After my recent postings about Beer Nog and Belgian Christmas beers, I’ve been stuck thinking about drinking throughout this holiday season. Oh, you too? Well, I don’t feel so bad then. But with as chilly as the weather has been, even here in sunny SoCal, I’m not exactly reaching for a cold one for comfort this time of year.
While I’ve certainly had my share of mulled wine and mulled cider, I wondered if mulled beer might be just what I need to help get me through this holiday season. My thought certainly wasn’t any new sort of imbibing innovation — in fact, heated, spiced beer was more or less de rigeuer for centuries. Prior to the advent of refrigeration and modern bottling, beer was quick to spoil, and as such, adding a touch of heat plus some sugar and spice helped make everything nice.
mull, v. — to heat, sweeten, and flavor with spices for drinking, as ale or wine. Origin: 1610–20; orig. uncert.
The beauty of making such an easy drink is that you can really suit it to your tastes. And given the huge variety of craft beers on the market, it would almost be irresponsible to post one “set in stone” recipe. With that said, here are some proposed guidelines, from which you should absolutely feel free to deviate:
- You don’t want to boil your beer. Warming it to ~140°F is more than sufficient. A crock pot set on low is a great way to heat up your brew, and can keep it warm throughout the evening if you are serving it at a gathering.
- A variety of spices can be used for your mulled ale, but the most common will be some combination of whole cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, and/or ginger. Place your desired amount of spices in a cheesecloth and let steep in the warm beer for at least 30 minutes.
- With spices, a little can go a long way. Start with one or two cinnamon sticks, and 5-6 cloves per 750mL bottle of beer. If you’re using a Belgian Christmas beer that is already heavy on spice, you may not need to add any at all. Just remember, it’s much easier to add than to take away, so taste as you go along and don’t be afraid to make adjustments.
- Anywhere from 1 Tbsp to 1/2 cup of brown sugar or honey can be used per 750mL bottle, according to taste.
- Orange peels add a bright zest that can help balance very sweet Belgian-style Christmas beers. Use caution to use only the zest, not the bitter white pith directly beneath it.
- Roasted apples can be added to your mulled beer to make a traditional holiday drink known as lambswool.
Belgian ales, Christmas beers, sour ales, and fruit beers work especially well for mulling. Here are some specific beer recommendations to try, but by all means experiment. And please come back to comment! Share your notes and ideas with all of us! Prost!