The Jolliest Holiday Lubricant

‘Tis the season for Christmas Parties. Now, I love parties and I love Christmas, but why is it that every Christmas party demands a mandatory, ugly Christmas sweater theme? Why not welcome the few token jokers with their machine-stitched kitsch and allow the rest of us to don garments of our own choosing?

Me? I’m like David Bowie. I’d rather put on my red shoes and dance the blues – or Eartha Kitt’s Santa Baby.

Obligatory bad fashion aside, Christmas parties tend to carry yet another unnecessary burden – bad wine. Oftentimes, the bar is lined up with every bottom-shelf bottle the hosts couldn’t bring themselves to consume over the past year, or whatever is cheapest from the hot flatlands of California. (There’s great price-to-quality out there from other dots on the globe, but that’s an entirely different rant.) In just such a pickle – or vinegar – I typically opt for a beer – even a Bud Heavy will do.

So, what’s the solution? Aside from omitting the dreaded words, “ugly Christmas sweater,” from your invitation, make Glühwein!

A German Christmas tradition, Glühwein is a mulled wine, spiced with all the delightful and intoxicating flavors of the season. It’s inexpensive, delicious and incredibly festive. It also translates to, “glow wine,” which sounds as beautiful as it tastes.

I first encountered Glühwein at a Christmas party in Los Angeles of all places. The production company I worked for shared a bungalow with a German production company, which was run by two amazing German women. We each brought our own traditions. At 26, my side made Christmas Vacation-themed invitations (which the German girls had never seen, but would be forced to do so before the big day) and the Germans made Glühwein. Despite a wide selection of craft beer, Scotch (our fearless leader was a Brit) and a full bar, almost all the guests were barrel deep in the Germans spiced nectar by the end of the night.

Years later, I’ve enjoyed Glühwein from whence it springs – Germany – and tried Canadian Moose Milk, Hot Toddies (which do hold a special place in my heart) as well as countless renditions of Eggnog. Nevertheless, my favorite libation for a Christmas party remains that original recipe I nabbed back in LA at the start of all my crazy travels.

You’ll need a red wine for the base and I recommend an inexpensive bottle of Cote de Rhone. In absence of that, a Grenache, Garnacha or California Zinfandel will do. If you’re expecting a large crowd, you can double or even quadruple the recipe.

Although I think a crockpot is an excellent way to slowly simmer the final product, I earnestly believe creating a spice-infused simple syrup with cognac or brandy and water on the stovetop before hand really adds an extra level of aromatics to this concoction.

Spice-infused Syrup:

  • 10 allspice berries
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • spiral zest of 1 clementine
  • ½ cup of sugar
  • ½ cup of brandy
  • ½ cup of water

Bring the ingredients to a boil then immediately turn down to a low simmer for 10 minutes.


In the meantime, prepare the ingredients for the crockpot:

  • 1 bottle of Cote de Rhone
  • 2 clementines, sliced into 4 circles, cloves should puncture the skins of the fruit.
  • juice of ½ a lemon
  • ½ cup of water

Set the crockpot to low (if you have the time) and add the stovetop syrup. Let it cook on low for up to 8 hours or cook on high for 2 if you’re pressed for time.


Although you’re welcome to serve your Glühwein straight from the crockpot with a ladle, I prefer to strain my mixture into a heat-retaining carafe for serving.

Pull out a set of mugs or your classiest weekend Waterford (Styrofoam) and toss in a cinnamon stick as a garnish.

Fröhliche Weihnachte! Proust!