Residents of Northern climates know not to fool around with the elements.
If you live in a region where the winters are mild (to me, 15 - 32 ºF average is mild), imagine cold. Really cold, when the cold air feels like invisible needles piercing through your exposed skin. Then imagine: colder. So cold, that when you speak (which is unwise), the air from your mouth is steaming the air around you, and your lips and jaw begin to numb so that you find it hard to form words. Imagine flurries and icy wind. Then imagine: even colder. In the midst of winter, even in southern Norway, it gets so cold that if you bring a jug of boiling water outside and throw it up in the air it will immediately turn to ice.
As a child, having spent some time vacationing at my grandmother's who lived in the Ural region of Russia, I was no stranger to cold winters. When I was growing up, in addition to wearing animal skin and fur, tied up in a bundle with a scarf around your mouth and nose, a popular means to warm up, for adults, was a shot of hard liquor.
With the mild mid-Atlantic winters, I had forgotten just how cold it can be. I was reminded of it again in Norway.
So there we were in Oslo, wondering around in the beginning of December, watching the sun set at 3 pm, and feeling the already-freezing temperature descend in the lingering rays of the low, cold Northern sun which soon disappeared completely. It quickly turned from being slightly unpleasant to walk around outside, to slightly unbearable. We were shopping for gifts to bring back home and I took off a glove to try on a knitted mitten, when I dropped both. I asked Tony to pick them up because I was unable to do so: I could not move my fingers, which became numb as soon as they came in contact with the air. (For the Norwegians out there reading this and laughing, to my defense, I have poor circulation and I have problems keeping my hands warm when it's much below 70 ºF).
We came into an open-air Yule market and, with me remembering the Russian way of warming up quickly (it was a necessity at that point), veered toward the stand serving alcohol. I had a cup of gløgg, he had a cup of Jæger tea. We warmed up enough to try some moose sausage infused with red wine at the next stand, before going home.
The point of this tale, my friends, is this: cold weather and spirits go hand in hand. Take this piece of knowledge from the Russians, and take it from the Scandinavians: they know winter, and they know alcohol. So on a cold winter night, when the days are short and the mood is cheerless, try a spice-infused, warm gløgg to lift your spirits and warm the soul.
Below is our version of gløgg, which is the Scandinavian mulled wine (also known as glögg in Swedish, and glühwein in German). In this recipe, the spice and alcohol proportions very closely approximate the taste of the gløgg we sampled in Norway on that cold December day. There are several ways of preparing it, which vary between a cold extraction (the spices are soaked in alcohol for some time) and a hot extraction (the spices are heated in the alcohol). We opted for a combination of the two, for optimal infusion in a short amount of time.
We find that cardamom and cloves are essential (our first try was without them and the result was mulled wine but not gløgg), as is the orange peel.
We make ours with dry, cheap red wine and aquavit, which is a Scandinavian spirit, about 40% alcohol, distilled from potatoes and infused with flavorful spices, including anise, and then aged in oak.
As a result it complements the other ingredients in the gløgg quite well. If you cannot find aquavit, we recommend brandy, which has a similar alcohol content, and a rich oakey flavor. In a pinch, plain vodka will do, but we find that it lacks flavor and the complexity of the other spirits.
You can serve gløgg in a mug or a double-wall glass, with some added raisins and nuts. Before taking the first sip, raise your glass and look into the eyes of those around you. Skål!*
*Skål means cheers! Once again, as a simplification, you can imagine the letter å pronounced as "awe" in a New Jersey and/or Brooklyn accent (you can read more in this post).
Winter Night Gløgg
In a measuring cup, combine the following:
1/2 cup aquavit
1 whole star anise
2 crushed cinnamon sticks
6 crushed cloves
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp grated orange peel
1 tsp grated lemon peel
1/2 tsp grated ginger root
Stir for 5 to 10 minutes.
Then cover and let sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour.
Add the “tea” from above (including the solids) to a pot.
Then add the following to the pot:
1 bottle (750 mL) red wine
1/2 cup port
Heat this mixture until warm, then add:
1 ounce fresh orange juice
4 tbsp brown sugar
Continue heating until bubbles just begin to form, and no more.
Let it sit several minutes, so that the sediment settles to the bottom.
Without disturbing the sediment, take the gløgg from the top with a ladle. Alternatively, filter the entire batch through cheesecloth or a mesh (discarding the solids). Serve in a mug with added raisins, cranberries, or nuts of your choice. Skål!