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Getting smart with Glühwein at Christmas markets

Vancouver Christmas Market, Vancouver, Canada

It’s easy to underestimate how much “punch” is delivered in a single Glühwein drink at a Christmas market. If I’m not careful and drink Glühwein too quickly and without food to soften the blow, I’ll encounter the very repeatable experience of “mind-body separation”.

What is this magically mysterious Christmas concoction called “Glühwein”?

Glowing wine? Drink more for positive glow!

The literal translation for Glühwein is “glow wine;” people get warm and “glow” with the consumption of mulled wine. Traditional Glühwein is a hot drink made with red wine, sugar, sometimes citrus, and spices including cloves, cinnamon, and cardamom. Other types are made with white wine or fruit wine. Versions at the Vancouver Christmas Market include regular with red wine, white wine, cherry, and apple Glühwein. In Germany, there are versions of Glühwein with other kinds of fruit wine. Feuerzangenbowle is another drink similar to Glühwein, with added flaming rum poured over a sugarloaf and whose drippings are mixed with the wine.

In the German city state of Berlin, the consumer protection division stated in a 2009 press release:

Das Erzeugnis Glühwein ist definiert als aromatisiertes Getränk, welches ausschliesslich aus Rotwein oder Weißwein hergestellt und hauptsächlich mit Zimt und/oder Gewürznelken gewürzt wird. Der Mindestalkoholgehalt des Getränkes beträgt 7 % (Vol.).

which roughly translates as: “As a product, Glühwein is defined as a flavoured drink made solely from either red or white wine and spiced mostly with cinnamon and/or cloves. The minimum alcohol content for the beverage is 7% by volume.”

Berliner Weihnachtsmarkt an der Gedächtniskirche, Berlin, Germany

Short Guide

•   Glühwein (Rot, Weiss, Rosé) : regular, white, and rose mulled-wine
•   Glühwein mit Schuss : mulled wine with a shot of liquor
•   Feuerzangenbowle : Glühwein with sugary rum syrup
•   Eierpunsch : egg punch, or egg nog
•   Kinderpunsch : non-alcoholic punch; literally, “children’s punch”
•   Apfelwein : apple wine
•   Brombelbeerwein : blackberry wine
•   Heidelbeerwein : blueberry wine
•   Himbeerwein : raspberry wine
•   Kirschwein : cherry wine
•   Maracujawein : passion fruit wine
•   Pflaumenwein : plum wine

Punch with some punch : method to the madness

While the alcohol content in Glühwein is more often between 8 to 13 percent by volume, common wisdom would mean the hot alcoholic drink makes you drunk much faster than beer or wine, with the high sugar content boosting alcohol absorption through the stomach- and intestinal-lining and hastening the amount of alcohol into the blood system.

I wrote previously about the rhyme-and-routine I carry out every time I’m at a Christmas market. Generally, it’s not different from a typical night of drinking; in the safe company of friends and smart choices to mixing food with drink, visitors do not have to get completely hammered. Besides, in Germany, it’s not generally acceptable to leave a Christmas Market blind drunk.

For the longest time, I’ve had a 2-drink minimum, “coincidentally” matching my self-imposed 2-drink maximum. I’ve not often been tempted to 3. But all that changed in a recent three-hour visit to the Vancouver Christmas Market.

In our merry group of three, we each consumed two Glühwein and one Feuerzangenbowle. To help absorb the initial hit of alcohol, two in the group shared a wood-stove baked flat dough (“flame cake”) with sour cream, onions, and bacon (Flammkuchen mit Crème Fraîche und Speck), while I dug into a hefty portion of Spätzle loaded with cheese, bacon, and grilled onions (Käsespätzle mit Speck und Zwiebeln). By evening’s end, just as our heads were about to lift off, we each had a grilled Bratwurst covered with Sauerkraut and onions, and topped with ketchup and mustard. We delivered a successful evening on a variation of the “tried-and-true” method of mixing strong drink with strong food.

Along with the enthusiastic but sensible consumption of food and drink and in passably sober conversations in German with a number of Europeans working at the market, the German-style Christmas Market here in my own hometown is doing a great job of reminding me what it’s like back “home” in Germany in the month of December.

I made the first and third photos, respectively, on 22 and 29 November 2013 at the Vancouver Christmas Market. I made the second photo (mug with Glühwein) on 6 December 2012 in Berlin, Germany. This post appears at Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com as http://wp.me/p1BIdT-43u.

17 Responses to “Getting smart with Glühwein at Christmas markets”

  1. Marisol@TravelingSolemates

    Hi Henri, the funny thing was I was just telling a co-worker yesterday that the cold weather was making me crave for a mulled wine. And she said, what’s that? We’re in NYC and not much people know about it! I only have them when traveling to Europe in wintertime. Really wish our Christmas bazaars here or even bars would have them.
    Your short guide is interesting. Didn’t realize that there so many kinds of them.

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    Reply
    • fotoeins

      Hi, Marisol. I’m glad I could help a little bit with my article. I also hope that you and your friend will find a Christmas market and try some mulled wine; Surely, there’s somewhere in the big NYC that has a German-style Christmas market! Germans love their beer, and they also love their Glühwein: it stands to reason they’ll make up different kinds of beer and different kinds of Glühwein. 🙂 Thanks again for reading and for your kind comment!

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  2. Tricia A. Mitchell

    Henry, this is the definitive guide to Glühwein. 🙂 Glad you have access to a cup of ‘home’ even though you’re on the other side of the Atlantic this year. The mere mention of Käsepätzle has my stomach growling! Wish we could’ve found a gluten-free version in Oberammergau.

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    • fotoeins

      Hi, Tricia; thank you for your kind words. 🙂 About the Vancouver Christmas Market, I keep saying (and tweeting to them!) how close their German-style market is to being “home” in December, although food and drink here in Vancouver definitely isn’t cheap. By the way, I think that “gluten-free Spätzle” makes an interesting topic to research, sample/taste, and write. 🙂 Thank you for reading and for your comment!

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    • Tricia A. Mitchell

      Agreed about the gluten-free Spätzle recipe. In Nürnberg some years ago, my mom and I bought the special Spätzle “grater.” Now I’ll just need to get the proper flour combination once we return to Germany, then give it a whirl. 🙂

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    • fotoeins

      Hi, Tricia. I haven’t done a search a gluten-free Spätzle, but given how popular the humble dish is (and how much I love the stuff … and Maultaschen), research on this would surely be very popular! I hope you arrive at a great gluten-free version. By the way, a modest but gut-busting portion of Käsespätzle mit Zwiebeln und Speck at the Vancouver market costs $10 CAD …

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  3. Michael Hodson

    Love gluhwein, one of my favorite things about Christmas in Europe – thanks for sharing!

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    Reply
    • fotoeins

      Hi, Michael. I think Glühwein can often be overlooked if only because it’s written by and talked by many. Then again, this humble drink deserves the attention! Thanks for reading and for your comment!

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  4. Ann

    Thanks for the info on Gluhwein. I usually have just the red or apple wine. Unfortunately, at the last market I went to in the evening, I drank several whites on recommendation of friends, and then an eierpunsch (just to taste it) and ended with a red one. They were all really good, but it was just too much at once. I didn’t feel tipsy right away, but definitely did on the ride home. Fortunately, no hangover or ill-feeling the next day!

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    Reply
    • fotoeins

      Hi, Ann. That is one heckuva mix of alcohol over a single visit to a market: you deserve a red tick-mark, a gold star. 🙂 Generally, I’m less fond of red wine to white wine, but I think “standard” Glühwein has gotta be red. Having said that, I do like the white version and other fruity-wine variants, of which there are now many … as you’ve also seen in Germany. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by my blog, and for your comments! Frohe Weihnachten!

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