When beer drinkers talk winter warmers, thoughts generally turn to beers with higher alcohol content. However, this is not the only way to put fire in your belly via beer. Beer can be drunk hot, and I’m not talking about the Aussie preconception of British beer, but rather beer that is truly served at elevated temperatures.
Refrigeration is a rather modern device and if we were to head back a few hundred years, we would find all beer served at or not much below ambient temperature. Without a means to artificially lower this temperature the only alternative was to raise it. Enter mulled beer.
Imagine yourself somewhere in Europe 300 – 400 years ago seated in a tavern on a cool winter’s night. The waitstaff offer you a tankard of ale at cellar temperature, or one that has been warmed considerably and spices added to it. As a modern beer drinker you may be thinking of taking the cool beer, your ancestors most likely accepted the warm one. They knew how to warm their belly with beer.
My first introduction to this concept came from a neighbour whose Hungarian friend’s mother had served him a concoction of hot beer, egg and sugar. Whilst it didn’t immediately sound appealing to me, I was assured that the combination was delicious and warming. His friend’s mother was carrying on an old tradition that was, at times, viewed medicinally or as a treat for special events or cold times.
Various recipes and techniques have existed for mulling beer and these have gone under many names. The most famous of these is Wassail, a word that loosely means “be in good health”. Wassail was made from a combination of ale, sugar and spices. Spices used include ginger, cinnamon, rosemary and nutmeg. Another one of note was known as “Lamb’s Wool” (assumedly for its warming properties) and was most likely a similar drink with the addition of apples.
With the gradual advent of modern beer and refrigeration, this method of beer consumption started to wane considerably, but is still practised by some. However there are a small number of breweries that make beer with the direct intention of it being served hot.
The most famous of these is Liefmans Gluhkriek from Belgium. This 6.5% beer is based on Liefmans fabulous Kriek (sour cherry beer) with the addition of sugar and extra spices and was described by the late Beer Hunter, Michael Jackson, as being a true world classic. Unfortunately this beer is very much a rarity in this country. Quelque Chose has always been an excellent and much easier to procure in Australia, but will become much harder once Unibroue withdraws from the Australian market to concentrate on the North American market. If you see it, put it aside for to try mulled this winter.
Quelque Chose itself is from the Belgian-inspired Canadian brewery Unibroue. The name Quelque Chose means something in French, (seriously, it means ‘something’) and it truly is something. Like the Liefmans Gluhkriek, this beer is also flavoured with cherries but carries an ABV of 8% and doesn’t have the underlying tart notes of its Belgian counterpart. I have served this beer to many people on many occasions and the reaction is always the same – astonishment.
Whilst the idea sounds interesting it is not until you drink one of these beers in its intended manner that you can actually comprehend how fantastic this manner of serving can be. After all, we have ingrained in our minds that beer should be served ice cold and our big brewers seem locked in an arms race to see who can serve theirs coldest. So on a freezing cold night this winter instead of reaching for a cup of coffee or hot chocolate, reach for a Quelque Chose, Gluhkreik or your own mulled brew instead.
Method for mulling Quelque Chose or Liefmans Gluhkriek.
- Remove cork from bottle
- Place bottle in saucepan or metal wine cooler
- Pour boiling water around bottle
- Wait 5 mins, replace water if necessary then serve in small mugs or tumblers wrapped in napkins.
- 1 litre dark beer ( Theakstons Old Peculier would be a great choice)
- ½ cup sugar
- 2-3 small slices of ginger root
- Pinch of cinnamon
- Pinch of nutmeg
- 2-3 cloves
Pour beer into saucepan and gently heat (the beer will foam but this will pass) add sugar and spices then bring to a boil. Shut down the boil and serve from mugs or drinking bowls.