Warm beer. No, I'm not talking about that can of Pabst that's been sitting on the counter for days, but an honest to hops notion of serving a beer this holiday season that has been warmed. I am referring to the imbibing of a mulled beer - to warm and add spices and sweetening to it.
Now wait, before you storm off in protest, claiming that 'ice cold is the way beer is meant to be served', let me say that until modern refrigeration, beer was made and kept in beer cellars, where temperatures fluctuated depending on the time of year - people drank beer at whatever temperature it was served at, not giving it a second thought.
During colonial times in America, a hot tankard of ale provided a comforting treat during the cold winter months. In fact, warmed beer was such a staple of early America, that in 1893 Alice Morse Earle compiled a compendium of warm beer drinks in "Customs and Fashions in Old New England". Here, she documented the preference for these types of drinks over the previous two hundred years, and compared them to other 'standards' of mulled beverages: cider, rum, tea, coffee and chocolate.
The easiest of the mulled beers was termed "Aleberry", and was made by heating beer to boiling, then adding sugar, spices, and topping all with floating sops of bread. The use of 'spices' here, was left up to the individual. They could be practically anything, though keeping in the flavors, probably involved your typical holiday spices of cinnamon and ginger.
Similar to "Aleberry" is "Wassail", in which sugar is placed in the bottom of a bowl, a pint of warm beer was then poured in along with spices of ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon. These were allowed to infuse over several hours. When ready to actually serve, it was heated back up and topped with several thin slices of toast.
"Lambswool" was another common drink that was popular in the 18th century. This one is a little more complicated, with the roasting several apples until the skins burst, while strong, old ale was heated, into which nutmeg, ginger and sugar were thoroughly blended. These roasted apples were put into the bottom of a mug and the mulled beer concoction poured on top. Talk about an amazing drink.
So why not attempt mulling some beer this Christmas and New Year? Try out this recipe below and let us know what you think.
Mulled Christmas Ale
Ingredients (serves two)
- Two 12 oz. bottles of Samuel Adams Old Fezziwig Ale, or Founders Curmudgeon or any malty Winter Warmer of Old Ale.
- 4-5 slices of fresh ginger
- 1 whole cinnamon stick
- 2-4 dried cloves, depending on preference to cloves
- 1 teaspoon whole coriander
- 1 teaspoon whole black pepper
- A strip of orange peel
- 1 tablespoon white table sugar
Add beer, spices and orange peel to a medium saucepan. Warm over low heat, just below a simmer. Do not boil. After 15 minutes, add the sugar. Taste for sweetness and add more if desired. Remove from heat, strain into a mug, tankard or a heavy, stemmed glass (so you don't burn yourself holding it).