When the weather gets cold, coats, gloves, and scarves are out on the streets again. And often, they are not nearly enough to make one feel warm and cozy again. Then it's about time to warm yourself up from the inside. And what better way is there than doing this with something hot and slightly boozy?
Especially in the Northern hemisphere, where temperatures quickly drop way below 0°F, there's a considerable demand for such beverages. And a much-beloved one over there is Glögg.
What exactly is Glögg?
First of all, it's probably a bit of a puzzle how to pronounce the "ö" sound correctly. It's pretty hard to find anything comparable, but the closest would probably be like the "e" in gherkin.
But now, what is Glögg? It's wine or Brandy spiced with many typical winter spices such as cinnamon, cloves, ginger, cardamom, star anise, dried fruit, and then some - depending on the individual taste. You can also get it with Rum or Vodka or as an alcohol-free version. Then the spirit base gets replaced by fruit or berry juice which, too, is warmed up and refined with the typical Glögg spices.
Many say it is just the Swedish word for mulled wine. And that certainly isn't wrong. Also, the name Glögg is short for glödgat vin: the Swedish word glögdat translates to glowing, so it literally means glowing wine. -Which is the literal translation for the name for mulled wine in many European countries. In Germany, for instance, it's Glühwein (Glüh = glowing; Wein = wine).
But each country has its own traditions with its national dishes and drinks. And therefore, of course, there are some differences between Glögg and hot wines from other regions.
Difference between traditional Glögg and other mulled wine
One main difference between Glögg and other mulled wines is, traditionally almonds and raisins are placed at the bottom of a glass before the actual beverage gets poured.
And then, another significant difference is, Nordic people are serious about their booze. Because, where most countries with a tradition of mulled wine stick to a wine-base and add some spices, the Scandinavian Glögg usually contains higher-proof spirits like Cognac or Vodka.
Of course, it is not uncommon to add schnaps or liqueurs like Amaretto to mulled wine in other regions, as well. But in those cases, it is more of an add-on you have to order extra. It is never the base for the whole thing.
And ultimately, there is a difference regarding the spices used for Glögg: Ingredients like cloves, cinnamon sticks, or star anise can be found in almost all mulled wines across Europe. But cardamom and fennel seeds are common only in Glögg but not in mulled wine from other regions. At least not when you look at traditional recipes. It has to be green cardamom - also known as true cardamom - not black or white.
When and how to serve?
Because, unlike other mulled wines, Glögg contains whole dried fruit and nuts, you serve it with a spoon. The little alcohol-infused bites are not just there for the fun of it. They are meant to be eaten.
Traditionally, Glögg gets served around Christmas in thick glass mugs with a handle. But as a matter of fact, you get it in all kinds of vessels during all winter months. The handle is a must, though, as it obviously is quite hot at the time of serving, and you don't want to burn your fingers.
History of Glögg
Neither Sweden nor any other Scandinavian Country is particularly famous for their wines. And this is no surprise, as neither landscape nor climate is suitable for cultivating grapevines so far up in the North. So how can spiced, hot wine be such an important tradition? And one that goes back to the 16th century to the time of King Gustav Vasa and beyond?
According to Swedish historians -including Jan-Öjvind Swahn, a cultural history and professor emeritus of folkloristics- the absence of vineyards is, in fact, the reason for the importance of Glögg. Hundreds of years ago, transporting wine from South Europe all the way to Sweden resulted in a significant loss in quality. And to hide the quite substandard taste of their wine, it seemed only logical to add spices and herbs.
But this practice was no invention of the Swedes. Different sources date back the first occurrences of spiced wine as early as the 300s to ancient Greek. Later, in medieval Europe, it became common practice to heat spiced wine during the colder months.
The switch from hot wine to hot, spiced Schnapps - or Brandy- probably occurred during the 16th century. It was a popular variation among couriers and messengers who traveled through the snow on skis or horseback.
The first time that Glögg appeared in written form was allegedly around 1610, and it was then referred to as "Glödgat vin." I don't know exactly when the short form "Glögg" came up, but possibly it happened during the late 19th century. Because in the 1890s, Glögg evolved from a conventional hot drink to one of the most popular, typical Swedish Christmas traditions.
In the early 20th century, prohibition became a thing in the Nordic countries. That even was some ten years earlier than it got enforced in the United States. And it lasted longer, too. But when it finally was lifted, Glögg found its way across the borders and became popular in Finland, Norway, and also in Denmark.
Different types of Glögg in Sweden today
Wine Glögg: Traditional Glögg with a red wine base. Usually at around 10% ABV.
Starkvinsglögg: Glögg made from a wine with a higher ABV. The alcohol level usually is around 15%.
Glögg with added alcohol: Glögg with a wine base and a high-proof spirit like Vodka, Rum, Cognac, etc. The total ABV is around 20%.
Flavored Glögg: During the past years, more and more variations popped, from apple to chocolate, there's a flavor for everybody.
Brännvin Glögg: Glögg with a brandy-only base and an ABV that must not be named.
For several years now, all the wine types are also available with white wine instead of red.
Glögg in other Scandinavian countries
As we now established, spicing and heating up wine or spirits is more or less a logical consequence of having to deal with a low-quality product and cold weather. Therefore, it is hard to figure out who invented Glögg - mulled wine in general, for that matter.
But the word Glögg and the use of cardamom, fennel, and high-proof spirits like Aquavit or Brandy as a base most likely originates in Sweden. From there, it traveled to Finland, Norway, Denmark, and eventually to the Baltic countries.
All of (extended) Scandinavia stuck to the Swedish traditions of preparing Glögg and also adopted the name: It's Gløgg in Norway and Denmark. Or Glögi in Finland and Estland. Icelanders go with the original spelling of Glögg. And for everybody else, it's perfectly alright to refer to it as Glogg and save yourself the trouble of searching for the correct linguistic symbols.
How to make it at home
Making Glögg is actually pretty easy and a lot of fun. Plus, your whole apartment will smell like Christmas for at least a day after you are done with preparations. I love the smell of Glögg and all the other mulled wine variations, so this is a bit of an extra for me. If you're not such a big fan, keep the kitchen door closed and the extractor fan on full blast.
Obviously, there is more than one way to make Glögg at home as there are already different options for the base. I prefer my Glögg with a mix of high-proof spirit and wine base, and that is also the version I decided to put here.
All you need besides the ingredients below is a jar, two large pots, a cooking spoon, and a strainer.
- 1 jar
- 2 large pots
- Cooking spoon
- 1 bottle Dry red wine (semi-dry will also be okay, but don't go for sweet)
- 3 oz Aquavit or other high proof spirit (Aquavit or Schnapps for those who want to keep it traditional. But Vodka or Dark Rum (my favorite) are good options, too.)
- 4 sticks Cinnamon
- 10 pods Green cardamom
- 15 Cloves
- 5 slices Orange
- Orange peel
- 2 oz Fine sugar
- Pour the Aquavit into a jar and add two cinnamon sticks, five cardamom pods, five cloves, and the orange peel. Let it sit for a day, or better for five days. If your Glögg party is on short notice, a few hours will do, too.3 oz Aquavit or other high proof spirit
- Then, pour the Aquavit together with the wine and remaining spices in your pot. Add all remaining spices, the orange slices, and the sugar. Now warm up to approx. 180°F (80°C) and stir your mixture until the sugar fully dissolves. Keep it on low heat for about 10-15 minutes. Be careful not to boil the content as that would cause the alcohol to evaporate.3 oz Aquavit or other high proof spirit, 4 sticks Cinnamon, 10 pods Green cardamom, 15 Cloves, 5 slices Orange, 2 oz Fine sugar, Orange peel
- Now, use your stainer and the second pot to remove all spices and fruit remains.
- Serve in a glass cup with raisins and blanched slivered almonds.
- By the way, the spices above also make a beautiful Glögg Syrup, a variation of our Christmas-Glühwein-syrup.
Wintertime is mulled-wine-time - there is no way around it. And Glögg is a fantastic variation of this Christmas classic. So get out a saucepan, spirit and wine, and the Christmas spices from the back of your rack and make some nice Glogg at home. In case you prefer your drinks cold you don't need to miss out on those beautiful winter spices. Give it a try and make our Christmas Rum Sour. Cheers