Holiday drinking in Germany transcends the standard fare. This time of year, brewers roll out their strongest bocks and Christmas brews to celebrate the season. But one beverage you may not have heard of is a truly German experience and a palatable delight that marks the start of the holiday season, and you know what? It’s not even a beer.
Christmas in Germany is a beautiful time of year. Every town, from the biggest city to the smallest dorf is dressed up for the holidays. Germans know this time of year means the opening of the annual Christmas markets. You can experience a little of this festive atmosphere at home with a visit to Philadelphia’s own perennially improving market, but a trip to a German Weihnachtsmarkt is a sight steeped in gemütlichkeit . When the frost begins to bite, and you’re tired of shopping for Christmas ornaments, leave the kids at the candy hut or the petting zoo and duck into one of the temporary wooden lodges set up for the enjoyment of warm beverages. At the counter, you’ll see a bevy of options, some perhaps not so familiar.
Have you tried glühwein ? That’s the mulled red wine usually made with citrus, spices and a whole lot of sugar. It’s a belly-warming delight on a cold winter’s night. One variation of this traditional beverage is a strong, hot, red wine punch called Feuerzangenbowle or “fire-tongue-bowl”. The preparation of this drink is truly a spectacle. At the Feuerzangenbowle hut you’ll see men working over a large copper caldron. This contains the hot glühwein , spiced with clove, cinnamon and orange peel. A metal rack or “tongue” is placed over the steamy pot. Then, according to an old tradition, a large cone of solid sugar is laid there, suspended over the wine. Next, with large ladles, the sugar is soaked in strong rum (54% ABV or above). The part you’ll want to see is when the rum-soaked sugar cone is set on fire, allowing the hot rum and melted sugar to drip into the pot. This infuses the glühwein with a slight burn and sugary sweetness. The resulting beverage is delicious and deceptively strong. When the contents of your warm mug turns the Christmas lights to a Gaussian glow, you’ll see why this corner of Europe is a delight this time of year. With a steamy cup of Feuerzangenbowle in hand, you’ll be able to brave the cold and enjoy the market a bit longer.
Feuerzangenbowle is traditionally drunk at Christmas and New Year’s. Many Germans prepare it at home with a miniature version of the cauldron that resembles a steel or copper fondue set. You can find a recipe you like for glühwein online and replicate this process at home. Heat the wine over the stove or use a fondue pot, and suspend large sugar cubes over the wine with steel kabob skewers. When the glow of burning wine and rum warms hands and tongues, you’ll be enjoying a truly German holiday tradition.