Want to add an exciting dose of festive cheer to your winter? Then – as any German will confirm – there’s nothing quite as special as letting your wallet loose in Germany’s renowned Christmas markets. But while munching on roasted almonds and indulging in gingerbread galore is sure to satisfy your sweet tooth, there’s one thing that’ll get you in the holiday spirit like no other: of course, I’m talking about Glühwein, the beverage that guarantees merry memories… no matter how cold it is outside!
Although it’s difficult to imagine what Christmas would be like without this drink, few of us stop to think about how it first came to be. In preparation for this year’s festive season, let’s talk about the origins of this beverage.
The Boozy Background
Although Glühwein is often marketed as a hip holiday drink, it’s been around for roughly two thousand years! Its origins trace back as far as the first century AD, during which ancient Romans were first known to treat themselves to hot and spicy red wine. However, while the concept of heating up and adding an additional zing to alcohol has been around for two millennia, the drink that most closely resembles today’s boozy beverage first made headway in the early fifteenth century.
Johann IV, the Count of the Hessian House of Katzenelnbogen, is believed to have produced the first genuinely German Glühwein at his court, which was known for pioneering the production of Riesling wines. Soon after Johann started sipping his tangy concoction out of an elegant tankard, surrounding regions caught on, creating their own versions of the delicacy. What copycats… but, given how delicious this drink is, we can’t really blame them!
While there are several variations of Glühwein, the most well-known version hails from Germany, where hot red wine is enhanced with star anise, cloves, cinnamon, vanilla, sugar and citrus flavours. In the mid-twentieth century, this traditional brew is often rivalled by Feuerzangenbowle (‘fire tongs punch’), for which a rum-infused sugarloaf is set on fire and is trickled into the wine.
In addition to Germany’s longstanding history of Glühwein production, many European countries, such as Holland, France, Italy and the UK have established their own versions of this drink, frequently altering its spice mixture to reflect their respective cultures’ tastes. Nevertheless, nothing makes you feel quite as warm and fuzzy inside as drinking a traditional German Glühwein at a Christmas market. Frohe Weihnachten!