And yet, for me, so much of the holiday season is heralded by smells I haven’t yet smelled: the caramelly waft of the frosting for my mom’s praline cookies. The air when snow is coming. Bitter dark chocolate melting for fudge. Clementines studded with cloves. The Christmas tree, fragrant with resin, a bit of ancient nature brought indoors for the dogs to circle suspiciously and perhaps drag to the ground and dismember, like wolves on a sickly moose.
Right now my days still smell like Beltway exhaust, 7-Eleven coffee and constant, low-grade anxiety. I’ve been trying to think about how to bring a whiff of Christmas into the house, so when I started to consider holiday tippling, I looked for something that would provide that olfactory high.
Mulled wine is a holiday tradition in many parts of the world, but it’s not one I grew up with. Yet the spices that go into it are so rich and tantalizing, and have so much in common with what goes into other holiday dishes, such as gingerbread and spice cake, that the first time I made it, I experienced a false deja vu. It seemed like a holiday dish I must have made before because it smelled so much like holiday dishes I’ve made before.
Most importantly, it made our house smell like a Santa trap for hours.
In Germany, warm holiday mulled wine is gluhwein; in Sweden, it’s glogg. With orange peel and spices and sometimes an extra boost from added spirit, the two preparations are quite similar, and some of the differences may be more about individual preferences than national ones.
But one thing that makes glogg distinct is that it’s usually served with some of its flavoring agents as a snack. The drinker spoons up almonds and raisins that have been simmering into the boozy stew, imparting their flavors to it and soaking up its vinous goodness. I know many folks aren’t big raisin fans, but you might withhold judgment: A standard sad, shriveled little raisin and a raisin that’s been gloggified, plumped in warm wine and spices and sugar for a few hours, are not even remotely the same fruit.
I contacted Tjoget, a cocktail bar in Stockholm that turns up on lists of some of the world’s best bars, and manager Leo Lahti gave me the scoop on how glogg (the pronunciation is a bit tricky, but somewhere between “glug” and “gluck” gets you pretty close) is served in Sweden.
“Glogg is still a vital part of the holidays,” Lahti says. “It’s served at every Christmas party and family gathering during the season.” He described the drink as part of the tradition of “fika,” a widely celebrated coffee and pastry break that’s central to daily life in the country, as much about socializing as it is about caffeination and snacks.
During the holidays, he says, the coffee and cinnamon bun in the usual fika are often replaced with glogg and lussebulle, a sweet saffron bun. Lahti says most Swedish households tend to buy glogg premade, so the differences from family to family tend to be more about brand preference than inherited secrets.
For the recipe here, I turned to “The Aviary: Holiday Cocktails.” Last year, this hallowed cocktail institution in Chicago released its first book, a gorgeous tome of cocktail high art. I’ve made some of the drinks, but many are complex enough that one could fly to Chicago, taxi to the bar and order one in less time than it would take to make it.
So I was happy to see that their new book provides all the eye candy of the first release but in recipes much more accessible to the home cocktailer. “There’s definitely some stuff in there that takes a little bit longer, but we were trying to make drinks that if you picked it up at 3 p.m., you could go, ‘Okay, I’m going to make this for tonight,’” says beverage director Micah Melton.
The book’s glogg is delicious, getting a dose of silky richness via the addition of berry preserves. With glogg, “the almonds and raisins give it this kind of unctuousness and richness that in other mulled wine drinks you don’t necessarily get,” Melton says, noting that the tannins of the wine can sometimes result in a sandpapery quality that glogg avoids.
When I made it, I found that I was happy with even less sugar, so stir in the preserves and incorporate thoroughly, then add sugar to taste.
Lahti noted that at Swedish family gatherings, there are typically two pots of glogg: one with alcohol and one without. Keeping to that spirit, you can use apple cider or another juice such as pomegranate or cranberry and easily produce a delicious nonalcoholic version. Simply toast the spices, skip the step of boiling them in the alcohol and add your preferred juice. The main adjustment will be in the amount of sugar. An apple cider base is much sweeter than a dry red wine, so you may need barely any additional sweetness. But if you use a tarter juice, such as cranberry, you may find it still needs a bump.
You can keep the mixture warm over low heat for a while without cooking off the alcohol, and the fragrance of warm wine and spices should help dispel the holiday blahs. Should you happen to make this and find that the smell lures Santa down your chimney, please don’t serve him a drop until he can show you a receipt for my pony.
Aquavit — a spirit that typically has notes of caraway — is called for in the Aviary’s recipe, but the layers of spice this drink gets from its other ingredients mean you can substitute other spirits if you prefer (vodka, rum and brandy will all work). Choose a wine you like, but it doesn’t need to be pricey, and if you can’t find lingonberry preserves (Ikea is a good source), blackberry is the bar’s recommended backup option.
- 2 oranges
- 10 allspice berries
- 12 green cardamom pods
- 12 whole cloves
- 2 whole star anise
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 3/4 cup (180 milliliters) aquavit
- Two (750-milliliter) bottles pinot noir
- 1/2 cup peeled and thinly sliced fresh ginger
- 1 cup dark or golden raisins
- 3/4 cup (about 3 ounces) slivered almonds
- 1 1/4 cups lingonberry preserves
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus more as needed
- Several pinches salt
Using a peeler, peel the two oranges in long strips, avoiding the white pith. Reserve the peels; the fruit itself can be saved for another purpose.
Lightly crack the allspice berries and cardamom pods using the bottom of a large, heavy pot, then add them to the pot with the cloves, star anise and cinnamon sticks. Toast the spices over medium heat until fragrant, about 3 minutes, then remove the pot from the heat and slowly add the aquavit.
Return the pot to the stove top and bring the liquid to a boil. Add the orange peels, wine, ginger, raisins, almonds and preserves, stirring to break up the preserves. Add 1/2 cup sugar and stir to dissolve. Taste and add up to 1/2 cup more sugar, if desired, and a few pinches of salt. Return the mixture to a boil, then remove from the heat, cover the pot and allow the mixture to steep for 2 hours.
Traditionally, glogg is served with some of the flavorful cooked almonds and raisins in each cup as an edible garnish. If you want to do that, after the long steep, skim the slivered almonds off the top of the mixture (they will float). The raisins will not, so if you want to use them as a garnish as well, you’ll have to separate them out of the solids after you strain the mixture.
Strain the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve, reserving the solids. Return the liquid to the pot and hold it at room temperature until you’re ready to serve, when you can warm it up again. Serve the drink in heatproof cups.
Garnish each serving with some of the almonds and raisins, or with a cinnamon stick, star anise, candied ginger or twist of orange peel.
Adapted from “The Aviary: Holiday Cocktails” by Grant Achatz, Nick Kokonas and Allen Hemberger (The Alinea Group, 2018).
Tested by M. Carrie Allan; email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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More spirits coverage:
Calories: 260; Total Fat: 3 g; Saturated Fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 15 mg; Carbohydrates: 30 g; Dietary Fiber: 1 g; Sugars: 22 g; Protein: 2 g.