Frisian Islands, a chain off the coasts of Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark. Nowadays they’re mostly protected ecological reserves, and most people referring to themselves as Frisian identify as Dutch and live on the mainland. Once upon a time they were a Germanic tribe – the Frisii – most of whom the Romans enslaved and deported to Flanders and Kent. The few who remained blended with the migratory Anglo Saxons, until the Franks came along in the 8th century and, through a series of wars, conquered them.
Funny, but Bud’s last name was Frank. I fancy he was really a Frank of Frankish origins, but I don’t know for certain. It makes a good story for why he had this wonderful glögg recipe. (Bud called it “glug”.)
Warm spiced wine appears all over Europe and Russia in many closely related forms. The common featuers are warmed wine or fruit juice, a little sugar (mustn’t be too sweet), and spices like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. In the Netherlands it’s made with oranges, as this is, and called Glühwein, or “glow wine” (a German word). In Sweden and Finland, it’s often served with blanched almonds. Some recipes call for the addition of a bit of strong spirit, some use lemons, some call for port or claret as the base.
In the pre-1600 enactment world, we call it ‘hypocras’, hearkening to the Roman concoction that got its name from the sieve, the ‘Hippocratic sleeve’ used to filter out the spices. It was mostly an English or French drink, which was made well into the nineteenth century, when it fell out of favor. The English even put milk and brandy into it, sometimes, and called it good for digestion; it was sometimes served at banquets. In France it was more often made with musk or ambergris, and fruit like apples or oranges. Sometimes they chilled it and served it before a meal (those crazy French).
The recipe I have from Bud calls for something like a nice Zinfandel for a base wine. This year I’ll probably use my own Vieux Chateau du Roi wine, made from a grape best known for being blended with others. It’s a fair table wine and will hold its own as a base. Whatever you do, don’t expand on either the spices or the sugar; this is as sweet as a hypocras ever needs to be (you can even cut down the sugar if you want), and if you increase the spices you won’t be able to taste the wine. Whatever you do, don’t spend a lot of money on the wine. It is a lovely and necessary base to a delicious assortment of spice aromas and flavors, but you’re not going to get much subtlety out of it by the time you’re done.
OK, enough chattering. Here’s the recipe for Bud’s Glögg.
- 1 gallon dry red wine (my sister suggests Zinfandel)
- 1 pound raisins
- 2 dozen cardamom seeds
- 8-12 sticks cinnamon**
- 2 Tb whole cloves
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 quarts or more of water
Simmer raisins, spices, sugar and water 1-2 hours till syrupy. Add more water as needed. Heat wine slowly till hot – do NOT boil it or it will taste like vinegar! Combine warm wine and spices, keep hot 30 minutes. Cool and strain. You should probably keep it in the fridge in a tightly lidded container, but I tend to keep mine out on the counter in a small crockpot till it’s gone, which can take several weeks.
Serve warmed. You can add 2 Tb brandy in each cup for extra oomph if you want. A few blanched almonds and some of the raisins make attractive floats. A thick slice of candied orange peel on a toothpick makes a very pretty stirrer, but I like candied citrus peel a lot and tend to eat it instead. My sister loves the raisins in her winter oatmeal.
**There are actually many, many kinds of cinnamon, which additionally vary according to where they’re grown. They get lumped into two categories: Cinnamon verum (“true cinnamon”) and cassia cinnamon (related and very similar). I am currently using sticks from a bulk batch I got in a local Korean grocery; it is mild and flavorful, and different from what I usually get in the grocery store, but I quite like it.