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Spread Holiday Cheer With a Good Mulled Beer

Mulled beer
Mulled beer, a warm mix of beer, fruit, spices and sweetener, is a holiday tradition that dates back centuries. Petragrafie/Pixabay

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Hot glühwein (aka mulled wine) is always popular among visitors flocking to the Christmas markets across Europe. But wine lovers aren't the only ones who can enjoy a hot, spiced drink.

There's also mulled beer. It's called glühbier and is basically heated and spiced beer. And this lesser-known drink has been warming up brew lovers for centuries.

Mulled beer dates back to at least the 1640s. A pamphlet from 1641 titled "Warm Beer" shared the presumed health perks of hot versus cold ales, and numerous books from the 1800s include recipes for hot and hearty ales. Mulled beer drink was popular across Europe, particularly England, and then colonial America.

Brewers from the 17th to 19th centuries believed so. Back then, mulled beer wasn't about tasting creative brews or getting a buzz. (In fact, boiling beer actually reduces the intoxicating effects.) Heated ale was considered to be healthier; in some cases, taverns added eggs or even bread to ensure the working class had proper nutrition.

By the late 1800s, hot ales went "out of fashion." They were replaced by beers best served cold, such as German lagers. But this historic hot ale is seeing a resurgence thanks to today's craft beer movement. When the holidays hit, glühbier is available at breweries, Christmas markets and restaurants in the U.S. and Europe.

Numerous craft breweries concoct their own creative takes on glühbier each year. Rigg & Furrow Farmhouse Brewery in England releases a Glühbier Mulled Wild Farmhouse Ale while North Dakota's Drekker Brewing Company offers its Glühbier, a sour ale brewed with cranberry, pomegranate and black currant, steeped with mulling spices.

But before you throw any old beer on the stove, Draft Magazine has some mulled-beer guidelines to keep in mind. Go with sweeter beers and avoid the bitter ones. That's because cold and carbonation help settle bitterness, but heat seems intensifies it. And cooking kills the carbonation, too. Craft Beering recommends "flavorful ales with a strong malt backbone like English milds and brown ales."

For a lesser-known holiday drink, hot beer has quite a few serving styles:

  • Mulled ale: a beer warmed with sweetener, spices and (sometimes) eggs
  • Aleberry: a hot beer served with bread chunks
  • Glühkriek: a Belgian variation with cherry Lambic as the base.

To whip up some hot beer at home, food blogger Polish Housewife has her own recipe for mulled beer (grzane piwo in Polish). It's inspired by her first taste of the hot drink while in western Poland. Her recipe calls for hefeweizen, orange juice, fruits, sweeteners and spices, with a cooking time of roughly 45 minutes. Trust us — this holiday ale is worth the wait.

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