if you’ve ever skied in the Alps, chances are you have also apres skied. The post-slope custom runs deep in the colder climates of the European continent and is also ever-present here in our Rocky Mountain ski towns.
Austrian ski racers came here in Vail’s early days, instilling a Tyrolean tradition into the local lifestyle, architecture and cuisine. So it’s here, in the now world-renowned ski capitals of Colorado, where the heritage of gluhwein still lives on in every treasured toast.
Gluhwein is a version of mulled wine, originating primarily in German-speaking countries. The name of the ever-popular “glow-wine” comes from the hot irons that were once used for mulling spiced red wine — enjoyed most especially around the holidays.
Nordic countries refer to their rendition of the beverage as “glogg,” and in the Netherlands it’s “bisschopswijn”; both embrace many of the same preparations as the German-style cold weather cocktail.
Native Austrian Helmut Kaschitz is the executive chef at Pepi’s Bar and Restaurant in Vail. Kaschitz said back in his home country, gluhwein is a favorite in the winter on cold days, especially after skiing. The drink’s comforting qualities can become almost too relaxing after a few too many, however, as Kaschitz fondly explained.
“It is very strong,” he said. “If you are in the bar and you have a couple of those, you feel warmed up from the inside, which makes you feel really comfortable. But when you go outside, it has some side effects — if you know what I mean — so drink it in moderation.”
Kaschitz authentic recipe combines Burgundy red wine, spices, fruit and rum. He said he allows all the ingredients to steep together overnight so that the gluhwein take on its fullest flavor.
An international libation
Even more modern bars have been incorporating the classic warmer into their winter menus. Luther Thomas, lead bartender at Frost Bar in The Sebastian, said the Vail establishment caters to a diversely thirsty crowd.
“We are an international bar here at Frost,” Thomas explained. “And gluhwein is a very popular international drink, especially in places like Austria.
“I think it’s really welcoming,” he continued. “It’s like something from your mom’s kitchen.”
Thomas said he likes to keep his recipe at a simmer during preparation, but never at a boil.
“I try to really concentrate on a balance of spiciness and sweetness,” he explained of the original Frost recipe. “And I continuously try to fine tune that balance.”
Australian Mark Summers (yes, AustrALian), bar manager at The Rose in Edwards, said mulled wine is even a popular drink in Aussie ski resorts. He said The Rose serves a bottled version of gluhwein from Nuremberg, Germany, and he said it’s definitely one of the more reasonably priced drink cocktail options on the menu. Gluhwein from a bottle? Think of it as bottled spiced apple juice, i.e. apple cider.
“You can add any herbs and spices that you want to it,” Summers explained. “We serve it hot with a slice of orange, some cloves and a cinnamon stick.”
In European tradition
Many of the local hospitality establishments that boast German, Austrian and Swiss backgrounds are always looking to foster more appreciation of their beloved homeland heritage, including the family-owned Sonnenalp hotel in Vail.
“In Europe, when you get done after a long day on the mountain, you crave something warm, relaxing,” said Robert De Corah, supervisor of the Kings Club in the Sonnenalp. “Here, we invite everyone in for an après ski to sit in our elegant-yet-comfortable Kings Club.”
De Corah said the Kings Club feels like a millionaire’s living room in the Alps, and guests can come and curl up by the fire and enjoy a nice glass of gluhwein on the Sonnenalp’s comfy couches — custom made in Bavaria.
“It’s probably the most you can come to actually being in Germany,” he said.