The holidays, while notably different this year, still conjure up warm visions of family, magic, and of course special food and drinks for me. One of those festive drinks is Glögg. Not being Swedish but living in an area of Chicago that Swedes populated early on, I encountered my first Glögg years ago when I moved to the neighborhood. I caught a whiff of spice and cardamom and followed my nose into the Swedish store serving it where everyone was having a grand old time. Ever since, I’ve come to associate the holidays with this festive drink and the joy that seems to accompany it.
So what is Glögg exactly? With many spellings and pronunciations, Glögg (which means “glowing ember”) is a traditional Scandinavian drink made of mulled wine, sugar, spices, occasionally fruit, and brandy or some other spirit. The Scandinavian counties all have a similar but slightly different take on Glögg but the Germans wanted in on the action and made a version that’s less sweet called Glühwein (“glow wine”).
In order to get the full scoop from a long-time Glögg expert, I spoke with Matt Glunz whose family has been making Glögg for over 100 years. Matt told me that his great-grandfather, Louis Glunz (who was German), started making Glögg in 1888 when he founded his first wine shop at Wells and Division (where The House of Glunz still operates today). Wanting to share some tastes of home with other immigrants, Louis used a Glögg recipe he brought from Germany. He sold his products to the residents of Old Town (who were predominantly German) as well as Lincoln Square and Andersonville (who were mostly Scandinavian).
In order to make both camps happy, he made a more traditional sweet Glögg for the Scandinavians and a drier Glühwein for the Germans. Over time, that got to be an arduous task so he split the difference and made a medium-sweet Glögg that everyone seemed to enjoy and used two different labels (one named “Glühwein” and the named “Glögg”) for the same wine.
This wine persists today and fourth-generation brothers Matt and Stephan continue to make their great-grandfather’s old recipe. This recipe includes a combination of red wine, Port, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, and orange peel. Once blended, the mixture sits (mulls) for two weeks before it’s ready. The Glögg is then bottled in re-usable bottles reminiscent of the Schlitz beer bottles that Louis bottled for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
With 20,000 gallons produced annually today, the Glunz Glögg has always been a Chicago staple during the holidays with many enjoying their annual tastings at Macy’s.
While tastings aren’t happening this year due to COVID, you can still find this special drink in stores throughout Chicago including The House of Glunz (where Louis first created his Glögg recipe), Binnys, Whole Foods, and Marianos to enjoy on your own.