Mulled Beer: A Revived Winter Tradition
by Irina Vishnevskaya, Tastemaker in Residence
I love beer, but when the polar vortexes of our day come my way, I have a hard time reaching for a cold beer (or even a white wine for that matter) and would rather warm my hands around a hot glass of tea.
But the truth of the matter is, the concept of cold beer is a completely modern day phenomenon. Well, maybe not as modern as your iPhone, but close. Prior to the invention of refrigeration, there was no such thing as cold beer- warm, ambient temperature beer was the only way to drink it. In fact, even today, experts will tell you that certain beers are better consumed at warmer than straight-out-of-the-cooler temps; particularly Belgian style beers with a rich flavor profile. If you really want to get technical, there’s actually a perfect temperature for enjoying every beer, but that’s story for another day.
Mulled means heated, and taverns up until the 1800’s were full of Mulled Beer during the cold winter months. This concoction was even believed to have many health benefits, claiming to help everything from digestion to colds.
I’ve experimented with Mulled Beer back in my days of running a brewpub, and with a chef in hand, we were able to come up with some fascinating mixtures including white chocolate and egg yolks. But that’s a bit finicky for the rest of us, and certainly too much to do before a holiday party you’re hosting or attending.
Making Mulled Beer at home
I want to avoid giving you a complete recipe because for one, if you’re anything like me you won’t follow it anyway and will just make up your own new recipe based off what you read. And actually, there are thousands of possibilities for Mulled Beer and it’s fun to experiment with. This is more of an invitation for experimentation.
Starting out: a base beer
You want to avoid hoppy, bitter beers at all costs (heating it then intensifies and ruins the bitter flavor). So in other words, stay away from any IPA’s, APA’s, Pale Ales, Pilsners, basically anything that has the mention of hops or bitterness. I recommend selecting a Golden Ale, a smooth beer with very low bitterness and typically on the sweeter side. If you’re in a bind and your local liquor store doesn’t’t have much in the way of a beer selection, go with a standard lager. This is one of the only times you will get advice from me to buy a lager beer!
Spice it up
Open your spice cabinet and go wild. Really. My favorites in Mulled Beer: cloves (whole), nutmeg, cinnamon (and a cinnamon stick), cardamom, coriander, anise, garam masala (Indian version of all-spice, very tasty and spicy) and fresh ginger. Plan on using about a teaspoon of spice per bottle of beer that you use, but of course taste and modify as needed.
It’s not required, but since we’re talking winter and warming up, it’s nice to add a bit of bourbon or rum to the concoction. I find that about half a shot glass per bottle of beer works well, but as with everything taste and experiment and find what works best for you. If you do decide to go with the alcohol boost, make sure to balance out with a sweetener- I prefer honey but agave also works well also.
Heat and mix
Just dump all your ingredients into a pot for about a half hour. It’s very important to make sure the heat is kept at an absolute minimum so that you don’t lose the carbonation in the beer (high heat and boiling will do that). Keep an eye on it, stir, taste, adjust the spices and sweetness as you see fit.
Serve and enjoy
Some people prefer to strain out the spices, but I like to keep them in the drink as they sink to the bottom anyway. Serve in red wine glasses or goblet style beer glasses, add cinnamon sticks for garnish and enjoy.
Cheers! And happy holidays to you and yours.
And remember: pair a Mulled Beer with your favorite holiday meal, snap a picture and share on your social media outlet of choice using #spiritedholidays.