Who Invented Mulled Wine?
We are at peak Christmas market popularity in 2022. You'll definitely be able to pick up a few different iterations of mulled wine at your local festive fair, but where did the drink originate?
Both pillars of modern civilisation, the Romans and the Greeks, had their own version of mulled wine. The Greeks would never waste precious wine, and so they would make a less than fruitful harvest more palatable by warming and adding sweetening spices to it. For centuries, hot spiced wine drinkers across Europe referred to the drink as 'hippocras', named after the famed Greek Father of Medicine, Hippocrates. Supposedly, he invented it as a tonic to promote good health and ward off illness. In Britain, this version of the drink became popular into the middle ages and beyond. Here’s a recipe from The Good Housewife’s Jewel by Thomas Dawson (1596):
To make Hypocrace
'Take a gallon of white wine, sugar two pounds, of cinnamon, ginger, long pepper, mace not bruised galingall [sic]…and cloves not bruised. You must bruise every kind of spice a little and put them in an earthen pot all day. And then cast them through your bags two times or more as you see cause. And so drink it.'
The Romans indeed had their own version, and were able to utilise the multitude of spices that they traded for along the Silk Road. After heating their leftover wine, spices like saffron, bay leaves and peppercorns were mixed with honey and added to their creation, which they named 'Conditum Paradoxum'. A recipe for the drink, translated as 'surprise spiced wine', is included in the Apicius - one of the oldest Roman cookbooks.
As their empire conquered most of the continent, their wine recipe ultimately transcended the Romans' historic fall. Europe adopted their method, and new world spices could now be added to this sweet drink, such as cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. In the 13th century, the spice port of Lattes in Southern France made way for mulled drinking wine to become widespread and trendy. The King of England, Henry III, drank the beverage with dinner. Count John IV of Germany regarded it a favourite, and Sweden's King Gustav I loved it: naming it Gløgg.
In 1618, the use of the word “mull” as a verb was first used, according to Merriam-Webster. Meaning “to heat, sweeten, and flavour (as wine or cider) with spices". Leading into the Victorian period, the drink began to become more synonymous with Christmas, rather than health. German Christmas markets began to pop up, and the merchants realised the appeal of a warming, spiced boozy drink to heat you up from the inside in the winter cold. As competition became fiercer, each stall sold their own unique recipe that they deemed the best around, and featured increasingly elaborate festive labels for their bottles. The tradition was sealed by the written word when Charles Dickens mentioned a version of mulled wine in A Christmas Carol: The Smoking Bishop.
Today, the recipe of a spiced mulled wine which spread across Europe, largely by word of mouth, throughout the centuries has resulted in many variations country to country. Although the traditional method has a base of red wine, cinnamon, oranges and brown sugar, many add their own twist. Nordic Gløgg features cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and ginger spices, along with a splash of a hard spirit such as brandy or akavit. In Latvia, a black liqueur from Riga called Black Balsam is added. In Poland, the base alcohol is beer instead, heated with mulled spices. Vin Chaud, the French version, has a recipe that includes a splash of cognac.
If you'd like to make your own mulled wine at home, check out these items at The Whisky Shop.
Edinburgh Gin Merry Mulled Gin & 2 Stainless Steel Mugs Gift Set
Mulled Gin liqueur, spice sachet and recipe booklet with two metal mugs. Just add wine!
Ferrand Cognac Experience Gift Set 4x10cl
A sumptuous selection of cognacs to make your very own Vin Chaud.
Lindores Abbey Aqua Vitae
Whisky in the style of Aquavit, to add to your homemade Gløgg.
Starward Single Barrel Red Wine Barrique
If you'd prefer to stick to whisky this Christmas, this expression has been aged in red wine casks which has imparted a spicy mulled wine-like flavour.