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Last Chance Foods

Last Chance Foods: Winter's Best Beverages

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Christmas is over and the presents are put away, but for many of us, the holiday season isn’t quite finished yet. There’s still New Year’s and a spate of winter parties to attend. If you happen to be hosting a celebration, we’ve got a time-tested, easy mid-winter fix for your bar: Hot, mulled, alcoholic drinks. 

Not only do beverages like gløgg, glühwein, and wassail warm you up, they also make your entire home smell wonderful, said Rosie Schaap, the “Drink” columnist for The New York Times Magazine and the author of Drinking With Men.

She added that hot drinks can’t be quaffed as quickly as cool cocktails. “So it kind of, you know, keeps people a little steadier, takes a little longer,” she said. “You can luxuriate over your glass of wassail or gløgg or gluhwein.”

These traditional beverages are so popular that they can also be the source of contention. “I’ve heard many a bar argument between a Norwegian American and a Swedish American over [the origins of gløgg],” Scaap said. “Like most of these kinds of warm winter beverages, it’s essentially a folk tradition, so anyone who claims to have the authoritative gløgg recipe is loaded with hubris, I would say.”

Whether your family recipe insists on dried bitter orange peel over the addition of fresh orange, there are three constants when it comes to gløgg — red wine, orange, and cardamom.

“To me, it’s that spice that really distinguishes gløgg from other mulled drinks,” Schaap said. “And then there are countless variables. You can make it stronger with vodka or aquavit or brandy. You could add cloves, cinnamon, allspice, other kinds of spices. You could garnish with raisins and almonds.”

The recipe Schaap received from her Swedish friend Annika originated with a handful of this or a small handful of that. (Find it here in a more precise form.) She cautions to start small and then add more as needed.

Gluhwein — which could easily be called German or Austrian — does not generally include cardamom. Schaap also noted that she’d once seen glühwein made with white wine, which is never the case with gløgg. Otherwise, both follow the same principles of mulled wine: heat wine and add spices.

The application of heat may lead some of the alcohol to evaporate, but not much. Slow cookers make handy, safe vessels for keeping drinks hot. After all, an open flame at a raucous party could equal trouble.

English wassail is a hot, boozy beverage of a different nature. Instead of wine, it uses cider — either hard cider or the nonalcoholic variety. Again, spices and heat lend it a holiday flair.

Schaap explained that its likely wassail originated in the Southwest of England, around Dorset or Somerset, in orchard country. Villagers would go “wassailing” to the orchards to try and invoke a good harvest.

Schaap said the first time she tried wassail was at The Drink in Williamsburg, and she recommend this recipe from Jenn Dowds of The Churchill. Also, here’s her recipes for gløgg and glühwein.

From Jenn Dowds, The Churchill
By Rosie Schaap

Yield: About 12 servings

  • 5 to 6 small to medium honey crisp (or Fuji or McIntosh) apples, cored
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 cups Madeira
  • 2 bottles (22.4 ounces) London Pride Ale
  • 4 bottles (48 ounces) Strongbow English Cider
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 12 whole cloves
  • 12 whole allspice berries
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, 2 inches long
  • 2 strips orange peel, 2 inches long
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place apples in a 9-by-9-inch glass baking dish. Spoon light and dark brown sugar into center of each apple, dividing sugar evenly among them. Pour 1 cup water into bottom of dish and bake until tender, about 1 hour.

2. Meanwhile, pour Madeira, ale and English and apple ciders into a large slow cooker or heavy pot. Place cloves, allspice, cinnamon and orange peel into cheesecloth, tie shut with kitchen twine and add to slow cooker or pot along with ginger and nutmeg. Set slow cooker to medium, or place pot over low heat. Gently simmer for about 1 hour, while apples bake, or longer if desired.

3. Add liquid from the baking dish and stir to combine. Using tongs, transfer apples into slow cooker or pot to garnish. Reduce heat. Ladle hot wassail into heatproof cups to serve.