A few years ago I visited Prague, Vienna and Bratislava around this time of year – just before Christmas. There’s certainly a downfall to this particular season in Central Europe – it’s fricking freezing – but there’s also a huge upside: the traditional Christmas Markets.
As one approaches the town square – a typical location, though there are others – wafts of seasonal spice intermingle with charring sausage meat and sugary treats. It’s just the thing to combat the aforementioned plunging temperatures.
I fell in love with the Glühwein, the local word for mulled wine, the most common beverage of the markets. Served steaming in a coffee mug, it warms the body and soul in more ways than one, with its combination of cinnamon, clove, thermal heat and boozy goodness.
What was perhaps even more memorable about these markets than the food & drink – if that’s even possible for a guy like me – is how they serve as a community gathering place. Though the primary purpose of each is certainly to sell trinkets and gifts for the upcoming holiday, I noticed many folks just there to hang out and chat with friends and neighbors, grab and informal dinner and gossip over some wassail. In Bratislava specifically, though it was the smallest market, the food stalls clearly outnumbered the gift ones, and once darkness came (by 4pm, IIRC), the square basically turned into a large outdoor bar. Happy Christmas!
Always looking for a good recipe to recreate those wonderful nights in Europe, this year I came across a vendor in Iowa called Bisschopswijn, which is the Dutch name for this drink. Literally it means “bishop’s wine”, after Sinterklaas (you can figure it out!) who was based on a 4th century bishop. Though the folks at Bisschopswijn point out that the Dutch version can be distinguished by the use of orange peel instead of lemon, there’s essentially little difference between the different names for this stuff, be it Glög, Glühwein or Bisschopswijn.
I ordered a bag and set about recreating the scene that was now only prominent in my dreams. I was initially surprised at how much juice is called for in the basic mulled wine recipe – 32oz (sweetened) cranberry and 12oz apple to just 12oz red wine, but I will say that when I’ve tried to make Glühwein with just wine, it has always tasted flat and hollow. Perhaps it’s the fruit juice that rounds it out.
Still not entirely convinced, I decided to go with equal parts cranberry juice and wine, with 1/2 the amount of cider, plus the additional ingredients, brown sugar, brandy (optional) and the Bisschopswijn Mulling Spices.
After about an hour of mulling, I poured out a few steaming mugs, inhaled the seductive scents of spices and seasonal fruits, and was immediately transformed to those days at the market. This time we were inside, trimming our tree, but it added a perfect festive touch to the proceedings.
The 8oz bag from Bisschopswijn ($16 w/ FREE shipping) is huge – enough mulling spice to last this winter and probably beyond. But it’s not just for mulled wine, and it’s not just for Christmas. They’ve got a ton of great recipes on their website for drinks – alcoholic and non – as well as baked goods, ice cream, even pickled beets.
A little bit goes a long way, so grab a bag and get mulling!