History of Mulling Spices

Across a multitude of years and cultures, the consumption of mulled wine is long synonymous with winter, evocative of cold nights, holiday gatherings, and good cheer. Brewed by steeping a variety of herbs and spices into (most often) a red wine base, this festive beverage has a long and storied history that is well worth looking into.

crockpot to make it in

The making of mulled wine dates back to antiquity, first entering written records in the 2nd century BCE. The ancient Romans were frequent consumers of various mulled concoctions, with mentions by such writers as Pliny the Elder and Apicius. In addition to being delicious, spiced wine was considered medicinally beneficial, as its purported “hot, dry” properties were seen as an effective remedy against imbalances of the humours. Over the centuries, the spread of the Roman empire and increase of global trade resulted in spiced wine’s popularity throughout much of mainland Europe and into Asia. One commonly-seen variant was known as hippocras, which in addition to either red or white wine, featured spices such as cloves, cinnamon, ginger, long pepper, and grains of paradise. It was known to have been served both hot and at room temperature – while overnight, room-temperature steeping of the spices was one of the more frequent methods to make it, heating the mixture ensured that added sweeteners dissolved into the liquid properly.

As time went on, hippocras and beverages of its kind continued to spread and shift according to regional taste and preference. Sugar or honey was often added, especially in hot preparations, to balance astringency. In the British Isles, hot mulled wine mixtures were a common way to stave off the winter’s bitter chill, eventually giving rise to such drinks as wassail and Smoking Bishop (one of several members of the “ecclesiastical” family of mulled wines, including the claret-based Smoking Archbishop and the burgundy-based Smoking Pope).

Meanwhile, in Germany and the Alsace, glühwein emerged as another popular winter beverage, and today remains a staple of many regional Christmas Markets. Nordic countries favor a similar preparation called glögg, gløgg, or glöggi, which, in addition to wine and spices, may also feature add-ins such as juice, syrup, or harder spirits. Across the ocean, Brazilians enjoy vinho quente during their winter months, especially mid-June. The list goes on! All over the world, mulled wine is enjoyed as a delicious and fortifying way to warm up from the cold. The variations in spices and additives are virtually endless. We here at Dominion Tea love a cinnamon and clove-forward blend, with ginger, allspice, and lemon peel for extra flavor. What’s your favorite mixture?

By: Jen Coate

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