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Beer

By All Means, Mull Your Beer

December 23, 2021

Story: Garin Pirnia

photo: Lizzie Munro

Beer

By All Means, Mull Your Beer

December 23, 2021

Story: Garin Pirnia

photo: Lizzie Munro

A staple of European holiday drinking, spiced glühbier, which can be made with sours, ales or stouts, is an easy-to-make addition to your seasonal lineup.

Every winter, merrymakers around the world turn to mulled wine to mark the holiday season. There’s glühwein in Germany, glögg in Sweden and vin chaud in France, to name a few. These warming delights can be found at Christmas markets throughout Europe, often served alongside its sister drink, glühbier (mulled beer). But in the United States, even as mulled wine establishes itself as a holiday go-to, glühbier (pronounced glue-beer, meaning “glow beer”), typically a sour or amber beer heated with spices like cinnamon, star anise, cloves and orange peel, is comparatively scarce despite existing for hundreds of years. Delicious and easy to make, glühbier, with the help of a few stateside brewers, is striving to be more than a European obscurity. 

In 2018, the Christkindlmarkt in Carmel, Indiana, became the first market in the U.S. to serve glühkriek, a version of glühbier brewed and aged with cherries from Belgium’s Liefmans Brewery. “As far as I know we are the only place [in the U.S.] that sells their glühbier,” says Maria Murphy, market master and CEO. “It sells like hotcakes. People love it.” 

Further west in Portland, Oregon, Cascade Brewing offers its interpretation of the European marketinspired glühkriek. “Glueh Kriek [another spelling of glühkriek] is often people’s first encounter with a hot beer, and it offers a really unique, memorable experience for them,” says Kevin Martin, director of brewery operations. “For being such a relatively small percentage of our overall production, Glueh Kriek has definitely become one of our most widely recognized and renowned beers.” The brewery serves it on draft November through February, and it comes out of the tap “lightly carbonated with a nice meringue-like head, served nice and steamy hot with a fresh orange wedge,” says Martin.

In Fargo, North Dakota, for the past three years Drekker Brewery Company—which specializes in fruited sour beers—has brewed a glühbier for the Fargo Christkindlmarkt, selling leftovers at its brewery. This year, instead of using a sour beer base, they opted for gluten-free seltzer (to accommodate a sizable gluten-avoidant customer base) married with black currant, pomegranate and cranberry purées. “What we like about our version is that because we use purée rather than just juice, it actually adds a little bit of thickness and kind of smoothness to the heated beverage,” explains co-founder Mark Bjornstad. 

Though the ingredients sound similar to a Christmas ale, glühbier’s flavor differs. “A spiced ale is going to be like a deep caramelly, sweet malt-based beer,” says Bjornstad. “This we do in the fruit beer [style].” Given the popularity of fruited beers and the wide variety of craft beers on the market, it’s not hard to imagine the fruit-forward glühbier finding a modern audience. 

So why hasn’t glühbier caught on in the U.S. like glühwein? Martin attributes it to “underexposure,” but for Murphy, the real reason may be that warm beer just sounds weird. “I think Americans are just so used to beer being cold,” she says. “When people at the market first hear ‘warm beer,’ everyone turns their nose up, like, ‘ew.’ It just takes a minute and some adventurous people to be willing to try something new. And after they do, many of them are hooked.”

Like mulled wine, glühbier is easy to make at home—certainly easier than other holiday standbys like eggnog or hot buttered rum. Bjornstad suggests using an acidic, tart sour beer like a Berliner Weisse, or something that has a fruit base. Then, build up the base with puréed fruits and juices. Add in raisins, if you’d like, and the spices—cardamom, ginger, peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, dried orange peel, allspice—and let it simmer (never boil) on the stovetop. Simmering the beer releases the carbonation, so it won’t be fizzy. To spice it up further, add a shot of brandy or rum to the finished product. 

In order to convert people to the traditional holiday beverage, Bjornstad explains that it’s similar to glühwein but with sour beer instead of sweet wine. But in the end, they just need to try it. “Let them experience it for what it is,” he says. “It’s great.”

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Tagged: mulled beer

Garin is a Kentucky-based freelance writer and the author of two books: The Beer Cheese Book and Rebels and Underdogs: The Story of Ohio Rock and Roll. She has also written a couple of award-winning horror comedy screenplays, and she really, really loves cats.