When it comes to holiday drinks, everyone knows about egg nog. Everyone knows about hot buttered rum, even if they've never had it. But communicating knowledge of Glögg is a little like showing your hand. It tells people something about you. You're Scandinavian, maybe. Probably from the Midwest.
I plead guilty on both counts. So I was in a good position to write about this classic yuletide punch for Imbibe magazine. I even knew my fair share of Norsemen to turn to for a recipe. (It's not easy to get a Scandinavian to give up their Glögg recipe, in case you didn't now.) The one I found for Imbibe is from Anne Heid, a lovely Finnish woman who is married to my brother-in-law's brother. (You got that?) It came from her mother, so it's authentic. Here's the article and the recipe. Enjoy.
Scandinavians warm up their holidays with Glögg (just don’t ask them how)
By Robert Simonson
Glögg. The guttural syllable doesn’t naturally make you smack your lips, does it? But consider these other liguistic equivalents for the hot beverage know to English-speakers as mulled wine: vin fiert (its name in Romanian); izvar (Moldavia) and grzaniec (Poland). After wrapping your tongue around those consonant sandwiches, “Glögg, please!” rolls out pretty easily.
Glögg (pronounced “glug,” and derived from the verb “to heat up”) is the term used by Nordic people for their favored alcoholic drink of the winter months. You’ll find it in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland, and in those parts of the United States where the fair-haired sons and daughters of those countries immigrated. And the time you’re most likely to find a steaming glass of the stuff is during Advent, the six weeks leading up to Christmas.
Glögg’s origins go back a good millennium or so, but most sources have a drink with peculiarly glögg-like touches—such as almonds popped into every glass—appearing in the mid-19th century. Nordstjernan, a Swedish newspaper printed in the U.S., notes that "a relatively recent addition to the Christmas beverage menu, glögg arrived in Sweden from Germany in the 1800s.” Whenever the beverage showed up, it’s a natural for the holidays, as it has three big cheer-inducing elements going for it (beyond its alcoholic content, that is): heat, sweetness and spice. In fact, those are among its few constants. As novelist and noted drink aficionado Kinsley Amis once wrote, “No two recipes for it are more than rather similar.”
The base for glögg is typically red wine, but it can also include white wine, Madeira, brandy, vodka, Port, sherry and, of course, aquavit. You may infuse this mixture with any or all of the following: cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans, cardamom seeds, cloves, orange peel, dried cherries, raisins, almonds, figs, prunes, and fresh ginger. You then sweeten things up. Many lay sugar cubes on a rack over the pot and dissolve the lumps by ladling warm or flaming glögg over them. Others simply light the whole concoction on fire at the end of the process, dousing the flame soon after by covering the pot. This not only makes for a good show, but it adds a toasty flavor component to the punch. Pour the hot stuff in a cup, plunk in a raw almond and maybe some raisins, slide a pepperkaker cookie or piece of gingerbread on the side, and skoal!
If there’s an epicenter of glögg culture in America, it may be Simon’s Tavern, a 75-year-old bar in the once-heavily Swedish Chicago neighborhood of Andersonville. Each winter, owner Scott Martin cooks up 2,000 gallons of homemade glögg, selling it to an endlessly thirsty clientele at $5 a cup. He claims he makes the only commercially available brew in the area that uses all-natural ingredients, with no extracts or artificial flavorings or other industrial shortcuts. He begins with Port wine steeped in yellow raisins, cinnamon sticks, cloves, cardamom seeds, orange peel, almonds and some sugar, set over a flame for two hours. He then adds the remainder of the sugar and simmers it for another hour. After letting the mixture sit overnight, he adds brandy and two secret ingredients he won’t reveal.
Glögg-makers’ reluctance to reveal their tricks is typical. Martin remembers buying Simon’s from the founding Lumberg family in 1994. “When we signed the contract, they put a paragraph in there saying there never will be allowed arcade games in Simon’s,” he says. “I thought I’d play a game with him. I said, ‘I’ll agree with that if you give me your dad’s glögg recipe.’ With a nod and a wink, he handwrote the worst glögg recipe I’ve ever seen in my life. He was doing it on purpose. No good Swede gives away their recipe.”
So what, then, is the secret ingredient to making good glögg? Martin doesn’t hesitate with his answer: “Love,” he says.
This recipe was handed down to Simonson’s friend, Anne Heid, from her Finnish mother. She says that since the wine is heavily flavored during the mulling process, it’s not necessary to splurge on boutique bottles—she usually uses an inexpensive Burgundy. She also suggests using a slow cooker to simmer the mixture, and says she sometimes adds 2 cups of vodka to the mixture during the simmering stage to give her glögg an extra kick.
1 gallon dry red wine
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 Tbsp. Angostura bitters
6 whole cardamom, crushed
5 whole cloves
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled
1 cinnamon stick peel of 1 orange
2 cups raisins
2 cups slivered almonds
Mix together wine, sugar, spices and orange peel in a non-reactive container and let stand overnight (or a minimum of eight hours). Strain mixture into pot or slow cooker and simmer until warm, stirring. To serve, add a few raisins and almonds into each small cup or mug before ladling in the warm wine mixture.