Glühbier – A Hot Beer for a Cold, Festive Night
The days that led up to Christmas 2007 were different than any that I had experienced prior. I was living on my own for the first time in my life; over 6,000 kilometres away from the familiar scents and sounds of the holidays back home. My cramped apartment was devoid of Christmas cheer, save for a few cards that had made the long journey across the Atlantic; and from my window there wasn’t a snowflake to be seen.
One place that filled those cold (though not by Canadian standards) Augsburg days with warmth and holiday spirit was the famous Christmas market – ‘der Augsburger Christkindlesmarkt’. The market opens with great pomp in late November and runs throughout the Christmas season in Augsburg’s picturesque Rathausplatz. There you can find row upon row of stands, adorned with beautiful lights and decorations, offering festive food and drink, crafts and so much more.
Most evenings, the market was hot spot for social gatherings. I, along with the other exchange students, was quickly shown how the locals ‘did it’. It wasn’t long before one custom seemed to stand out above all the others. It was Glühwein (pronounced glue-vine).
Available at numerous stands throughout the market; Glühwein is a mulled red wine, served piping hot in decorative mugs, that cures the chills and warms up the vocal chords. So thick it coats your insides, Glühwein is full of the best Christmasy spices (cinnamon and clove in particular). If you’re a local, or a honourary one, you’re likely to be drinking it before you head to the market. You’re probably drinking it the whole time you’re at the market. More often than not, you’ll end up going back to someone’s place afterwards and, yep, drink more Glühwein – sometimes with some rum or schnapps added for good measure.
In the throng of Glühwein and Christmas-goody fueled merrymaking, it was easy to overlook the lonely stand on the perimeter of the market with a shabby sign that read: “Belgisches Glühbier” (Belgian Glüh-beer).
“I like beer”, I thought, staring at the shortest line in all the market, trying to wrap my head around something that should have been perfectly obvious. I bit; quickly working my way to the front of the line in no time at all and ordering a full mug in the finest German accent I could muster at the time (really, really bad). “Oh, it’s just hot beer with cinnamon”, I thought, as if really expecting something different. But it was different – and it was delicious.
A steaming, rosy froth crowned my mug, and dissipated quickly, releasing with it the beautiful fruity and spicy aromas that lay beneath. I blew the steam away and took a cautious sip. The ale was rich and somewhat syrupy; almost too sweet at first. After the next few sips it levelled out and I was able to appreciate its abundance of flavour; dark sour cherries, cinnamon, clove, ginger and nutmeg, with a mild bitterness. Before I knew it, it was gone. I was left with an empty mug, a desire for more and a mouth that felt pleasantly as though it was covered in a layer of candied-apple coating. For me, it really was a perfect holiday night drink; as good, in its own right, as any hot cocoa could ever endeavour to be.
With that said, it seemed very under-appreciated to me. Why should Glühbier be exiled to the fringe while its grape-based counterpart got all the attention? During the season the unfair treatment continued with store shelves overflowing with Glühwein (not literally), but with no bottles of Glühbier to be found, as far as I could tell. Such being the case, I returned home to Canada with four bottles of mulled wine to share with my family and have never had Glühbier since.
It’s not for lack of trying – I’ve actually come across the stuff once or twice, albeit not at the right time of year – but more so because there was something special about that particular Christmas season that has gotten lost in the hustle and bustle of the past several Decembers. The Augsburg Christmas market created a wonderful shift in culture in the city, as I’m sure other markets across Europe do as well. There was a lightness and pleasantness to being out an about in the downtown core; completely different than the stressful and chaotic shop-ageddon that I reluctantly participate in back home, year after year. For me Glühwein or Glühbier is a symbolic reminder of what this time of year is all about. It’s about taking time to push aside the stresses, worries and frustrations that we work so hard for, the other 11 months of the year, and enjoy life with the people we care about.
I plan to put that into practice and dedicate a lot time over the next few weeks to do all of my favourite Christmasy things. One of those Christmasy things will be making my own Glühbier. Stay tuned! I’ll be posting a few recipes in the coming days.