Why It Works
- Toasting the spices develops more complex flavors and aromas.
- Steeping the spices in a hot sugar syrup without the wine extracts their flavors quickly, and doesn't burn off alcohol.
- A combination of dry red wine, port, and a spirit creates a complex drink with a hefty kick.
Glögg, as it's written in Sweden and Iceland, is a hot mulled wine made with sugar, spices, sometimes liquor, and more. It’s a wintertime favorite in much of Scandinavia and the Nordic region, where its zesty fragrance drifts through Christmas markets and lingers inside many snow-covered homes. In Norway, Denmark, and the Faroe Islands, it's spelled slightly differently as gløgg, while Finland knows it as glögi, but the root is the same: to "heat" or "mull" (in Swedish, that'd be "glödga"). This describes the original practice of soaking a block of sugar with alcohol, suspending it over the wine, and lighting it on fire. As it burns, the sugar melts and drips into the wine, sweetening and heating it.
According to The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails, early iterations of glögg can be traced back to 17th century Scandinavia. Today, glögg is made more simply by dissolving the sugar into directly into the wine along with spices and flavorings. Cinnamon, ginger, clove, cardamom, and orange are all classic ingredients. To get the most out of the spices, I toast them in a dry skillet first, a process that enhances their complex flavors. Some glögg recipes warm all the ingredients together in the same pot and let it steep. Other recipes, like this one, simmer the sugar, water, and spices alone to make a flavorful simple syrup before adding the remaining components. The higher heat in this latter method rapidly extracts flavor from the spices, leading to a more developed glögg more quickly.
A dry red wine is best since glögg is sweetened with sugar and sometimes blended with port, a dessert wine, which, aside from sweetness, adds depth. I love the richness that the port contributes and prefer ruby (which has a fruity flavor) to tawny (which is nuttier). This recipe has a mild sweetness, so feel free to add more sugar after the final steep if you’d like.
For another optional kick, glögg can be spiked with vodka, brandy, rum, or aquavit, the national spirit of Scandinavia made with potatoes or grain, caraway or dill, and other savory spices and herbs. Many Nordic countries have their own unique blends that range in flavor.
Glögg is traditionally garnished with raisins and almonds. Some add these at the moment of serving, but I like to add them to the pot earlier, where they contribute a subtle nuttiness and sweetness to the glögg. Because they’re less of an obstacle while sipping, I reach for slivered almonds instead of whole.
You can serve glögg straight from the stovetop, where it can conveniently be kept warm. When serving glögg, the spices are generally left behind. I find the easiest way to do this is to wrap the spices in a spice bag or cheesecloth, which makes it easy to avoid them when ladling the glögg unto mugs while allowing the spices to continue infusing their flavor over time.
As simple and easy as glögg is, there may be no better way to capture the holidays in a cup. That, in my book, is an impressive feat.
- 8 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
- 8 whole cloves
- 2 cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces
- 1 cup (8 ounces; 236g) water
- 1/2 cup (3 ½ ounces; 100g) granulated sugar
- 4 roughly 1” by 3” strips fresh orange peel, from about half a medium orange
- One 2-inch piece (30g) ginger, peeled and diced (about 20g after peeling)
- One 750ml bottle dry red wine (see note)
- One 750ml bottle ruby port
- 1 cup (8 ounces; 236g) aquavit, vodka, or brandy
- 1/2 cup (3 ounces; 85g) dark or golden raisins
- 1/2 cup (2 ounces; 60g) blanched almonds slivers
In a 3-quart saucier or saucepan, toast cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon over medium heat, shaking the pan occasionally, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the water, sugar, orange peel, and ginger. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then stir until sugar is dissolved, about 30 seconds. Turn off heat.
Strain syrup through a fine-mesh strainer set over a small heatproof bowl. Transfer the strained ingredients to a spice bag. (Alternatively, you may use cheesecloth and twine.)
In the same 3-quart saucier, add the spice bag, spiced syrup, wine, port, aquavit, raisins, and almonds. Bring the mixture to a bare simmer over high heat, but do not boil. Turn off heat, cover, and allow to steep, until fragrant and infused, at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.
When ready to serve, ladle glögg into mugs or cups, scooping a few raisins and almonds into each one.
This recipe works best with dry, unsweet wines such as Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Merlot.
Make-Ahead and Storage
To make glögg ahead of time, remove the spice bag after Step 3, then allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Reheat in a 3-quart saucier until warm, but do not let it boil.